Biography

The star of one of the longest-running shows in U.S. television history, Gunsmoke (1955). Born of Norwegian heritage (the family name, Aurness (formerly had been Aursness) in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Rolf and Ruth Duesler Aurness. His father was a traveling salesman of medical supplies and his mother later became a newspaper columnist. James attended West High School in Minneapolis. Although he appeared in school plays, he had no interest in performing, and dreamed instead of going to sea. After high school, he attended one semester at Beloit College before receiving his draft notice in 1943. He entered the army and trained at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, before shipping out for North Africa. After landing at Casablanca, Arness joined the 3rd Infantry Division in time for the invasion of Anzio. Ten days after the invasion, Arness was severely wounded in the leg and foot by German machine-gun fire. His wounds, which plagued him the rest of his life, resulted in his medical discharge from the army. While recuperating in a Clinton, Iowa hospital, he was visited by his younger brother Peter (later to gain fame as actor Peter Graves), who suggested he take a radio course at the University of Minnesota. James did so, and a teacher recommended him for a job as an announcer at a Minneapolis radio station. Though seemingly headed for success in radio, he followed a boyhood friend's suggestion and went with the friend to Hollywood in hopes of getting work as film extras. He studied at the Bliss-Hayden Theatre School under actor Harry Hayden, and while appearing in a play there was spotted by agent Leon Lance. Lance got the actor a role as Loretta Young's brother in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). The director of that film, H.C. Potter, recommended that he drop the "u" from his last name and soon thereafter the actor was officially known as James Arness. Little work followed this break,  He appeared in a production of "Candida", and married his leading lady, Virginia Chapman. He began to get small roles with frequency, often, due to his size, villainous characters. Most notable among these was that of the space alien in The Thing from Another World (1951). While playing a Greek warrior in a play, Arness was spotted by agent Charles K. Feldman, who represented John Wayne. Feldman introduced Arness to Wayne, who put the self-described 6' 6" actor under personal contract. Arness played several roles over the next few years for and with Wayne, whom he considered a mentor. In 1955, Wayne recommended Arness for the lead role of Matt Dillon in the TV series Gunsmoke (1955). (Contrary to urban legend, Wayne himself was never offered the role.) Arness at first declined, thinking a TV series could derail his growing film career, but Wayne argued for the show, and Arness accepted. After the cancellation of "Gunsmoke" in 1975, Arness took on another successful Western project, "How The West Was Won." A brief modern police drama, McClain's Law (1981), followed, and Arness played his mentor John Wayne's role in Red River (1988), a remake of the Wayne classic.

The star of one of the longest-running shows in U.S. television history, Gunsmoke (1955). Born of Norwegian heritage (the family name, Aurness (formerly had been Aursness) in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Rolf and Ruth Duesler Aurness. His father was a traveling salesman of medical supplies and his mother later became a newspaper columnist. James attended West High School in Minneapolis. Although he appeared in school plays, he had no interest in performing, and dreamed instead of going to sea. After high school, he attended one semester at Beloit College before receiving his draft notice in 1943. He entered the army and trained at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, before shipping out for North Africa. After landing at Casablanca, Arness joined the 3rd Infantry Division in time for the invasion of Anzio. Ten days after the invasion, Arness was severely wounded in the leg and foot by German machine-gun fire. His wounds, which plagued him the rest of his life, resulted in his medical discharge from the army. While recuperating in a Clinton, Iowa hospital, he was visited by his younger brother Peter (later to gain fame as actor Peter Graves), who suggested he take a radio course at the University of Minnesota. James did so, and a teacher recommended him for a job as an announcer at a Minneapolis radio station. Though seemingly headed for success in radio, he followed a boyhood friend's suggestion and went with the friend to Hollywood in hopes of getting work as film extras. He studied at the Bliss-Hayden Theatre School under actor Harry Hayden, and while appearing in a play there was spotted by agent Leon Lance. Lance got the actor a role as Loretta Young's brother in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). The director of that film, H.C. Potter, recommended that he drop the "u" from his last name and soon thereafter the actor was officially known as James Arness. Little work followed this break,  He appeared in a production of "Candida", and married his leading lady, Virginia Chapman. He began to get small roles with frequency, often, due to his size, villainous characters. Most notable among these was that of the space alien in The Thing from Another World (1951). While playing a Greek warrior in a play, Arness was spotted by agent Charles K. Feldman, who represented John Wayne. Feldman introduced Arness to Wayne, who put the self-described 6' 6" actor under personal contract. Arness played several roles over the next few years for and with Wayne, whom he considered a mentor. In 1955, Wayne recommended Arness for the lead role of Matt Dillon in the TV series Gunsmoke (1955). (Contrary to urban legend, Wayne himself was never offered the role.) Arness at first declined, thinking a TV series could derail his growing film career, but Wayne argued for the show, and Arness accepted. After the cancellation of "Gunsmoke" in 1975, Arness took on another successful Western project, "How The West Was Won." A brief modern police drama, McClain's Law (1981), followed, and Arness played his mentor John Wayne's role in Red River (1988), a remake of the Wayne classic.

Personal Info

Known For Acting

Gender Male

Known Credits 45

Birthday 1923-05-26

Day of Death 2011-06-03

Place of Birth Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.

Official Site -

Also Known As

  • James King Aurness
  • Джеймс Арнесс

Acting TV ShowsMovies

1994 Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice as Matt Dillon
1993 Gunsmoke: The Long Ride as Matt Dillon
1992 Gunsmoke: To the Last Man as Matt Dillon
1990 Gunsmoke: The Last Apache as Matt Dillon
1989 John Wayne Standing Tall as Himself
1988 Red River as Thomas Dunson
1987 The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory as Jim Bowie
1987 Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge as Matt Dillon
1981 McClain's Law (16 episodes) as Det. Jim McClain
1976 How the West Was Won (36 episodes) as Zeb Macahan
1976 The Macahan's as Zeb
1959 Alias Jesse James as Uncredited
1956 Gun The Man Down as Rem Anderson
1956 The First Traveling Saleslady as Joel Kingdom
1956 Flame of the Islands as Kelly Rand
1955 Gunsmoke (633 episodes) as Marshal Matt Dillon
1955 The Johnny Carson Show (1 episode)
1955 The Sea Chase as Schlieter
1955 Many Rivers to Cross as Esau Hamilton
1954 Her Twelve Men as Ralph Munsey
1954 Them! as FBI Agent Robert Graham
1953 Hondo as Lennie
1953 The Veils of Bagdad as Targut
1953 Island in the Sky as Mac McMullen
1953 The Lone Hand as Gus Varden
1952 Horizons West as Tiny McGilligan
1952 Hellgate as George Redfield
1952 Big Jim McLain as Mal Baxter
1952 The Girl in White as Matt
1952 Carbine Williams as Leon Williams
1951 The People Against O'Hara as John Fordman 'Johnny' O'Hara
1951 Iron Man as Alex Mallick (as Jim Arness)
1951 Cavalry Scout as Barth
1951 The Thing from Another World as 'The Thing'
1951 Two Lost Worlds as Kirk Hamilton
1950 Wyoming Mail as Russell
1950 Lux Video Theatre (1 episode)
1950 Sierra as Little Sam
1950 Wagon Master as Floyd Clegg
1949 Battleground as Garby
1948 The Ed Sullivan Show (1 episode)
1948 Man from Texas as Minor Role (uncredited)
1947 Roses Are Red as Ray (as James Aurness)
1947 The Farmer's Daughter as Peter Holstrom (as James Aurness)
1945 Front Row Center (1 episode)

Production

1955 Gunsmoke (633 episodes)Producer

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