Santa Clarita TV Tour: Gunsmoke

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gunsmoke this week (I’m sure you have too, right? Anyone? … Anyone?)

It actually makes sense because I’ve been spending lots of time lately at the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Newhall preparing for this weekend’s Cowboy Festival.

For several years until the Western town at the ranch burned down in 1962, Melody Ranch was the home of Gunsmoke.

Gunsmoke began as a radio show in 1952, and was adapted to television three years later, where it would remain at or near the top of the Nielsen ratings for 635 episodes over the next twenty seasons. The series was intended as a Western for grown-ups, with grittier and more realistic stories than those filling the airwaves at the time.

After the Veluzat family purchased the ranch from singing cowboy Gene Autry in the early 90s, they rebuilt the Western town in meticulous detail, re-creating Dodge City in the process.

This weekend I’ll be taking groups of Old West fans on a couple of behind-the-scene tours of the ranch, pointing out Marshal Matt Dillon’s old jail, Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon, and the Dodge House Hotel.

Gunsmoke landed in my thoughts a couple other times this week.

On Wednesday, I wrote about the 20th anniversary of the passing of Ken Curtis, who for many years played deputy Festus Haggen.

Also on Saturday, I will be part of a panel discussing the two versions of True Grit, and whether or not Hollywood is seeing the return of the Western.

I discovered that Kim Darby, who played Mattie Ross in the original version of the film in 1969, was only selected for the role after Mia Farrow dropped out. Producer Hal Wallis was scrambling to find a replacement, when he turned on the television and found his girl.

And do you know what he was watching that night?

You guessed it: Gunsmoke.


About deadwrite

Freelance writer, film historian, taphophile View all posts by deadwrite

2 responses to “Santa Clarita TV Tour: Gunsmoke

  • Cynde Janiszewski

    I really enjoyed the Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Melody Ranch. You and Kim did a great job! I also enjoyed the bus tour that you did on Thursday! I wish that I lived in California so that I could take your Saturday classes this summer. The commute from Michigan might be a little tough 🙂 Did you ever think about teaching an extended weekend class for us out-of-towners?

    • deadwrite

      Cynde – It was great having you along for the ride. I like the idea of an extended tour on a weekend. Let me put something together and I will send you an email to get your availability. Thanks again – E.J.

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