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James Arness is a notable name in the American movie industry and the reason for this is quite simple: he had a long-running career and charmed movie lovers with his incredible talent. The American actor was active in Hollywood for nearly 50 years, becoming a household name while stunning many people with his versatility.
Arness featured in nearly 50 movies and TV series, some of which were very successful. As a matter of fact, he gained cult status among fans for his role in TV series like How the West Was Won and Gunsmoke. Today, he is remembered as one of the men who helped to build Hollywood to what it has become.
The Early Years of James Arness
The Hollywood legend was born on May 26, 1923, in the United States – specifically in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our investigation has shown that the actor’s birth name was James King Aurness. It was when he started acting that he dropped the ‘u’ in his surname.
Even though he was clearly an American man, our research revealed that Arness had German roots and was also of Norwegian descent. The actor was raised in the USA alongside his brother Peter Graves by their parents; a father called Rolf Cirkler Aurness and a mother identified as Ruth Duesler. Unfortunately for the siblings, their parents parted ways in a divorce in the 1940s.
Growing up, Arness attended John Burroughs Grade School. After he finished there, he proceeded to attend the Washburn High School before eventually gaining admission to the West High School in Minneapolis. The actor graduated in 1942 but before then, he did a number of jobs including loading and unloading railway boxcars. He was also hired to work as a courier for a jewelry wholesaler.
Details of How He Became an Actor
Today, everyone knows James Arness as a legendary Hollywood star who gave undivided attention to acting, but, it is noteworthy that it was not what he originally had in mind to do.
From what we gathered, James dreamed of becoming a naval fighter pilot. This dream was never actualized because he was too tall for the job. Arness stood at about 6 feet 7 inches and this was five inches more than the height required for aviators. Because of this setback, he realized he had to turn his attention to something else, so he eventually decided to join the US Army. Arness served with the US Army from 1943 until 1945 when he had to take a rest following an injury he sustained.
After James left the military, he began working as a radio announcer before he took to acting after arriving in Hollywood by hitchhiking. It was at this point that he changed his name from Aurness to Arness. Arness got his first role in 1947 when he appeared in The Farmer’s Daughter. In the same year, he appeared in Roses Are Red. Soon, he began to gain a massive following among fans who came to appreciate his immense talent.
In 1955, the actor rose to wide acclaim when he scored the role of Matt Dillon on the Western series, Gunsmoke. He played the role across 635 episodes from 1955 to 1975. James became one of the most well-known faces in Hollywood and gained a cult status especially after he portrayed Zeb Macahan in another Western series, How the West Was Won.
By 1993, he had already appeared in close to 50 films, solidifying his status as one of the true legends of Hollywood. James’ career was decorated with a few recognitions including three Emmy Awards nominations.
His Kid Brother Was Also a Hollywood Legend
Incidentally, Arness’ brother Peter Graves was also a respected actor. Peter was born six years after James and he became popular for his roles in CBS television series, Mission: Impossible, which ran from 1967 to 1973 and Airplane! (1980).
Graves won many accolades including an Emmy and Golden Globe awards. Sadly, he died in 2010, just a year before his older brother followed suit.
Since James Arness, there is no other actor who has portrayed a character for as long as 20 years; a feat he achieved with Gunsmoke. Thanks to this and many other things that he was involved in, Arness left behind a net worth that was estimated at $8 million after his death.
Who Was James Arness Married To?
James Arness got married twice. His first marriage was to Virginia Chapman, a beautiful woman who was also an actress. The lovebirds got married in 1948 but by 1960, the union ended in divorce. While their marriage lasted, the couple had two children; Rolf Arness and Jenny Lee Arness. He also adopted a son Chapman had from another marriage.
James Arness’ second marriage was to a woman called Janet Surtees. The couple got married in 1978 and remained together until the death of the actor in 2011.
How The Actor Died
Having lived a fulfilling life as an actor, James Arness died on the 3rd day of June 2011. The actor passed away at the age of 88 in Los Angeles, at his Brentwood home. His death sparked an outpouring of grief as tributes poured in for the legendary movie star.
James was said to have died of natural causes. Following his death, he was interred in California at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.