Overview

Gunsmoke (1952-1961) was an OTR western drama set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the 1870s. In each episode, Marshal Matt Dillon deals with human dilemmas, trying to prevent lawlessness from overtaking the city. Sometimes he can find solutions, sometimes he cannot. As an "adult" Western, episodes were mature, brutal, and explicit, overturning Western fiction stereotypes. Gunsmoke is significant for its constant striving for historical accuracy and realism seldom achieved on radio, and for being called the best radio drama ever.


Episodes

Totals

Total episodes: 480 (+ 2 auditions)
Surviving episodes: 479
Inventory of episodes

Exemplary Episodes

Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye
Audition #00a1, 11 June 1949
Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Marshal "Mark" Dillon.

Billy the Kid
Episode 001, 26 April 1952
A young boy gives Marshal Dillon leads on a murder, which turns out to be his first as Billy the Kid.

The Boughten Bride
Episode 012, 12 July 1952
A young woman is kidnapped in a stage robbery while on her way to meet her fiance, Mr. Carter in Dodge City. When she is rescued and returned to Dodge, she would rather be with her kidnapper than the man who "bought" her.

Home Surgery
Episode 021, 13 September 1952
Marshal Dillon is forced to amputate the leg of a settler on the prairie. It is the only way to save him. But the man still dies. Repeated 23 June 1957.

Kitty
Episode 032, 29 November 1952
Marshal Dillon insists on bringing Miss Kitty Russell, the saloon proprietress, to a Dodge City dance, despite what the "decent" folk think. But Kitty knows what trouble her appearance will cause.

The Cabin
Episode 036, 27 December 1952
Entering a cabin during a blizzard, Marshal Dillon is imprisoned by Hack and Alvie, two mad-dog killers who plan to murder him in cold blood!

Cavalcade
Episode 041, 31 January 1953
Doc Adams' past comes back to haunt him. He is, in reality, Calvin Moore, a murderer! Repeated 8 November 1959.

Jayhawkers
Episode 050, 4 April 1953
A band of Jayhawkers—renegade raiders—preys on a cattle drive from Texas. Marshal Dillon lends a hand and earns the cowboys' respect. Repeated 11 August 1957.

Sundown
Episode 059, 6 June 1953
Marshal Dillon and Chester Proudfoot find an Indian squaw dying of exposure on the prairie, a victim caught between two cultures.

Flashback
Episode 062, 27 June 1953
A retired Calvary Officer learns too late that he cannot treat his trail crew like a military outfit. He also learns that his son is a better man than he thinks, but is the lesson too late?

Blacksmith
Episode 111, 5 June 1954
Emil, a good-natured German blacksmith, is picked on by Gil Tallman. But when his pretty new wife is threatened, the blacksmith serves up justice in a way that meets Marshal Dillon's approval.

Bloody Hands
Episode 155, 2 April 1955
Marshal Dillon gets sick of killing and resigns his job. Script available here. Repeated 14 July 1957

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Background

26 June 1952-18 June 1961
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS)
With 480 performances from 413 scripts, 1952-1961, Gunsmoke is one of the longest running OTR dramas, and arguably, radio's last great dramatic series.

Around Dodge City and in the territory out west there's just one way to handle the killers, the spoilers and that's with the U.S. Marshal and the smell of Gunsmoke.

Dodge City, Kansas, during the 1870s was called the "Queen of the Cow Towns," the "Wicked Little City," the "Gomorrah of the Plains." It had a reputation as a hostile, lawless town where the "fastest gun" ruled during the settlement of the American West. Cowboys herding cattle up from Texas, drifters, criminals, psychopaths—the mix was volatile. US Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp (1848-1929), Sheriff Bat Masterson (1856-1921), Sheriff Bill Tilghman (1854-1924), and Sheriff Charlie Bassett (c. 1847-1869), all real lawmen, worked without reservation to keep Dodge City under control until civilization could take hold.

Marshal Matt Dillon (played by William Conrad, already known for narrating Escape) is modeled after these lawmen. He is a loner, isolated, hard as worn leather saddle. There are only two ways he can go: be an outlaw, or be a Marshal and rid the territory of the mad-dog characters drifting through, spreading misery and death in their wakes. He is scared that everyday could be his last.

Gunsmoke, the radio series, was developed by Harry Ackerman. A pilot episode was written and recorded in two versions, both in 1949. The first, a hardboiled version, starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Marshal "Mark" Dillon. The second, a lighter version, starred Howard Culver as "Mark" Dillon. The role went to Culver, but he was unavailable because of his contract as the star of Straight Arrow. The project was shelved until 1952 when it was revived by producer Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston. They had worked together on Escape and wanted to create a Western series. The series drew praise for its realism right from the start.

The recurring cast included . . .
Marshal Matt Dillon (William Conrad)
Deputy Chester Wesley Proudfoot (Parley Baer)
Kitty Russell (Georgia Ellis)
Charles "Doc" Adams (Howard McNear)

There were western-themed radio dramas before Gunsmoke. They were made for juveniles. Gunsmoke, as conceptualized by Macdonnell and Meston, was made for adults. Episodes dealt with the hard realities of life in Dodge City and the Kansas frontier from 1872-1885. They overturn Western fiction stereotypes, are mature, brutal, and explicit, with violent crimes and deaths, massacres, scalpings, racism, and opium addiction. Criminals are not always caught. Episodes often end unhappily. And women are treated poorly. For example, Miss Kitty Russell runs the Texas Trails Saloon and is looked down upon by many Dodge City citizens. Other women are treated as chattel. Gunsmoke explored these issues well ahead of other media. Writer Katherine Hite was one of the first women writers to work regularly on a western. The writing and storytelling are superb, as is the music (theme "Old Trails," aka "Boothill," composed and conducted by Rex Koury), the acting, and especially the sound effects. The soundscapes are subtle, and realistic. The gun shot in the opening sequence is a legendary industry standard.

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Resources

Episodes at Internet Archive website
Episodes at Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library
Episodes at Old Time Radio Westerns website
Gunsmoke radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website

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