James Arness Biography

Biography by Published on Updated on 19 Aug, 2021
Facts of James Arness
Date of Birth: 1923 , May-26
Date of Death: 2011 , June-3
Age: 98 years old
Birth Nation: United States of America
Height: 6 Feet 7 Inch
Name James Arness
Birth Name James King Aurness
Father Rolf Cirkler Aurness
Mother Ruth Duesler
Nationality American
Birth Place/City Minneapolis, Minnesota
Ethnicity Mixed
Profession Actor
Net Worth $8 Million
Married to Virginia Chapman and Janet Surtees
Children Rolf Aurness, Craig Aurness, Jim Aurness, and Jenny Lee
Movies Gunsmoke, Them!, The Thing From Another World
Siblings Peter Graves
Died 3 June 2011
View more / View Less Facts of James Arness

The three times Primetime Emmy nominee James Arness was a popular American actor who was best known for playing the roles of Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years in the TV series Gunsmoke. Arness died of natural causes at the age of 88 on June 3, 2011, at Brentwood home in Los Angeles, California.

James Arness Behind The Curtains

James Arness was born on May 26, 1923, in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the real name James King Airness. He was born as the eldest son of father Rolf Cirkler Aurness and mother, Ruth Duesler. He grew up in his hometown with his brother Peter Graves

IMDb reported that as per on TV westerns in Time magazine (March 30, 1959), Arness stood 6' 7", weighed 235 lbs. During his era, he was considered the tallest leading man in Hollywood. 

Regarding his educational qualifications, James completed his education at Minneapolis Washburn high school.  He received his Alma Masters from Beloit College. 

Career Highlights

Arness As A Militant 

Although his parents were a businessperson, he wasn’t much interested in business. Arness had a dream to be a pilot as a naval fighter. But his poor vision and problem in eyesight was the major obstacle that blocked him towards it.

Arness yet served as a rifleman during the Infantry Division in the 3rd range within the United States. He also landed on Anzio Beachhead on January 22, 1944, which was mentioned in the Autobiography that stated about James Arness.

He landed during that time as a rifleman with the second platoon. Arness was also sent to General Hospital at Clinton Iowa during the time by the U.S. Army because of his short height, where he was the 1st one offered to have a landing craft for the determination of the complexity of the water. 

He served the Military service from 1943 to 1945 as a Corporal. 

Actor James Arness

In 1945, the former military serviceman began his career in the entertainment industry as a radio announcer at Minneapolis station WLOL. 

James Arness made his film debut in 1947 through the movie The Farmer's Daughter. Eventually, he appeared in popular films and TV series like Gunsmoke, Them!, The Thing From Another World, and The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory, to name a few. 

His most memorable character is undoubtedly U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. He portrayed the character for 20 long years and made it into the hearts of every American who loved to watch TV.

Until his death, he had around 48 acting credits for which he was considered among the experienced actors of Hollywood. 

Late James Arness Was Worth $8 Million At The Time Of His Death 

At the time of his death, James Arness was estimated to have a net worth of $8 million. He accumulated his fortune from his eminent career as an actor and a former military man.

Indeed, he earned a huge amount of salary from his appearance in the TV series Gunsmoke. A source reported that he had a salary of around $20 thousand per episode.  

The same site cited, The Thing From Another World star, had the initial earning of only $1,200 per episode. 

He starred in several other films, including The Farmer's Daughter, Iron Man, Hondo, The Sea Chase, The First Traveling Saleslady, and more. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. 

Arness was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart for his hard work and sincerity. 

Personal Life: Wife And Children

Arness was married twice and both his wives were actresses, Virginia Chapman and Janet Surtees. He got married to Virginia Chapman in 1948 and divorced in 1960. 

With the latter one, he exchanged the vows with Janet Surtees in 1978. With his wife, he welcomed four children; Rolf Aurness, Craig Aurness, Jim Aurness, and Jenny Lee. Sadly, his daughter Jenny Lee Arness who was also an actress committed suicide on May 12, 1975.

He also has six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

On the other hand, there was a big rumor of a long-term relationship between James Arness and actress Thordis Brandt, but they never accepted their relationship in public.

When Did James Arness Die? 

James Arness died on 3 June 2011 of natural causes at the age of 88. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife Janet Surtees at his house in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, the United States.

His funeral was held at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California was buried there. 


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