Actor James Arness brought the world one of the best television Westerns with Gunsmoke. However, he had other areas of his career that helped him get to the level of stardom that he ultimately achieved. The world knows him as a television actor, but some forget that he also starred in some movies. One of these films remains a sci-fi classic, where he’s barely recognizable as the movie’s monster.
James Arness played Matt Dillon in ‘Gunsmoke’
Gunsmoke finds Arness playing Marshal Matt Dillon, who is in charge of Dodge City. However, this town is an incredibly dangerous part of the West. Many of its citizens have no respect for the law and push back against authority at every turn. Each episode finds Matt dealing with various frontier life problems, including cattle rushing, gunfights, brawls, and land fraud.
Arness originally set a longevity record for the length of time playing a single character with his role on Gunsmoke. He played the character for 20 years from 1955 to 1975, a record that co-star Milburn Stone had for his role as Doc. Nevertheless, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit would ultimately surpass their record with Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson.
James Arness played The Thing in ‘The Thing from Another World’
Before Arness landed Gunsmoke, he originally tried for a movie career under a contract with M-G-M, but they ended the contract. Other male actors didn’t want to work with him because of his staggering 6’7″ height which made him tower over other actors. He starred in 1951’s The Thing from Another Planet, which was based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?”
The novella and The Thing from Another World would inspire John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing.
The Thing from Another World follows a story that begins when scientist Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) takes notice of a UFO near his North Pole research base. As a result, he decides to send a team under Capt. Patrick Hendry’s (Kenneth Tobey) command to investigate what it could be. However, they discover more than they bargained for when they see a wrecked spaceship and a humanoid creature frozen in ice. Carrington and Hendry disagree what they should do with the creature, who thaws and begins a path of destruction.
Arness played The Thing listed in the title. However, some audiences missed out on this detail because he’s under makeup, prosthetics, and dark lighting. Nevertheless, the destined Western star jumped right into sci-fi as a humanoid creature.
He was proud to play the part
There were some rumors that Arness was embarrassed to play The Thing after he got his big break on Gunsmoke. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to an interview with the Herald-Tribune, the actor rejected such rumors. Some of these whispers even came from The Thing from Another World‘s makeup artist, Lee Greenway, who said that he ate alone on set due to his humiliation.
“Not true!” Arness responded to the rumors. “I started in movies in 1946 and lost a lot of parts because of my height. When Howard Hawks put me in ‘The Thing,’ it was a great break for me at the time because I was struggling to get any kind of job whatsoever, and that picture got a tremendous amount of publicity … and got me other work afterward.”