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James Arness (born May 26, 1923) is an Americanmarker actor best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years. 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 the decade of the 1980s (1987) Return to Dodge, and four more made-for-TV Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s.

Arness was born as James Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker. His parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness and Ruth Duesler, descendants of Norwegianmarker and Germanmarker immigrants. The original family name was 'Aursnes', but when Arness's grandfather came to Ellis Island, he later changed the name to 'Aurness'. Arness attended Washburn High Schoolmarker, Minneapolis, (Class of 1941). Arness is the elder brother of actor Peter Graves (his brother Peter Aurness changed his surname to stage name of 'Graves', a maternal family name). James Arness was the tallest actor ever to play a lead role, standing either 6'6" or 6'7" inches.

Military service in World War II

Arness served as a rifleman in the United States Army during World War II with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and was severely wounded during Operation Shingle, at Anziomarker, Italymarker.

According to his 2001 autobiography, James Arness – An Autobiography, he landed on Anzio Beachhead on January 21, 1944 while serving as a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Due to his height (6'6"), acting as “a depth finder”, he was 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 numerous surgeries, Arness received an honorable discharge. His wounds would affect him for the rest of his life. In later years Arness has suffered from acute leg pain (which prevented him from mounting a horse) and has undergone a series of operations to remove bullet fragments that had infused into the bone.

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

After the war James Aurness entered Beloit College, in Wisconsin. After college, he fell into acting, and began a career in films. He began his film tenure with RKO, and had his name immediately changed from 'Aurness' to Arness'. His film debut was in the minor role, as Loretta Young's younger brother, 'Peter Holstrom' in the now classic 1947 "The Farmer's Daughter".

Acting career

Though primarily identified with Westerns, he also is remembered for appearing 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 primarily in western-themed movies and television series, including How the West Was Won, and five made-for-television Gunsmoke reunion movies between 1987 and 1994. A notable exception was a brief turn as a big city police officer in the short-lived 1981 series,McClain's Law. Arness did the narration for Harry Carey Jr.'s western, Comanche Stallion (directed by Clyde Lucas).

For his contribution to the television industry, Arness has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 1751 Vine Street. In 1981, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahomamarker. In 2006, Arness was inducted into the Santa Clarita Walk of Western Stars and gave a related television interview. His most recent feature film is Comanche Stallion (2005).


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