Following his divorce from his first wife, James Arness found love again with a woman who would become his lifelong partner. Throughout his career, James was a popular TV personality, starring in a range of films and television shows. His powerful presence and commanding manner made him a popular figure in Hollywood’s Western genre.
James’s most famous role was as Marshal Matt Dillon in the television show “Gunsmoke,” which aired for 20 years from 1955 to 1975. He reprised the character in several later productions, including “Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge” in 1987, “Gunsmoke: The Last Apache” in 1990, “Gunsmoke: To the Last Man” in 1992, and “Gunsmoke: The Long Ride” in 1993.
Aside from “Gunsmoke,” James appeared in several other Western films during the 1950s, including “Wyoming Mail,” “Two Lost Worlds,” “The People Against O’Hara,” “Iron Man,” and “The Lone Hand.” His portrayal of Zeb Macahan in the TV show “How The West Was Won” also earned him celebrity status in both America and Europe, and he co-starred with the likes of Eva Marie Saint, Fionnula Flanagan, Bruce Boxleitner, and Richard Kiley.
James’s personal life was not without its difficulties. He had a tumultuous past that included a divorce from his first wife and a period of disinterest in performing after he lost interest in stage acting. However, he eventually found love again and married his second wife, who would become his lifelong partner.
James was born to Norwegian and German parents, Rolf Cirkler Aurness and Ruth Duesler, both of whom were involved in business and writing. Despite his early interest in performing, James eventually joined the navy before pursuing his career in Hollywood.
Growing up, Peter Graves and his older brother James were fostered with a love for the arts by their mother. While Peter pursued acting immediately, James took a different path and enlisted in the army in 1943. The brothers fought in World War II, but James was seriously injured in his right leg during the battle of Anzio, leading to his medical discharge after several procedures.
After years of service, James decided to pursue his passion for acting. He was noticed by a Hollywood representative while performing in Los Angeles and was introduced to Dore Schary, who gave him opportunities in 1947. He later married Virginia Chapman, and they had three children, including Craig, who went on to become a National Geographic photographer.
However, James and Virginia eventually divorced after 15 years of marriage, and he gained custody of their children. Virginia disappeared shortly after the divorce, and her daughter tragically passed away from a heroin overdose two years before James’s own death.
Despite his personal struggles, James continued to work in the entertainment industry and met his second wife, Janet Surtees, while filming “Gunsmoke.” Janet’s co-worker, Glen Alden, was married to a character on the show, and she was initially hesitant to meet James. However, her son was a fan, and she eventually took a chance and met him.
Their first encounter was nerve-wracking for Janet, as James was a “gigantic man,” but she found him to be kind and down-to-earth. They bonded over their shared love of skiing and went on a dinner date three months later. James and Janet got married in Brentwood, California, in 1978 and enjoyed a happy life together until his passing in 2014.
Despite the ups and downs of his life, James Arness left a lasting impact on the entertainment industry and the people around him. He was remembered as a kind and down-to-earth person, who lived an adventurous and fulfilling life.