James Arness life and biography

James Arness picture, image, poster

James Arness biography

Date of birth : 1923-05-26
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-09-07
Credited as : Actor, role in the serie "Gunsmoke", and The Thing from Another World

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James Arness born May 26, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. is an American actor, best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years. His brother was the late actor, Peter Graves. Arness has the distinction of having played the role of Marshal Matt Dillon in five separate decades: 1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Return to Dodge (1987) and four more made-for-TV Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s.

Early life

Arness was born as James Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness (July 1894 - July 1982), a businessman, and Ruth (née Duesler) Aurness (d. September 1986), a journalist. His father's ancestry was Norwegian, his mother's German. The family name had been Aursnes, but when Rolf's father Peter Aursnes immigrated from Norway in 1887, he changed it to Aurness. He was raised as a Methodist.

Arness attended John Burrows Grade School, Washburn High School and West High School in Minneapolis. Despite "being a poor student and skipping many classes", he graduated from high school in June 1942. He then enlisted in the United States Army to serve in World War II.

Arness had a brother, actor Peter Graves (1926–2010). (Peter Aurness used the stage name "Graves," a maternal family name.) He too was raised as a Methodist.

In his prewar years, Arness worked as a courier for a jewelry wholesaler, loading and unloading railway boxcars at the Minneapolis freightyards, and logging in Pierce, Idaho.

Military service in World War II

Arness wanted to be a naval fighter pilot, but he felt his poor eyesight would bar him. His height of 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m) ended his hopes, since 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) was the limit for aviators. Instead, he was called for the Army and reported to Fort Snelling in March 1943.

Arness served as a rifleman with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and was severely wounded during Operation Shingle, at Anzio, Italy.

According to James Arness – An Autobiography, he landed on Anzio Beachhead on January 21, 1944 as a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Due to his height, he was the first ordered off his landing craft to determine the depth of the water; it came up to his waist.

On January 29, 1945, having undergone surgery several times, Arness was honorably discharged. His wounds have bothered him ever since, and in recent years Arness has suffered from acute leg pain which even prevents him from mounting a horse. He underwent a series of operations to remove bullet fragments that had fused into the bone.

His decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Acting career

After his discharge, James Aurness entered Beloit College in Wisconsin. He began his performing career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.

Aurness soon began acting, and appeared in films. He began with RKO, which immediately changed his name to 'Arness'. His film debut was as Loretta Young's (Katie Holstrom) brother, Peter Holstrom, in "The Farmer's Daughter" (1947). John Wayne was originally offered the starring role in an upcoming TV western drama entitled Gunsmoke. Wayne turned down the offer but strongly recommended Arness for the role. Though identified with westerns, Arness also appeared in two science fiction films, The Thing from Another World (in which he portrayed the title character) and Them!. He was a close friend of John Wayne and co-starred with him in Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky, and The Sea Chase.

After Gunsmoke ended, Arness performed in western-themed movies and television series, including How the West Was Won, and in five made-for-television Gunsmoke movies between 1987 and 1994. An exception was as a big city police officer in a short-lived 1981 series, McClain's Law.

Arness did the narration for Harry Carey Jr.'s Comanche Stallion (directed by Clyde Lucas).

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