Claim: John Wayne was initially offered the role of Marshal Matt Dillon for the television version of Gunsmoke.
Origins: The role of Matt Dillon was never offered to John Wayne. Wayne, like many other film actors of the time, considered television an upstart medium unworthy of his talents.
When CBS decided in 1954 to produce a Gunsmoke television series based on their popular radio drama of the same name, they enlisted the talents of Paramount film director Charles Marquis Warren. As Warren later remarked, the film community viewed the new medium with disdain:
We looked down on television . . . and we wouldn't even spit on television.
In fact, as Warren recalled, John Wayne tried to dissuade him from accepting the job as
John Wayne lived near me and we met at his bar and sat around reviling television. He hated TV and I hated TV. Tiny little motion pictures. What is that? . . . We despised it.
When CBS made Warren an offer too good to refuse, Wayne still tried to talk him out of it, reportedly telling him:
Look, you bastard, don't sell out. Don't go into TV.
Many actors were auditioned for the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon, including Raymond Burr (rejected as too
heavy) and Richard Boone (considered too ugly). Other film actors declined to audition because they considered television work to be "professional suicide," and it was Wayne himself who recommended the little-known actor James Arness (whose most prominent role to date had been as the title creature in The Thing) for the part. Even then, Arness demurred and had to be talked into testing for the role by an irritated Wayne.
Despite Wayne's dislike of television and his recommendation of Arness, the story has spread that Wayne himself was initially offered the part of Matt Dillon. The rumor probably came about because John Wayne was the film epitome of the "Wild West" cowboy, and he did CBS the favor of appearing on television to introduce the first episode of Gunsmoke. Supposedly, CBS vice president William Dozier was sent to make an offer to the Duke, and it was when Wayne turned down the part that he suggested Arness for the role. However, Warren contradicts this account:
Some critic started the myth about Wayne, so I wrote him a long letter saying that if I had asked John Wayne to play Matt Dillon he would have broken my neck. It was never offered to him. Not that I wouldn't have loved him to do it, but one day when we were sitting at his bar I jokingly asked Wayne if he would consider doing Dillon. He turned, grabbed me by the neck, and he took this triple size martini and poured it on my head.
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.