Born as James King Aurness on May 26, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Rolf and Ruth Aurness, James Arness was one of the most loved TV/movie American actors. His appearance in one of the longest-running television series in the US “Gunsmoke” took him to fame. With the said show, people had known him as the character Marshall Matt Dillon. People seemed unable to let go of the character that it took two decades before the show finally went off the air. It’s not only in America that the known actor was celebrated in fame. In Europe, he achieved the cult status due to his role in the western series “How the West Was Won” as Zeb Macahan.

James was of mixed Norwegian and German descent. The family name Aurness was originally Aursness and was changed when his father immigrated to the US from Norway. This name would soon be further altered to “Arness” when Jim landed as an actor. He didn’t grow up a rich kid and so as a student, he worked his way to school and sometimes “skipped classes”. However, his situation didn’t bar him from finishing high school at West High School in Minneapolis in June 1942. After high school, he managed to attend a semester at Beloit College but then along with other young boys at that time, the young Jim Arness enlisted in the US Army in order to serve in World War II in 1943.

He joined the 3rd Infantry Division and was severely wounded at Anzio, Italy during the invasion. That event left him severely wounded in the leg which resulted to his release from the army. While recuperating his brother Peter who would later on gain popularity as an actor as Peter Graves, suggested for him to take a radio course. James Arness heeded his brother’s advice and after which a teacher’s recommendation gave him a job as a radio announcer at a local radio station in Minneapolis.

It looked like his success in life was greatly attributed to his family and some friends. While the radio career was good to him, a friend told him to take a shot in films by getting extra roles in Hollywood. Following that would be his entry to theater acting (he also pursued theater school) where he was discovered by the agent Leon Lance.

America’s Well-loved Leading Man


The first film role he landed at was “The Farmer’s Daughter” in 1947 where he co-starred with Loretta Young. He played the role of Loretta’s younger sibling. His first break to films was not followed by more and so he lived to some sort of a “beach bum” life. Later, he appeared at the film “Candida” followed by his marriage to Virginia Chapman, his leading lady. After some more acting courses, he started to get roles frequently. The most notable role was played in “The Thing from another World” in 1951. The big turn of his career came when James Arness got the role as Marshall Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke” (1955) after his friend John Wayne recommended him to it.

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