Gunsmoke has been called Americaís Iliad and Odyssey. When considering the Radio series and the Television Series together Gunsmoke is easily one of the longest running non-serialized scripted dramas of Broadcast media.
Gunsmoke is a treasure, especially on Radio, thanks to its great acting, well crafted stories and writing, and peerless production values. CBS Chairman William Paley was an enthusiastic fan of the Hard-Boiled Detective series The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe. He made the suggestion to his staff that a "Phillip Marlow of the Old West" might make a good series. The Kiddie Westerns like Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger were very popular at the time. A Hard-Boiled Western seemed to be a natural, but it would have been a risk without high production values.
The series premiered on Apr 26, 1952, with the episode "Billy the Kid". Young Billy gives Marshal Dillon leads in a murder case. However other evidence that comes to light doesnít quite fit. When the Marshal goes back to question Billy they find that he has run away from home. Billyís mother gives the lawman a description of a budding psychopath, as well as the evidence to implicate young William Bonnie.
The story is set in the 1870ís Dodge City. Dodge City is the actual rail head where many cattle drives were destined. The town has a rich history of cowboys, lawmen and gunslingers, †so it is understandable, given the realism of theGunsmoke series, that there were incidences of people who should have known better, such as the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce, writing the show looking for information concerning Marshall Dillonís service in Dodge.
Gunsmoke was created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston. As preparations were begun for production the pair disagreed over their lead actor. William Conrad was one of the last to audition for Matt Dillonís role. His deep and distinctive voice was one of the busiest on radio; his credits include †Escape, Lux Radio Theater, Suspense, This is Your FBI, Nightbeat, and Suspense. Meston was immediately won over by Conrad for the role, but MacDonnell thought him too exposed. After how hearing him read just a few lines though, MacDonnell was won over, and would later state that much of the Dillon character was Conradís creation.
Conradís Matt Dillon is a lonely and brooding man, capable of great affection and great violence. He is very difficult to get close too because he realizes that the violence that is such a part of his life could easily damage any that he loves. Writer John Meston would write the Dillon "was almost as scarred as the homicidal psychopaths who drifted into Dodge from all directions." A defining characteristic of Matt Dillonís is his dedication to the Law that is his duty to enforce. But he recognizes that fate is a higher law, and whether he curses it or accepts it, there just isnít much he can do about it. In an early episode Matt is faced with a seemingly impossible situation; he is forced to amputate a manís leg to save him from gangrene, but the man still dies.
The only people who manage to get close to Dillon are Doc, Miss Kitty, and his assistant, Chester. Doc Adams is a man with a tragic past, and though a competent physician, he is almost as hard to get close to as Dillon. However, through the years the character, played by Howard McNear, became softer and almost lovable.
Miss Kitty would be a complicated character; historically women would only be in an Old West saloon for the purpose of "entertainment". It is never made implicit in the series that Kitty is a prostitute- that would be a little much for audiences of the time, but director MacDonnell admitted the situation in a 1953 Time magazine interview. Kitty was played by Georgia Ellis, who first appeared as a former girlfriend of Dillonís in the premier episode.
Chester Proudfoot, played by Parley Baer, is Marshal Dillonís assistant, and probably his closest friend. Chester is a little slow witted at times, but marked by his dedication and admiration of Marshal Dillon. His easy going attitude and slightly off center way of looking at things makes him appealing to both the Marshal and the audience. If he is a little slow, Chester is by no means a fool.
This Collection are some of the OTRCAT Favorite Gunsmoke episodes. Some of the high lights include:
- "Billy the Kid", the premier episode, a young boy gives the Marshal leads on a murder, but it turns out to be Billy the Kids first Murder.
- "Boughten Bride", a young woman is kidnapped in a stage robbery while she is on her way to meet her fiance in Dodge. But the marriage wonít be a happy one, and the girl would rather be with the bandit than the man who "bought" her.
- "Home Surgery", Marshal Dillon has to help a man the only way he can, by cutting off his leg, but the man still dies.
- "Kitty", there is a big public dance, and Matt wants to take his favorite girl, Miss Kitty. But Kitty knows what trouble her appearance will cause.
- "Cabin", the Marshal is returning to Dodge City in a snow storm, and takes refuge in a cabin on the prairie. He doesnít know that a pair of murderers are staying in the cabin.
- "Jayhawkers", Marshal Dillon rides with a cattle drive that is under attack by Kansas Jayhawkers and earns the respect of the cowboys.
- "Buffalo Hunter", the hunter lives for one thing, to kill. And in the end it catches up with him in a horrible fashion.
- "Sundown", was written by William Conrad. A beautiful Indian girl dies of exposure because she is caught in between cultures.
- "Blacksmith" the immigrant German blacksmith will patiently take a lot of abuse, but when his pretty new wife is threatened, he serves up justice in a way the Marshal approves of.
- "Flashback", the retired Calvary Officer learns too late that he canít treat his trail crew like a military outfit. He also learns that his son is a better man than he thinks, but is the lesson too late?
- "Cavalcade", we learn about Doc Adams past when it comes to Dodge City to haunt him.
For additional Gunsmoke
, see the extensive Gunsmoke Collection
which entails over 500 episodes of the classic western show