James Arness Biography, Career, Death, Net Worth

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James Arness was an American actor best known for his role as Marshal Matt Dillon in the CBS television series dubbed “Gunsmoke”. He was born on 26 May 1923 and died on 3 June 2011. In this post, we will look at James Arness’s Biography, Career, Death, Net Worth and issues surrounding his life till his death. Keep reading.

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James Arness Biography

Arness was born in Minneapolis to parents Rolf Cirkler Aurness (businessman) and Ruth Duesler (journalist). James came from a Christian home with the whole family of Methodists church. He also had a brother who was also an actor by the name of Peter Graves.

James attended John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School, and West High School in Minneapolis. He finally completed high school in June 1942. Arness also entered Beloit College and was part of the campus choir and a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He entered the military in 1943.

On 22 January 1944, James entered the battle of Anzio where he was severely injured in his right leg. He was then evacuated from Italy to the United States. On 29 January 1945, James was discharged from the army.

After his discharge from the army, Arness entered the entertainment scene as a radio announcer at Minneapolis station WLOL in 1945. With more determination to enter into acting, Arness finally had his debut as Loretta Young’s (Katie Holstrom) brother, Peter Holstrom in the film “The Farmer’s Daughter”.

James had his time when he played as Marshall Matt Dillon in the CBS Television Series Gunsmoke which ran from 1955 to 1975 as a weekly series. Check out some of the films and television shows he was featured in.

James Arness Movies


  • The Farmer’s Daughter (1947) – Peter
  • Roses Are Red (1947) – Ray (credited as “James Aurness”)
  • The Man From Texas (1948) – Gang Member (uncredited)
  • Battleground (1949) – Garby
  • Stars In My Crown (1950) – Rolfe Isbell (uncredited)
  • Wagon Master (1950) – Floyd Clegg
  • Sierra (1950) – Little Sam (credited as “Jim Arness”)
  • In a Lonely Place (1950) – Young Detective (uncredited)
  • Wyoming Mail (1950) – Russell
  • Two Lost Worlds (1951) – Kirk Hamilton (credited as “James Aurness”)
  • Belle Le Grand (1951) – Belle Admirer Mine Guard at Fire (uncredited)
  • The Thing from Another World (1951) – The Thing
  • Double Crossbones (1951) – Bullock (uncredited)
  • Cavalry Scout (1951) – Barth
  • Flame of the Islands (1955) – Kelly Rand
  • The First Traveling Saleslady (1956) – Joel Kingdom
  • Gun the Man Down (1956) – Rem Anderson
  • Alias Jesse James (1959) – Marshal Matt Dillon (uncredited)
  • The Alamo: 13 Days to Glory (1987, TV movie) – Jim Bowie
  • Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987, TV movie) – Marshal Matt Dillon
  • Red River (1988, TV Movie) – Thomas Dunson
  • Gunsmoke II: The Last Apache (1990, TV movie) – Marshal Matt Dillon
  • Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992, TV movie) – Marshal Matt Dillon
  • Gunsmoke IV: The Long Ride (1993, TV movie) – Marshal Matt Dillon
  • Gunsmoke V: One Man’s Justice (1993, TV movie) – Marshal Matt Dillon (final film role)

Television Shows

  • The Lone Ranger – Deputy Bud Titus (1950)
  • Lux Video Theatre, “The Chase” (1954)
  • Gunsmoke – 635 episodes – Marshal Matt Dillon (1955–1975)
  • Front Row Center (1956)
  • The Red Skelton Chevy Special (1959)
  • The Chevrolet Golden Anniversary Show (1961)
  • A Salute to Television’s 25th Anniversary (1972)
  • The Macahans – Zeb Macahan (1976)
  • How The West Was Won – Zeb Macahan (1977–1979 TV series)
  • McClain’s Law – Det. Jim McClain (1981–1982 TV series)
  • John Wayne Standing Tall – TV Movie – Himself /Host (1989)
  • Pioneers of Television – episode – Westerns – Himself / Marshal Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke (2011)

Who Was James Arness Married to?

James married Virginia Chapman in 1948. He adopted her son Craig as part of the marriage. Arness also had a son and daughter by name of Rolf and Jenny Lee Arness with Chapman respectively. They later divorced in 1963. However, Arness’s wife, Chapman died in 1977 from a drug overdose.

After divorcing from ex-wife Chapman, James married Janet Surtees in 1978. She was with him till his death.

James Arness Cause of Death

Arness died on 3 June 2011 at the age of 88 at his Brentwood Home in Los Angeles of natural causes.

James Arness Net Worth At Time of Death

Arness’s net worth at the time of his death was estimated to be about $8 million. His income was mostly from his work as an actor.

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