Milburn Stone Refused to Play Doc in ‘Gunsmoke’ Unless They Agreed to 1 ‘Ridiculous’ Contract Condition
Gunsmoke would have been an entirely different television show without Milburn Stone playing Doc Adams. However, circumstances almost led to a universe with an iteration of the show without him involved in the adaptation. Stone put his foot down with Gunsmoke decision-makers when it came to the contract, demanding one condition they called “ridiculous.”
Milburn Stone almost didn’t audition for ‘Gunsmoke’
According to Kansas History, Stone was a fan of Gunsmoke when it was first on the radio. He was immediately attracted to the part of Doc, thinking he would be an excellent fit for a role like that. However, he noted that the character’s radio actor, Howard McNear, was already exquisite in the role.
Charles Marquis Warren developed the Gunsmoke radio show into a television project. But Stone already had a “terrible experience” with him previously on a feature film, likely 1953’s Arrowhead. The actor was asked to do a test for Doc, but when he heard about Warren’s involvement, he initially wanted nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, he later agreed to give it a shot.
Stone and Warren immediately had an argument regarding the wardrobe during the test until the actor couldn’t take it anymore.
“Look, it’s my test, and it’s going to be my wardrobe. I know who I’m playing,'” Stone told him. “He said, ‘Well, you’re playing an Eastern doctor.’ I said, ‘Not the Doc I see. I’m going to play what I see.’”
The actor was right on the money because CBS wanted him for the part.
Milburn Stone refused to play Doc in ‘Gunsmoke’ unless they gave him a residual contract in perpetuity
Stone told Kansas History that the Gunsmoke decision-makers wanted his involvement pretty badly, but he was going to make them work for it. Even though he yearned for the part, he wanted to ensure they weren’t going to take advantage of him. So, he turned down every offer they made until the terms were just right. Then, he wanted a residual contract in perpetuity that he wasn’t willing to back down from.
“It finally got to the place where the terms were just great,” Stone said. “Everything’s good, except I wanted a residual contract in perpetuity. The amount of money could be negotiated, but I wanted to be paid for every Gunsmoke that ever showed, forever, no matter where. No way! Absolutely no way.”
Stone continued: “Finally, Phil Feldman, head of business affairs for CBS, called me and said, ‘Now about this ridiculous attitude you have about your residuals.’ I said, ‘What’s ridiculous about it? I see dead friends of mine working on television every night, and their families are starving. This ain’t gonna happen to me. I simply won’t do it any other way.’”
The actor was shaking in his boots because he didn’t want to lose the part. But Stone also wanted to make sure he got what he wanted contractually. Then, he got the call 20 minutes later that they agreed to sign the contract.
Stone played Doc Adams for 20 seasons of ‘Gunsmoke’
Stone certainly put a lot of work into Gunsmoke over the years. He played Doc for all 20 seasons from 1955–75, making him the only actor to keep with the show through the whole run alongside James Arness. Stone only skipped starring in seven episodes in 1971 due to undergoing heart surgery.
Gunsmoke remains one of the most legendary shows to ever hit TV screens with an impressive ensemble cast. Arness, Stone, Amanda Blake, and Dennis Weaver served as the original crew, but new faces joined the cast over the years. Burt Reynolds, Ken Curtis, Roger Ewing, and Buck Taylor also became iconic figures for the show, although fans will always have a special attachment to the original cast.