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Actor Burt Reynolds only starred in Gunsmoke for a couple of years. However, the experience stuck with him for many years to follow. Reynolds found substantial success as a movie star in Hollywood beyond television and as a major heartthrob. He once reflected on his experience on the Western television show, recalling that working with James Arness brought some of the biggest surprises.

‘Gunsmoke’ actor Burt Reynolds loved playing Quint Asper

'Gunsmoke' James Arness as Matt Dillon, Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, and Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper. They're standing in front of an old Western building making funny faces.
L-R: James Arness as Matt Dillon, Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, and Burt Reynolds as Quint Asper | CBS via Getty Images

Reynolds played Quint Asper on Gunsmoke beginning in season 8. He starred on the Western television show for 50 episodes through season 10, first appearing in “Quint Asper Comes Home.” The half-Comanche character was avenging his father’s death when U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon (Arness) integrated him into Dodge City as a friend. He worked as a renowned blacksmith and part-time assistant to the marshal.

However, Reynolds left Gunsmoke to pursue his movie career. As a result, the show had to figure out a way to write off his exit. They didn’t do so until season 12 when Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis) said that their blacksmith was the best they’ve had since Quint left town. Nevertheless, the character will always be a part of Dodge City’s history and legacy.

Burt Reynolds was shocked to find ‘Gunsmoke’ leading man James Arness so humble

According to James Arness: An Autobiography, Reynolds wrote about the biggest surprises working on Gunsmoke. He was particularly surprised to see how Arness worked on the set, never taking himself too seriously.

“The biggest surprise for everyone who had the good fortune to work on a few episodes of Gunsmoke in those days was Jim Arness,” Reynolds wrote. “He was funny. I mean get- the-giggles, wrap-up-for-the-cast-and-crew, ‘time-out’-and-get-it-together funny.”

Reynolds named Dom DeLuise, David Niven, Jonathan Winters, and Richard Pryor for how much they impressed him. However, none of them surprised him the way that Arness did. Reynolds didn’t expect him to be as tall as he was and how his infectious sense of humor allowed others to laugh at themselves. However, the surprises didn’t end there.

“Just as surprising, he was totally without ego,” Reynolds wrote. “He never imposed his position on anyone. Not once did I or anyone else ever see Jim being rude, overbearing self-righteous or selfish to anyone, whether crew member, extras, day players, or co-stars.”

Reynolds continued: “I’ve done over 200 TV shows (the only actor canceled by all three networks … twice) and over 75 features and I can’t think of any actor whose behavior on the set and off was more unpretentious than Jim’s. He just didn’t or wouldn’t play the ‘star.’ I think the mere thought of it would have made him laugh.”

James Arness played Matt Dillon for all 20 seasons


Burt Reynolds Quit ‘Gunsmoke’ Because of Milburn Stone

Reynolds and the rest of the cast praised Arness for his years working on Gunsmoke. After all, he was one of two actors to remain on the show for the entire 20-season run. The only other actor to do so was Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams. However, Amanda Blake wasn’t far behind, who starred as Kitty Russell for 19 seasons.

Arness avoided publicity at all costs, but he loved performing. He had a passion for Gunsmoke and took real responsibility for playing Matt over the course of the show’s run.