Saturday, September 28, 2013

Favorite Western TV Series: Gunsmoke

Troy D. Smith

I have no problem picking my favorite Western TV series- it's the grand-daddy of them all, Gunsmoke. I would have trouble picking my #2- I'm also a huge fan of Have Gun: Will Travel and Maverick, as well as more recent shows like Deadwood. But my first love is Dodge City. And why not? It's the most iconic of the "adult" westerns to hit the tube in the 1950s, running for twenty seasons.

I don't need to describe the show for you. You know about Marshal Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc Adams, and the rest. Instead, at the end of this article, I will post links to several essays I have written about different aspects of the show at my own blog.

For today I will focus on my favorite episode. Now that's a tough one, there are probably dozens of contenders. But the one I always go back to is an episode from the Eighteenth season, "A Quiet Day in Dodge." (note: okay, the two-part "Island in the Desert" would be #2.)

The episode first aired on January 29, 1973, so I probably saw it in its first run. It's one of the humorous episodes, thrown in now and then to break the tension, and while it's quite funny that's not the main reason I like it so much. I like what it tells us about Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, and their relationship.

The story opens with Matt riding into town just after dawn, a prisoner in tow. He locks the guy up, and then retires to his own cot- he has been up for 36 hours, and all he wants out of life right now is a peaceful sleep.

But he's not going to get it.

As the day progresses, an increasingly rumpled and grumpy Marshal Dillon has to deal with a host of problems, all designed to keep the sandman away.

Festus, who is apparently one of those annoying, chipper morning people, makes an ungodly racket cleaning fish in the office.

Matt's prisoner stabs him in the hand with a fork.

A young whippersnappery rapscallion, with overly permissive parents, terrorizes the town.

A crotchety old lady harangues the marshal over what she deems his lapses in duty (played by Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West herself.)

A brawl breaks out in the Long Branch, started by two grizzled old miners.

But the worst of it all... Miss Kitty is royally ticked off at Matt. It seems they had a picnic scheduled for the day before, which had been put off several times, and -yet again -Matt missed it because of work.

Finally, by the end of the day, Matt has managed to solve all the problems (including that of the kid, whom he gives a good spanking.) He even patches things up with Kitty; she makes him a special dinner, which they share in her room. It is pretty obvious what Miss Kitty has in mind for dessert.

This is one of the very rare glimpses we get into what goes on behind closed doors between the two longtime paramours. Remember that Toby Keith song, when he said Matt never did hang his hat at Kitty's place? Well, he does... and with a very domestic sort of familiarity.

But then, Kitty turns her back for a moment.... and the exhausted marshal is stretched out on her bed, snoring like a banshee. Not quite what she had in mind. The quietly fuming Miss Kitty breaks a porcelain pot to see if it'll waken her beau, but he doesn't stir. She marches downstairs to the bar -pouring beer over the heads of the two miners -then heads out the front door. The ever-protective bartender Sam calls after her, "It's awfully late, you might be molested!"

She laughs sarcastically and says "Really!" The implication, of course, was that she had been trying all day.

For the better part of two decades, the real relationship between Matt and Kitty was sort of between the lines. In this episode, we finally get an idea what they had been up to upstairs all those years. Although... not on that particular day.

Click on this link to see a blooper from the episode, in which the Wicked Witch cracks up the whole cast with a very unexpected ad-lib:

And here are my previous blogs about the show:

Gunsmoke, Dodge City, and Me

Marshal of What, Exactly?

Chester vs. Festus

Matt Dillon's Dodge City: A Historian's Nightmare


  1. Loved Gunsmoke and your post. I've read some of your other Gunsmoke posts before but I'll read the others tomorrow. I didn't know Leonard Nimoy was ever on the show, though.

  2. He was on it more than once, I'm pretty sure. And William Shatner chewed up the scenery like crazy when he was on.

  3. I loved Gunsmoke but my favorite series was Cheyenne. I think as a hero he still influences a lot of western romance writers even today ;). The beauty of Gunsmoke though was the community; so it's at the top of any list for a good reason-- strong hero, good stories, and that community

  4. Loved this bit of insight into the relationship--but even better was the YouTube excerpt. thanks for sharing.

  5. Great post - I'm off to read your others now!

  6. I enjoyed the post and the blooper. This was my Dad's favorite show. Still is.

  7. Troy, I loved and still DO love Gunsmoke with a passion. When I was a little girl (and this was when I was very young and the eps were in black and white) I called Marshal Dillon "Marshal Tight Britches"--because of that opening scene where he faces the guy down in the street. That's how long I've been watching Gunsmoke. If it's on tv on reruns, I am THERE. Great post, as always. Sorry to be so late getting here.

  8. Troy, what a great post. And the outtake with Margaret Hamilton was priceless. Thanks for rekindling the memories.

  9. My dad, who was not much on TV and wouldn't let us have one until I was 16, became an immediate fan of Gunsmoke. Other than the evening news, it was the only show he watched.
    Wonderful reminder of a TV classic. Now I need to check out that blooper.

  10. I loved that blooper, Troy. Thanks for including the link.

  11. Great post about a great show. I've cross posted a link to your blog at my Facebook page:

    Best Regards,

  12. Mannon, Troy. My favorite Gunsmoke episode with an unforgettable ending of Matt getting shot down. I watch it once a year to remember what quality storytelling is all about.

  13. Oh the memories. Watch the show weekdays on Encore when I'm not working. The half hour episodes and the hour long ones. All good. Doris

  14. "Mannon" was definitely one of the best, David.

  15. Does anyone have the full episode of A Quiet Day in Dodge?