People who have watched the classic TV Western Gunsmoke know that Ken Curtis played Festus, the sidekick to James Arness’ Matt Dillon. But we bet you didn’t know that Curtis would spend time growing up in a jail. He sure did. Talk about foreshadowing in a rather interesting way. Curtis’ family had something to do with this and, no, it was not in a criminal way. The actor talked about this in an interview that also features costar Buck Taylor, who played Newly on Gunsmoke.
“You bet, sure did Bette,” Curtis tells interviewer Bette Rogge. He says his dad used to be a sheriff back in Colorado and that Curtis was a “turnkey” at a very early age. When asked if it was exciting, Curtis said, “Well yes, I guess it was in the beginning. You know, it became old hat after a while. But it was just a job for Dad because it was during the Depression years in Colorado.”
Ken Curtis of ‘Gunsmoke’ Would Remember Fleagles Staying In Jail Cell
Rogge says to him that he had some bad characters in there. “Oh, yes we did,” Curtis said. “This is in the days of Bonnie and Clyde and Baby Boy, Baby Face Nelson, whatever his name was, I’ve forgotten. But there were quite a few notorious outlaws in those days.” One group that Curtis mentions in the interview is called the Fleagles, who, he said, committed one of the most famous bank robberies in the West. That would be the Lamar bank robbery. Curtis adds that at one time, there were several Fleagles who were the most wanted criminals in the country.
Speaking of his time with Arness, he talked about how he felt working alongside the lead actor. “I’ve been on the show 10 years and Jim hasn’t changed one iota,” Curtis said according to a MeTV article. “I’ve seen many shows go down the drain because the star becomes impossible and disliked by everyone. He’s terrific to work with. When the time comes to buckle down to work, he’s ready.” Curtis would play Festus Haggen for 11 seasons on the CBS drama next to Arness.
He would follow Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, Matt’s original sidekick. Yet the show did originate in the world of radio. A couple of classic TV connections are involved in this, too, far beyond Gunsmoke. William Conrad provided Matt’s voice. Well, in the 1970s when private eyes ruled the TV world, Conrad would play Frank Cannon on Cannon. Meanwhile, Howard McNear was Dr. Charles Adams. Of course, he would play barber Floyd Lawson on The Andy Griffith Show.