aww : arness, world contest, 1970
stars as Marshal Matt
Dillon in the TV series
with son Rolf at Bell's
Beach, Vic., during a
Rolf (also seen at right)
He started board-riding
Marshall Matt Dillon, all right.
As large as life, all six-foot-six of him.
standing atop a cliff.
But the setting was wrong.
It wasn't the Wild West it was southern Australia.
And he had no gun in his hand.
Just one gigantic surfboard, 11ft in length.
star of the TV series "Gunsmoke" was in his real-life role
of James Arness.
And be was taking part in hit favorite hobby, surfing.
He had a
week off from filming in California, his younger son, Rolf,
18, was coming to Bell's Beach, Victoria, to compete in the
World Surf Championship and so he decided to come to, "to
check the place over.
It was a good excuse.
I've wanted to come down here to Australia for long time," he drawled.
And it was at Bell's Beach, 60 miles from Melbourne, that we met him.
His colouring sandy.
Hair very wavy, Iots of it.
With smile wide.
His manner easy, casual.
dressed in blue jeans ("wouldn't get out of them if I could
help it'') a blue-and-red~checked shirt.
"I have a few neckties, but they are seldom used."
no star trappings about him.
Here he was far from the milling
crowds of Hollywood.
And that's how be wanted if.
Acting? It's fun
He had dipped into Sydney practically unnoticed with his son, rented a drive- yourself car, and came straight down south.
someone heard we were here, and boy - !"
The Press and television interviews began.
"l don't mind, I'm flattered - but I want to get into the water."
beach there were only a few people, young surfies, their
hair long and bleached.
He chatted to teem.
A couple of IocaI women plucked up courage to ask if they could take a photo of of him.
most of the time he was surfing.
For three, four, and more hours at a stretch.
He's a keen surfer front way back, since be first went to California 25 years ago.
And it is
15 years since he started his role of Marshall Matt Dillon.
The two have blended together.
''One is the other.
Can't really tell the difference."
call him "Matt Dillon'' its all right with him.
"A name doesn't make much difference."
15 years he still isn't tired of ,"Gunsmoke."
He enjoys it.
It's also a
"We film ten to 12 hours a day.
A few weeks off here and there.
We need them."
roughest part is getting new story material.
"There are just so many stories you can do; you've got to find the twist."
was born in Minnesota, grew up there.
He was at school when World War II broke out.
He joinrd the Army, was in it for three years.
Served in Italy.
When he returned to the United States, he went to the University of Minnesota, a freshman, still not sure what he wanted to do.
guy Dick Bremicker came back home.
He'd been in the Navy, then to Hollywood.
He'd skippered Errol Flynn's sail boat [Errol Flynn was an Australian, wasn't he?]
He told us about the movie world and how we should try to break into it.
'Boy, that was really something.
Sounds pretty good.' "
Wayne gave OK
hitchhiked to California.
Looked Dick Bremicker up.
He was a life-guard, but did bit parts in films.
He told how to go about getting into films.
suggestion James Arness went to a theatre school in Los
Studied acting, appeared in plays, got parts in films, mostly Westerns.
He has always enjoyed Westerns, is interested in the history of the West.
He was with the John Wayne Company for three years and it was then that "Gunsmoke" came into his life.
"It was on the radio first, then they decided to make it a TV series of it," he said.
looked around for actors, approached John Wayne.
He didn't want it.
He recommended me.
I did a test with others, and got the part of Matt Dillon."
It has been a full time job for him ever since.
But if it
hadn't been for Dick Bremicker "I doubt I would have gone to
Dick Bremicker didn't stay in Hollywood "he has business back in Minnesota."
Arness stayed and became a star.
A couple of years later his brother also went to Hollywood.
He is Peter Graves ("Graves is a family name"), star of the television series ...
elder son, Craig, 22, is at college.
Jenny, 20, is a photography student.
(Images) Left: James Arness with his extra-long surfboard.
The actor is 6ft. 6in. tall, the board 11ft. long
Above: As lawman Dillon.
Arness has had the role 15 years, and it has been a full time job. (Studio portrait, not shown)
Rolf is in
high school, and took time off to compete in the surf
He doesn't know what he wants to do.
He's not interested in acting, his dad said.
"Neither of the boys ever has been.
Jenny appeared in a few episopdes of 'Gunsmoke' when she thought she might want to become an actress, but not now.
is tough for young persons.
I'd rather see them in something else.
Although if they wanted to act, I wouldn't stop them."
"a comfortable Californian ranch-style house," is about half
a mile from the surf.
"I like the beach.
I gravitated to the Santa Monica area when I first went to California."
"At home the quality of life has declined.
You only have clear days like this three or four times a year ... It was worth coming just for the air."
He tries to surf "pretty regularly, to keep in practice."
He has a
beachhouse in Hawaii, and he goes there several times a
He's "way past the stage of championships" and surfs for the fun of it.
Rolf, is the champion surfer.
he has been doing it since he was eight.
His father taught him, but his father was also quick to point out, "I took him down to the water.
You can't teach surfing.
You have to learn yourself."
Arness flys a plane.
He likes travelling too.
Whenever he can he goes off somewhere.
"I know I
have been here only a few days.
Can't say I've even scratched the surface, but I would certainly like to spend more here.
This country is really great.
"It has a
relaxed, easy-going tempo.
And it has beautiful air.
We had all these things in California once.
We lost them.
quality of life has declined.
All the pollution from smokestacks and automobiles.
country - boy it has really got advantages.
The best anywhere.
Flying over an industrial city in Germany, down 5000ft, the atmosphere is blocked out entirely.
It's one big smoky mess.
around here now and say, 'How the hell could you ever ruin
But it mushrooms.
You've got to start getting control before it is too late.
think that I'm going on about this, but being here has made
me more conscious of it.
The difference is so striking, here and at home.
have clear days like this three or four times a year.
If nothing else, it was worth my while coming just for the air.
a beautiful day.
The sky was a brilliant blue, absolutely cloudless.
The sun shone warmly.
The waves, around the 10ft. mark, rolled in continuously.
The sands were golden.
There was a
clear uninterrupted stretch of sea as far as the eye could
There wasn't a breath of wind.
It was quiet.
The cliffs were covered in with low shrub, behind them were gently rolling hills, uninhabited except for a few sheep grazing.
Arness walked down to the beach.
"I'm going to get wet now."
into the water.
Near the shore, rocks cover the sand.
It is not a swimming beach.
To get over the rocks surfers have to lie on their boards, paddle out.
He went the
farthest out of all the surfers.
He rode the waves expertly about half a mile from the beach.
He sat out there lazing on his board.
it was three hours before he came out.
And only because he lost his board.
the steep steps from the beach to his car on top of the
His son was still in the surf.
alone, this American television star from Hollywood, alone
in a strange country.
But he seemed content.
"Boy, what a day!" was his final remark.
Australian Women's Weekly
20 May 1970, pages 8 and 9.