For two decades, the Western television drama Gunsmoke was a crucial element of American culture. For eleven of those years, Ken Curtis, who played Marshal Matt Dillon’s cantankerous deputy Festus Haggen, was a crucial element of Gunsmoke.
Curtis, who was born Curtis Gates in southeastern Colorado in 1916, was the real-life son of a sheriff, living during his youth in rooms atop the Bent County Jail.
While mostly remembered today for his work on Gunsmoke, Curtis originally gained fame as a singer. For several years he performed with the Western band Sons of the Pioneers, as well as with the more mainstream Tommy Dorsey Band (where he replaced Frank Sinatra as singer).
Curtis began showing up on screen in the 1950s, often for famed director John Ford, who just happened to be his father-in-law at the time. Curtis appeared in supporting roles in several of John Wayne’s films, including The Searchers and The Quiet Man.
For a time, Curtis produced B-horror films, creating such anti-classics as The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster.
In 1964, he secured lasting fame when joined the cast of Gunsmoke. The show began on radio in 1952, and made its television debut three years later. It would last for (what was then) a record twenty seasons, often as the number one show on television.
After the show wrapped in 1975, Curtis still acted and performed at carnivals and rodeos. He was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1981.
Twenty years ago this week, Curtis died in Fresno. As a fitting ending for a true son of the West, his ashes were later returned to Colorado and scattered over the earth from which he sprang.
Comments Off on Festus in Peace | tags: festus haggen, frank sinatra, gunsmoke, ken curtis, sons of the pioneers, tommy dorsey band, westerns | posted in Polaroids From the Old and New West
Frank Sinatra is remembered for being a lady-killer in his films, but what is often overlooked is that he once played a would-be presidential assassin.
The date was October 1954, and the city of Newhall, California was still small enough to pose as the setting for the sleepy fictional town of “Suddenly” in the film of the same name.
In the film, Sinatra and a group of hired killers pose as FBI agents who take a group of people hostage in a house overlooking a train station, where they intend to shoot the president when he de-trains.
Suddenly came on the heels of Sinatra’s Oscar-winning performance in From Here To Eternity, and Sinatra delivers a solid performance as a psychotic heavy, which was a tough sell for a 120-pounder.
The film used many locations sprinkled around downtown Newhall which still exist, including the Benson house on 8th Street, and the Saugus Train Station, which is no longer at the site it occupied in the film, but today can be found in Heritage Junction, inside the William S. Hart Park.
Suddenly was thought to be an inspiration for 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, another presidential assassination film, which also starred Sinatra, who this time tries to prevent an assassination attempt.
Rumors circulated that Lee Harvey Oswald watched Suddenly shortly before assassinating Sinatra’s friend John F. Kennedy. This was not the case, but it’s possible that Oswald saw the film on its initial release in theaters nine years earlier.
The film was pulled from distribution after the Kennedy assassination and was largely forgotten. It again became a subject of controversy in the mid-1980s when a colorized version was released which turned Sinatra’s famous blue eyes brown.
Leave a comment | tags: frank sinatra, newhall, Newhallywood, santa clarita, suddenly