James Arness Biography

James Arness was an American actor. He was born on May 26, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and began his long and illustrious career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945.

Arness attended John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School, and West High School in Minneapolis. He graduated from high school in June 1942. During his time in high school, Arness worked as a courier for a jewelry wholesaler, loading and unloading railway boxcars at the Burlington freight yards in Minneapolis, and logging in Pierce, Idaho.

After moving to Los Angeles, he found work in the movies. His big break came in 1947, when he landed a prime role opposite Loretta Young in “The Farmers Daughter”. That year he also received parts in numerous westerns. In 1951, Jim appeared in the classic science fiction movie “The Thing”. Jim’s career was now taking off.

In the early 1950’s, Jim signed a contract with John Wayne’s production company Bat Jack. During his three years there he made four films with Wayne. It was John Wayne who was instrumental in landing Jim his biggest break ever in 1955 as Marshal Matt Dillon for a new TV series called Gunsmoke. As the story goes, CBS wanted Wayne for the part when the series was adapted from radio to television. He declined, but suggested his good friend for the part. CBS agreed to audition the 6-foot-7-inch actor. (The network also met with 25 other actors, including Raymond Burr.)

James Arness
James Arness

After being selected to play Dillon, Jim had second thoughts about doing television but decided to give it a try. He did, and stayed with Gunsmoke for 20 years and three Emmy nominations, until the show was cancelled in 1975, making it the longest running dramatic series ever produced. In addition to the series he made four Gunsmoke movies for TV the last of which was produced in 1992 “Gunsmoke IV: The Long Ride”

After the success of Gunsmoke, Jim stayed with the television western. From 1976 through 1979 he starred in “How the West Was Won,” which was rated as the fifth all time mini-series. His last television series was the police drama “Big Jim McLain” in the early 1980’s.

Throughout his career, James Arness received numerous awards and honors for his work and dedication to law enforcement. He has twice been made an Honorary United States Marshal in recognition of his many contributions to their charitable activities over the years. Jim has been inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and received numerous Western Heritage Awards.

During World War II, Jim served his country at Anzio where he was wounded and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Over the years Jim has given his time and personal donations to several non-profit organizations. In 1968, he donated his 1,400 acre ranch in Northern Los Angeles County to the Brandis Institute. He also donated his 60 ft. catamaran ‘Sea Smoke’, that was specially built for him, to the Sea Scouts.

James Arness Age

He was born on May 26, 1923 and died on June 3, 2011 at the age of 88 at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles.

James Arness Wife

Arness was married twice, first to Virginia Chapman from 1948 until their divorce in 1960. She died of a drug overdose in 1976. Arness was married to Janet Surtees from 1978 until his death.

James Arness Children

He adopted his first wife’s son Craig. With his second Janet Surtees, he had two sons, Rolf born on February 18, 1952 and Craig born in 1946 and died on December 14, 2004, and one daughter, Jenny Lee Arness who was born on May 23, 1950 and committed suicide by overdose on May 12, 1975.

James Arness Family

His parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness, a businessman and Ruth Duesler, a journalist. His father’s ancestry was Norwegian; his mother’s was German. The family name had been Aursnes, but when Rolf’s father, Peter Aursnes, emigrated from Norway in 1887, he changed it to Aurness. Arness and his family were Methodists.

James Arness Brother

Arness’ younger brother was actor Peter Graves. Peter used the stage name “Graves”, a maternal family name.

James Arness Death

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

James Arness Grave

He is interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

James Arness Height

He stood at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m).

James Arness Net Worth

James Arness had an estimated net worth of $8 million.

James Arness Movies and TV Shows

James Arness Movies

  • The Farmer’s Daughter (1947)
  • Man From Texas (1947)
  • Roses Are Red (1947)
  • Battleground (1949)
  • Wagon Master (1950)
  • Sierra (1950)
  • Two Lost Worlds (1950)
  • Double Crossbones (1950)
  • Stars In My Crown (1950)
  • Wyoming Mail (1950)
  • Cavalry Scout (1951)
  • Belle le Grand (1951)
  • Iron Man (1951)
  • The Thing from Another World (1951)
  • The People Against O’Hara (1951)
  • Carbine Williams (1952)
  • Hellgate (1952)
  • The Girl in White (1952)
  • Big Jim McLain (1952)
  • Horizons West (1952)
  • The Lone Hand (1953)
  • Island in the Sky (1953)
  • Veils of Bagdad (1953)
  • Hondo (1953)
  • Them! (1954)
  • Her Twelve Men (1954)
  • Flame of the Islands (1955)
  • Many Rivers to Cross (1955)
  • The Sea Chase (1955)
  • Gun the Man Down (1956)
  • The First Traveling Saleslady (1956)

TV Shows

  • The Lone Ranger (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 (1976)
  • How The West Was Won (1977-1979)
  • McClain’s Law (1981-1982)
  • John Wayne Standing Tall (1989)
  • Pioneers of Television (2011)

James Arness – Video