Is James Arness of Gunsmoke still alive? How about the actor who played Festus?
—Joan M., New Jersey.
James Arness published his autobiography last year. James Arness: An Autobiography features personal revelations about his 20 years playing Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke and a film career that included roles in the cult-favorite science fiction movie The Thing. Arness, 79, was born in Minneapolis and began his career as a radio announcer in Minnesota in 1945. His big break came in 1947, when he landed the lead opposite Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter. John Wayne suggested the 6-foot-7 Arness for the role of the marshal in the frontier town of Dodge City, Kan., after he turned it down. Arness’ brother is actor Peter Graves. Arness and his wife, Janet, live in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles and enjoy spending time with their three sons and grandchildren. Ken Curtis, who played Dillon’s cantankerous deputy, Festus Hagen, died in 1991.