The first episode of Gunsmoke is introduced by none other than John Wayne himself who speaks candidly to the audience about knowing a young actor named James Arness whom he suggested the role of Matt Dillon to.
Arness was reluctant at first but later decided to take the old cow pokes advice and the rest as they say is history. Wayne describes the show as “the best show of its kind to come along and says it’s honest, adult and realistic.” He predicts that Arness will go on to be a big star.
The first show starts with a young and handsome Marshall Dillon strolling woefully through a dusty, windy Boot Hill Cemetery, tumbleweeds blowing past, reminiscing over the lives lost over senseless arguments that could have been settled without shots being fired. He calls Dodge City the Gomorrah of the plains saying a man will draw on his gun rather than his logic. After having recovered from a gunshot wound inflicted by, well known gun-fighter; Dan Grat, he decides it’s time to put the gunmen out of business for good.
The scene quickly moves to the jail where Doc Adams is trying to persuade him not to go after Grat. Dillon flatly replies; “he’s a gunmen Doc, he needs to be eliminated.” Sidekick Chester Good runs in shouting his famous call to arms;” Mister Dillon, Mister Dillon; the clerk over at the Dodge House says Dan Grat is still in his room.” Chester offers to tag along and Dillon turns, raising his hat up to his head and says, “see you later as he walks out of the jail and down the sidewalk past the saloon as a young Miss Kitty stands watching as if wanting to say, stop but he continues walking purposefully at a full stride pace, across the street towards the Dodge House. The town folks are watching as if they instinctively know something big is about to happen. Marshall Dillon walks over to the hotel and inquires as to the gun fighters room and then from the floor of the lobby calls him out of his room, telling him to drop his gun belt. Gat opens the door and looks over the rail and says, “I like to be left alone.” Dillon insists on the gunmen dropping his belt but he seems to pay Dillon no mind. He walks down the stairs with his hands in the air saying, we can talk about his Marshall and Dillon warns, “One more step and I draw.” Grat reaches the bottom of the stairs and hangs on to the post with a grin on his face, almost in a half drunken state of mind and reaches for his gun but Dillon gets the draw on him and he falls to the floor at the bottom of the stairs.
A crowd waits outside the Dodge House and across the street as if surprised that the Marshall walks out alive. He walks back over to the jail with the same full stride sort of pace and without looking back. And so in a short 30 minutes, James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon sets the stage for what’s to come over the next twenty seasons. Suspense, excitement, and that honest and realistic acting that John Wayne described in the introduction.
By Greg Pospiel