I was never a huge fan of westerns, even though I loved John Wayne and everything he ever starred in. To me, “The Searchers” is quite possibly the greatest film ever made.
But I always had a soft place in my heart for James Arness or, more accurately, the U.S. Marshall that he played on television from 1955 to 1975. When I hear the name “Matt Dillon,” I don’t think of the immensely talented Brat Packer who made his bones in films like “The Outsiders” and, much later, “Crash.”
To me, Matt Dillon is Arness in all of his glory, striding with that slight swagger down the streets of Dodge City and impersonating all that was good, clean, virtuous and downright “American” in the best sense of that word. He was the Gary Cooper of the small screen. He was John Wayne without the cinemascope.
That’s why I was so sad to learn that James Arness had passed away this weekend at the venerable age of 88.
Reading his obituary, I learned something I hadn’t known: in real life, Arness was a war hero whose distinctive gait came from a wound he’d suffered during the invasion of Anzio in World War II.
Just makes me miss him more.
Rest in Peace, Marshall Dillon. And when you get to that big saloon in the sky, please give a hug to Miss Kitty for me, will ya?