Ten Best Gunsmoke TV Western Characters
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Ten Best Gunsmoke TV Western Characters

Gunsmoke's top TV western characters include James Arness as Matt Dillon, Milburn Stone as Doc Adams, Amanda Blake as Kitty Russell, Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode, Buck Taylor as Newly O'Brien, Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper, Glenn Strange as Sam Noonan, Roger Ewing as Thad Greenwood and James Nusser as Louie Pheeters.

Gunsmoke is the most successful western in television history, running on CBS from 1955 to 1975. Gunsmoke produced 635 episodes during its 20-year run, and can still be enjoyed today via the magic of reruns, the web and DVDs.

Here are Gunsmoke's ten best recurring characters and the actors who portrayed them on the small screen. Return with us now to Dodge City, Kansas, and television's epic western series Gunsmoke...

James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon (1955-75)

James Arness (1923-) was the unquestioned star of Gunsmoke, playing the irrepressible Old West lawman Matt Dillon. As a United States Marshal, Matt policed quite a large stretch of Kansas, including the occasionally raucous Dodge City, his home turf. A veteran of the Union Army during the Civil War, Matt faced down his fair share of gunfighters, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, renegade Indians, bank robbers, Army deserters and drunken hellraisers. In the course of his duties, Matt Dillon dispensed of hundreds of bad guys with his trusty six-shooter and Winchester. And if they were giving out Purple Heart medals for wounds incurred in the line of service, no doubt Marshal Dillon's chest would be lined with them. Matt Dillon was the epitome of the rugged, yet compassionate Old West lawman, and it's difficult to imagine anyone but James Arness filling that tall role.

Gunsmoke, l-r: Glenn Strange, Ken Curtis, James Arness, Amanda Blake, Roger Ewing, Milburn Stone - CBS-TV

Milburn Stone as Dr. Galen "Doc" Adams (1955-75)

Milburn Stone (1904-1980) played the crusty, irascible ol' "Doc" Adams, Dodge City's physician in residence. Doc was in Dodge City since the show's first episode, "Matt Gets It," aired on September 10, 1955. He patched up the locals, delivered babies, dispensed medicine, pulled teeth and often engaged in playful banter with his nemesis Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis). "I'll tell you why the Haggens live so long. 'Cause they're too dumb to know when they're dead!" ol' Doc declared in one episode. When Milburn Stone suffered a heart attack in 1971, Pat Hingle as Dr. John Chapman temporarily replaced him. But Stone and his patented Doc Adams character eventually returned, much to the delight of rabid Gunsmoke fans.

Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty Russell (1955-74)

Amanda Blake (1929-1989) played the stalwart Miss Kitty Russell, owner of Dodge City's Long Branch Saloon. Miss Kitty was smart, tough and strong-willed, keeping a tight rein on her place of business. Kitty was Matt's girl, with the two engaging in one of the longest courtships in television history.

Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen (1959-75)

Ken Curtis (1916-1991) played the disheveled, bewhiskered Festus Haggen, who worked as a deputy for Marshal Matthew Dillon. Festus was illiterate, a fact that he tried to hide from people. In the course of his duties ol' Festus, whose squinty-eyed facial expressions and unique way of butchering the English language made him a TV favorite, caught his fair share of outlaw lead. His banter with the crotchety, educated Doc Adams is the stuff of television legend, with the two engaging in some doozy arguments at the Long Branch Saloon, where Festus always seemed to be a day late and a dollar short.

Dennis Weaver as Chester B. Goode (1955-64)

Dennis Weaver (1924-2006), who later achieved small screen immortality as TV's McCloud, played Chester B. Goode, Matt Dillon's gimpy-legged deputy. A 1959 Emmy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor in Gunsmoke, Weaver departed the series in 1964 after his TV pilot Kentucky Jones (1964-65) was picked up by NBC.

Buck Taylor as Newly O'Brien (1967-75)

Buck Taylor (1938-), son of noted character actor Dub Taylor, played gunsmith Newly O'Brien, who ran in his own store on Main Street in Dodge City. Newly also worked as a part-time deputy for Marshal Dillon, catching a few stray slugs in the course of his duties. The quiet, overeager Newly nearly got his head blown off in the episode "Mannon" (1/20/69), in which he tried to confront a notorious gunslinger (Steve Forrest) at the Long Branch.

Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper (1962-65)

Macho Burt Reynolds (1936-) played half-breed blacksmith Quint Asper, who practiced his trade in Dodge City. The character was introduced in the episode "Quint Asper Comes Home" (9/29/62). Reynolds departed the show in 1965. Asper was later referred to in a Gunsmoke episode as having left Kansas for California.

Glenn Strange as Sam Noonan (1961-73)

Glenn Strange (1899-1973), who had appeared as the Frankenstein Monster in House of Frankenstein (1944) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), played Sam Noonan, Miss Kitty's head barkeeper at the Long Branch Saloon. The steady, craggy-faced Sam was Kitty's right-hand man, keeping a shotgun handy behind the bar in case of trouble.

Roger Ewing as Thad Greenwood (1965-67)

Roger Ewing (1942-) played Thad Greenwood, a tall, lanky youngster who worked as one of Matt Dillon's deputies. His character first came on the scene in the episode "Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood" (10/2/65).

James Nusser as Louie Pheeters (1956-70)

James Nusser (1905-1979) played Louie Pheeters, Dodge City's resident town drunk. Louie knew he had a problem but often couldn't help himself, often mooching free shots of whiskey from a sympathetic Miss Kitty at the Long Branch. Louie's alcoholism had consequences, for in one memorable episode he was tried for a murder he didn't commit and couldn't remember. Louie, however, did earn some respect in the segment "The Long Night" (2/17/69) in which a vicious outlaw named Guerin (Bruce Dern) forces the town drunk to crawl on his hands and knees for a shot of badly-needed whiskey at the Long Branch. The pathetic Louie complies, but then finds his dignity and refuses the drink.

Gunsmoke Top Image

  • Buck Taylor as Newly O'Brien in Gunsmoke

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Comments (4)

Curious: How does one decide "Gunsmoke’s ten best characters"?

@James. I've seen most of Gunsmoke's episodes. It's opinion of course, but I based my list on the importance of the character, longevity, fan popularity, actor appeal, etc. I could have placed Ted Jordan as Nathan Burke in there as well, but decided to go with James Nusser as Louie Pheeters. Burke was the manager of Dodge City's freight office.

I still watch Gunsmoke reruns on TV Land, the cable channel that plays all the reruns of Gunsmoke, Bonanza (another show that I still watch) and other classics. I agree with your choices 101 percent

Ahhh . . . I see!