‘Gunsmoke’: When Did Ken Curtis First Appear on the Show
While Gunsmoke fans know him as Festus Haggen, actor Ken Curtis played several different roles on the long-running western.
Curtis made his first appearance on the series in 1959. He played Phil Jacks in the episode “Jayhawkers.” Later the same year, he was Brisco on “A Change of Heart.” In 1960, he play Scout in “Speak Me Fair” and Jesse in “The Ex-Urbanites.” He returned to the series two years later as Festus for the first time. However, a 1963 episode saw him play yet another character, Kyle.
Curtis then went on to star in 306 episodes of Gunsmoke total. Of course, the vast majority of those appearances were as Festus. For 11 seasons, he served as a sidekick to James Arness’s Matt Dillon. Prior to Curtis being on the series and after he left, Dennis Weaver filled the spot as Chester Goode. After he joined the series, Curtis decided to base the character on a man named Cedar Jack, the town drunk where the actor grew up. Cedar Jack often landed himself behind bars, which left an impression on young Curtis. Decades later, his eccentricities inspired Curtis to incorporate his country accent and other characteristics into Festus/
Ken Curtis Discusses Gunsmoke Costars
Despite being on the series for so long, Curtis maintained a good working relationship with all of his costars. In particular, he once praised Arness for remaining humble in the face of success.
“I’ve been on the show 10 years and Jim hasn’t changed one iota,” Curtis said. He elaborated that Arness was reserved, which actually made him an ideal coworker. He never started drama or picked a fight with anyone. In a sense, that attitude may have been the reason the show succeeded for as long as it did.
“I’ve seen many shows go down the drain because the star becomes impossible and disliked by everyone,” Curtis added. “He’s terrific to work with. When the time comes to buckle down to work, he’s ready.”
Additionally, he opened up about what it was like working with Milburn Stone. He played Doc Adams for all 20 seasons of Gunsmoke, and Stone remains a fan favorite. Apparently, he was a favorite of Curtis’s as well.
“Mil is one of the most entertaining fellows I’ve ever been around in my life,” Curtis said. “But when he decides to do something, he doesn’t pull any punches.”
This set Stone apart from Arness, who tended to be more stoic.
“You’ve got to admire him for it because he really stands up and fights,” the Gunsmoke actor explained about Stone. “He’s one of the most honest guys I’ve ever met. He gets a little salty now and then, but always for a reason.”