Thursday, October 31, 2019

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

October Surprise!


By Christopher Robinson

A séance has been held. That was the only way I could begin to describe the events of a recent trip to Atlantic City where I just may have participated in one of the greatest of all paranormal happenings.

Strolling by the boardwalk vendors, my friends, Tim, Vinnie, Vinnie’s wife, Bonnie and myself were somehow prophetically drawn to a neon sign-GREATEST PSYCHIC IN WORLD-MADAME OUSPENSKAYA $10 PER PERSON. My cynicism was firmly in check but Tim and Bonnie thought it was an experience we had to share before leaving the following morning. So, reluctantly I went along with it and the four of us entered the small shop adorned with peeling wallpaper and ubiquitous incense.

An elderly woman in black garb with a simple string of beads greeted us in a seemingly Russian accent, collecting forty dollars from us with instructions to follow her to a small round table with three lit candles near a wall where she was apparently brewing some potent tea. We all sat down as we took a quick glance at our surroundings.

“Please to put away your cigarette. Then we begin.” She directed Vinnie.

“Come on, you’d do it for Ravi Shankar.” I quipped, realizing I probably should keep quiet.

He put his cigarette out in a nearby saucer and Madame Ouspenskaya seemed content to continue. My friends exchanged some glances and then waited to see what was next. No one spoke for almost a minute until Madame Ouspenskaya closed her eyes and asked that we join hands. As we did so she quietly uttered some words that we took to be invocations for the beginning of the ceremony.

“What are we here to do today?” No one answered. Our eyes were closed but we knew none of us had properly figured out any purpose for what we had come for, if this was, in fact, a séance. So, to avoid embarrassing our medium or my cohorts, I spoke up. I didn’t want to insult this nice woman but at the same time, I was trying not to say or do anything to get us tossed out. We should get something for forty dollars, right? I didn’t know what to say but began talking (I do that from time to time). On this occasion, it proved beneficial to my curiosities regarding the unexplained. I opened my mouth, from which the words came.

“Can we talk to someone’s spirit?” An uncomfortable moment passed as I thought we would all be shown the door amidst a string of Russian profanities. She quietly responded.

“Madame Ouspenskaya will try. That is what she does.” I wondered if that meant that she does it, or tries to do it. “Whose spirit?” she asked. More silence.

“I guess…” What does one say? Where do you go with something like this? My friends must have been rolling their eyes at each other. I had to get this going so we could finish up and get out.

“I guess I want to talk to someone that I could write about. I write sometimes for… well, it’s an online publication called Western Magazine Digest.” She interrupted me right there, her voice now more pronounced as though she had received something.

“I think… that someone wants to talk to you.” Really? Wow! I thought I’d have to tell her a name of someone I was thinking of. Maybe she had her own ideas.

“He rides a horse, yes?” Hey, Is she talking about who I’m thinking? “Near… a red… river?”

Woah! It seemed Madame Ouspenskaya knew who it was, or better yet, had him ready to talk with us, right there. Could it be?

“Yeah.” I responded, trying not to show obvious signs of excitement about this.

“He has grit… he has true grit, yes?” Do you believe this? She’s doing it. She’s contacting the man himself, I thought.

“Yes, Madame Ouspenskaya. Yes, indeed!” By now I couldn’t hide my exuberance.
“And he rides… tall in the saddle, yes?”

“Yeah. He does! He does!” She replied!

“His initials, they are J-W?” I asked.

“Yes that’s right.” She paused and proceeded with the portentous revelation. “He has something to say to everyone… all over the land.” We were in awe. What was he going to tell us?

She continued. “He says we need to remember … that even when so much is happening, that this land, America, it is strong. It is a beacon of hope and aspiration for all. Must remember our laws are good and they prevent tyranny. Also, dissent and free speech, they are good things because we make our decisions in elections. And… that we will always have freedom of religions and choices and it is a just land and those are things to be proud of and defend. We also must honor the people who defended them.”

Jackpot! We hit the jackpot… and we never even went into the casinos!

“What else? What else?”

“Nothing else.” She whispered. “But yes, he says one more thing.”

“What?”

“He says when the road looks rough ahead, remember the ‘Man upstairs’ and the word ‘hope’. Hang on to both and tough it out, pilgrim.”

Incredible!

“Thank you, JW! Thank you for everything! Thank you, also, Madame Ouspenskaya. You really are the greatest in the world!” She simply blew out the candles and gestured us all to the exit. What was thrilling for us must have been emotionally draining for her.

We walked out onto the boardwalk, speechless. We were still partly in shock from what had occurred in that place as our vacation resumed. Who would have guessed that I did the unimaginable? Did what others have tried in vain to do for so many years, actually communicate with the spirit of the one, the only… JACK WEBB! What he was doing on that horse, though, I’ll never know.


Happy Halloween!

Christopher Robinson

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

How the West Was Scored

By Christopher Robinson

Since 1928, sound has arguably become half of the motion picture experience. One could argue further that the better half of that part was… and still is- music. With a role so inextricably crucial, some might wonder why music is so often underused and mishandled. In any case, western films brought adventurous possibilities to the fore when adult filmgoers flocked to the big screen in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Early oaters or ‘B’-westerns were actually utilitarian products that flourished during the dawn of sound as location productions logistically shot without microphones, recording dialogue and sound effects later. With larger budgets, color cinematography, high-profile stars and improved storytelling came a need for exceptional soundtracks to compliment all the Wild West action. It was then that the western claimed its own irrevocable sound which can’t necessarily be pigeonholed into a particular formula but still harnesses the spirit of the genre in an a few instantaneous notes.


Early western talkies used generic suspense themes as emotional cues for audiences, often breaking the action and story altogether for an occasional dancehall number by a dolled-up starlet or country-western song courtesy of radio and stage stars like Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and the Sons of the Pioneers.

These diversions proved popular enough to create cowboy stars out of crooners like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Soon their stardom skyrocketed and some of their musical westerns became more “musical” than “western.” But Hollywood was getting serious about its oaters and traded the yodeling superheroes for complex, flawed “anti-heroes” in darker, melodramatic psychological tales with love triangles and thought-provoking symbolism and metaphors. In this ever-maturing realm, Gene and Roy would no longer be sufficient, nor would their yodeling.


Bold, sweeping orchestral movements with strings, brass and percussion were now married to the unmistakable American images that graced cinema and drive-in screens across the land. The western was thereby improved upon and reputable composers like Elmer Bernstein, Dimitri Tiomkin, Jerome Moross and Jerry Goldsmith were in constant demand to turn out hummable scores with sounds that brought gusto and bravado by the wagonload. As memorable as movies like The Magnificent Seven, The Sons of Katie Elder, High Noon, Bandolero! and Dances With Wolves may be, their scores are equally iconic and sometimes more so.



Elmer Bernstein incorporated classical music movements into his score for The Magnificent Seven, creating a crossover breed of the classical and popular that drives the film’s themes and action with exhilarating results.



Even more ambitious was the music that graced the westerns produced in Europe from the mid-1960s to the early seventies. Maestros like Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai set opulent compositions to the gritty and sensationalized send-ups of the American westerns they loved. Morricone, possibly the greatest film composer of all time and quite arguably the most prolific, had known director Sergio Leone from their grammar school days in Rome. That friendship led to several collaborations and gave Leone an immeasurable creative edge. Morricone has been quoted as saying, “Leone wanted more from music than other directors. He always gave it more space.”


The partnership placed an undeniable stamp on Leone’s stylish work which, though forever iconic in its own right, couldn’t have reached such heights without the accompanying masterpiece scores. His spaghetti compositions were as diverse as the west itself, utilizing everything from Mexican horns and unintelligible noises to choirs, chanting and fuzzy electric guitars. Alessandro Alessandroni’s(I always loved that name) guitar and whistling contributions and the angelic vocalizing of Edda Dell’ Orso were equally integral components of this output.

An inevitable retreat to realism and understatement in western cinema, stateside and abroad, toned down the wild and operatic soundtracks as the seventies closed but an indelible impression of the music’s heyday has remained, never growing dated or lackluster. Remnants of the recognizable musical signatures and motifs continue to compliment modern takes on the Wild West, cementing their legacy.

Perhaps the rolling plains, rocky deserts and rustic woodsy cow towns are the perfect canvas for a great composer’s paintbrush in an entertainment industry with unlimited creative possibilities. Where other genres continually redefine their music, we always know precisely what the western sounds like and its lasting musical lexicon is intrinsic to its visuals of drama, conflict and scenic beauty. Indeed, a feast for the eyes-make that, the ears.



Editor's Note: WMD writers work hard to provide informative, real-life stories for your reading. If you do social media, please visit us on Twitter and Facebook. Please LIKE or follow our social channels. --Al Colombo

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Nature and Origin of the American Indian Madstone

By Allan B. Colombo

In the WMD article entitled “Did U Know the American Indian Had a Cure for Rabies?” (http://bit.ly/2Yo5rjd), we discussed a procedure used by American Indians to treat the dreaded and often deadly disease called Rabies. Well, it appears that there is an additional method used by Native American Indians to neutralize rabies and other forms of poisonous bites, such as snakes. This list also includes general infections.

In the March, 1981, issue of Frontier Times--partner to True West--author, Mary Whatley Clarke said, “They were first used in America by the Indians but how the Red Man discovered their magic power can only be surmised” (p.40). Clarke said that the use of madstones began with Native Indians and that they knew this because early pioneers called them “Indian Stones.”

According to Clarke, these objects were given the name “madstone” because of the mad dog that transmits rabies through a bite. As early as 1864, the word “madstone” appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, the term disappeared from the Webster’s New World Dictionary in 1968.

In Europe, Clarke claimed that “Such stones were valued as highly as diamonds or other precious jewels. Only the rich could afford them.” A good example of this, according to Clearke, was Queen Elizabeth who commonly dipped her madstone--called a bezoar stone by Europeans--into her wine glass several times to ensure that it was safe for her to drink.

Where Madstones Come From

Madstones are in good company. They’re made from the same bodily processes that form bezoars, pearls, kidney stones, gallstones, and others. Evidently they can form in almost any part of an animal’s body when things go chemically afoul.

Madstones, in particular, are found in animals that have more than one stomach, such as deer and cows. It’s said that madstones that come from white deer are considered the best. Over time, people of the Old West came to know that Indians had the cure for snake and rabid animal bites. Thus, they would ride several hundred miles to an Indian village just to receive treatment.

In some manner that’s not entirely understood, these objects, in some way, can neutralize and/or absorb poisons from the body--both animal and human.

“In the folklore of the early United States, a madstone was a special medicinal substance that, when pressed into an animal bite, was believed to prevent rabies by drawing the ‘poison’ out. The Encyclopedia Americana described it as ‘a vegetable substance or stone.’ Researchers publishing in 1958 reported ‘130 cases of healing attributed to the madstone’ and ‘three authenticated stones in the United States today’” (Wikipedia: http://bit.ly/2pevjgY).

The Madstone - Talisman Connection

The bezoar stone itself dates back to a time before the Crusades. It was commonly used in Persia and other countries throughout Europe, according to Clarke. The Persian word “bezoar” actually means “protection from poison.”

As mentioned earlier, Queen Elizebeth was known to use a bezoar stone to assure the integrity of her wine. When she died, her stone was given to James I of England who had it set in a gold amulet (see photo).

The March 1981 issue of Frontier Times goes into great detail as to the many cases throughout society when high royalty used a talisman, or madstone, to ward off the poison from a potentially deadly bite. There’s even a mention where a flood was invoked through the use of a talisman.

One historical account of talisman use was told in the introduction of a novel penned by Sir Walter Scott. In his writings he spoke of a Scottish crusader, Sir Simon Lockhart, who had acquired a talisman through a ransom paid to him for the release of a wealthy Emir. The talisman was said to have magic powers as an astringent “which drove away fever and also possessed several other special properties as a medical talisman.”

Lockhard brought the stone back to Scotland where it continues to this day to bare the name Lee-penny. “One reads about the famous Lee Penny in the ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’” (http://bit.ly/2pkO7ec).

Conclusion

At the time of this nation’s western expansion, Native American Indians were looked upon as savages. And yet, in truth, they were far ahead of the White Man in many ways. One way, as we can see through this and our previous story, is through the medical treatment of a poisonous bite. In many ways, the Red Man was proven to be advanced and capable of feats far greater than we could ever have known at the time. What a shame there wasn’t more communication and collaboration between both races for the good of all concerned.

Additional Reading:

Madstone (Wikipedia)
Talisman (Wikipedia)



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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Gunsmoke: Christopher Robinson's Top Ten Picks


By Christopher Robinson

The year was 1955. The network was CBS. A TV western adapted from a successful radio drama became one of the best and longest running shows ever. One of the first and grittiest “adult westerns” on the small screen, it remained highly rated among scores of other western shows and twenty seasons later went out as the last of its kind. It featured enduring characters and stories and brought James Arness to stardom in the iconic role of U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon. Although set in 19th Century Dodge City, Kansas, the stories frequently dealt with contemporary issues, addressing racism, civil rights, intolerance, human trafficking, capital punishment and rape(off screen and strictly implied). Often stories took on a downbeat realism where the good guys lost and bad men got away in the end.

If the TV Western deserves inclusion in the pantheon of the genre then perhaps Gunsmoke should be its ultimate paragon, owing to its unparalleled scope and timeless appeal. Such distinction would surely place it in high standing as a product of cinema’s slightly inferior cousin. Sadly, though, like other westerns it can be largely ignored by critics and fans who respect but do not appreciate the genre.

Even some of the most diversified movie buffs cannot get into westerns as much as they would like, finding them rooted in traditions they have no real connection to, in places they are too removed from. That shouldn’t preclude one from appreciating a quintessential American art form, though. Roy Rogers was from Cincinnati, Billy the Kid came from New York City and both The Sundance Kid and Tom Mix hailed from Pennsylvania. Even when noted or analyzed throughout various mediums, Gunsmoke seems to be myopically commended for its twenty-year run, never its greatness. Rather than exemplifying its importance, the series’ longevity always seems to eclipse it.

But we won’t let that put a burr in our saddles! Let’s celebrate with a look back at ten episodes that typify the exceptional writing, directing, and acting that made it a cultural phenomenon. Keep in mind, these lists are subjective and are in no way meant to diminish your own favorites. These choices are simply ten out of six-hundred and thirty-five, providing a handy starting point for greenhorns and a retrospective review for old hands. Enough jawin’.

Here they are:

#1 Matt Gets It


The fact that this wasn’t the first episode produced may explain why such an unlikely premise was used to begin a series. An introduction by none other than John Wayne precedes a tightly told story concerning Matt being gravely wounded after interfering in a gunfight between a sheriff and a formidable gunfighter.


“A man’ll draw his gun quicker to prove a point than he’ll draw on his logic.” Dodge City is panicked as Doc Adams(Milburn Stone)relentlessly works to save Matt’s life and, even then, we don’t see how the injured marshal can stop an opportunistic killer who proceeds to terrorize the now lawless town.


Charles Marquis Warren’s first story and second episode as a director set the tone and framework that future stories would inevitably follow. It introduced a recurring theme for the early episodes- Matt faces a significant challenge keeping Dodge safe, but he uses his skill and wits in an unexpected way to overcome that challenge.

#2 The Killer


If there was an unsung hero behind Gunsmoke, then that was John Meston, co-creator with Norman Macdonnell of the radio and television series and prolific writer of many episodes for several years. His richly layered scripts brought acclaim to the show and served as a template for future writers of the series even after he moved on.


In this stellar example of his work, a vicious but meticulous gunman named Crego (Charles Bronson) picks fights with strangers he knows he has an advantage over, gunning them down for the mere thrill. Doc relates to Matt how Crego has killed a meek farmer in the cruelest manner and it becomes obvious that the provoking and killing will go on unless a plan is devised. Matt cannot arrest the sadistic Crego as his shootings are technically in self-defense, so he goes on the offensive.


In many early stories Matt and right-hand man Chester Goode(Dennis Weaver) are something of a western Holmes and Watson, solving crises through careful observation and reason to properly convict and subdue villains. This time around, unethical tactics were required to see it through.

#3 Marshal Proudfoot


A memorably comical story has Chester’s uncle visiting Dodge under the false notion that his nephew is the town marshal and Dillon, his deputy. For a brief spell, Chester’s friends in town must keep the ruse going a little longer to save him some unnecessary humiliation. Soon though, the play-acting gets uncomfortably tangled with dire reality. This general storyline served as a clichéd trope, having been played out on other shows and even again on Gunsmoke(!) But it is the laughable way in which chaos unfolds in the finale which gives this version its distinct charm.


The curious episode title reflects the radio series, which spawned many of the TV series’ scripts. Chester’s surname was ‘Proudfoot’ on the radio version, as played by character actor Parley Baer. Early episode title cards were not featured onscreen and therefore named only for the reference of the production team, accounting for a few oddities in the catalogue.


#4 Chesterland


This semi-comical story demonstrated pathos and vulnerability that Dennis Weaver could bring to the role of Chester, making him enduringly sympathetic with the audience and arguably the show’s richest character. Scripted by series stalwart Kathleen Hite and directed by western workhorse Ted Post, this episode drifts between hilarity and heartbreak as Chester vows to resign from his duties with Matt and work fulltime at farming to support a life with his new fiancé, Miss Daisy(Sondra Blake).


After some homestead mishaps in a barren spread of ostensibly dry earth, he vows to live underground, soon finding his freshly-built dugout home unexpectedly flooded. In hopes of recouping his losses, he converts the site into a profitable water well with the help of Daisy, whose intentions seem less sincere as her tolerance and patience run out. Doc soon learns that Chester’s luck will be as scarce as the water in his well and he dreads telling his friend what he’s learned.

#5 With a Smile


Frequent series director Andrew McLaglen helmed this story that features James Best at his most sniveling, playing Dal Creed, a spoiled and reckless son of a respected town citizen(R.G. Armstrong). When Dal kills a woman, he is sentenced to hang in a neighboring town but cannot owe up to facing the penalty.


Knowing his prominent father has certain connections, he expects strings to be pulled, clearing him of the charge. When it becomes apparent that the law cannot be influenced and no pardon or reversal will be made, Dal exhibits cowardly and pathetic outbursts that shame his father. With the local sheriff’s help, a ruse is devised to remedy the sad affair.

Noteworthy for its significant ending, it may be the only instance in the series where Matt Dillon is truly in the dark regarding an outcome that the audience itself is made fully aware of.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "With a Smile" video for this article.

#6 Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood


In Greenwood, Oklahoma, a trio of rugged misfits terrorize a small town sheriff(Paul Fix) in his general store. Before they are through, their actions bring a fatal heart attack upon the aging man whose deputy son, Clayton or “Thad”(Roger Ewing), swears to bring the crooks to justice. Their trail takes Thad to Dodge, where Matt warns him that his warrant is out of its jurisdiction. A simultaneous cattle slaughter problem has Matt searching the prairie for wolf attacks that soon become suspicious with the arrival of Thad’s four enemies. They play it cool as matters heat up in town but the young lawman remains close by, aware of their every move.


It becomes apparent towards the end of the story, that Thad will be a regular in Dodge. As a “second lead” star, Ewing would help to rejuvenate the aging cast with a dose of youth. His tenure would be brief, starring in the final black and white season and the first of the color seasons. Later succeeded by Buck Taylor as Newly, Ewing, himself had replaced the one and only Burt Reynolds as Quint.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood" video for this article.

#7 Mistaken Identity


In a tense and dramatic story that keeps you guessing, Albert Salmi plays an outlaw who drifts into Dodge after leaving a snake-bitten man (Hal Lynch) for dead on the prairie. Passing himself off as the injured man, he introduces himself to Dillon and company before learning that the other man is now in Dodge, recovering from amnesia in Doc’s office.

After futile attempts to kill the patient before he comes to and incriminates him, he takes a payoff from two corrupt deputies anxious to extradite Lynch and hang him in another town. A standout scene has Salmi using a drunken shenanigan to serve as a diversion to get Lynch out of the Long Branch Saloon unnoticed, as well as an alibi for himself.


Festus Haggen(Ken Curtis) played a crucial role in the series, but his absence in this episode serves the dark and moody tone well, with limited comedy relief. It also puts Sam the barkeep (Glenn Strange) into action as Matt deputizes him before the final shootout.

It was an uncanny coincidence that, years later, both actors Salmi and Lynch would commit suicide by gunshot in separate incidents, with Salmi doing so after killing his wife.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Mistaken Identity" video for this article.

#8 Mannon


‘This time… it’s personal!’ That tagline of many an Eighties action flick could have summed up this, one of the most harrowing and dramatic episodes of the run. A gentlemanly but cold-hearted killer named Will Mannon(Steve Forrest) shoots Festus on the outskirts of town and immediately makes a notorious entrance into Dodge, riding Festus’s mule, Ruth, down Front Street. Deputy Newly O’Brien and the citizens of Dodge realize Mannon is the feared gunslinger who marauded and murdered in Captain Quantrill’s Raiders, never a bunch to get a positive reputation in a western. Mannon exploits the fact that Matt is out of town, taking full advantage of Dodge’s money and liquor supply.


Consequently, he waits with Kitty Russell(Amanda Blake), the Long Branch’s proprietor, for the famed marshal to return so he can kill him and subsequently rule the town. His audacity is bolstered by the notion that even Matt cannot outdraw him(see: Matt Gets It). In Festus’s words, “If you was to take a snake’s tongue, grease it and tie it to a bolt of lightning, you couldn’t get nothin’ as fast as his gun hand.” In the ensuing events, Kitty is beaten and molested by Mannon before his tense meeting with Matt Dillon comes.

The episode was memorable enough to be incorporated eighteen years later as a back story for the TV reunion movie, Return to Dodge. Mannon paradoxically returns to even the score with Matt, who has since retired. Flashbacks were utilized to blend the episode with the new story creating a poignant connection between the events separated by the interim.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Mannon" video for this article.

#9 The Fourth Victim


A serial killer terrorizes Dodge, gunning down one prominent resident after another. The motive is unknown but Matt determines that individuals have been targeted for their connection to a trial of some sort several years earlier. That only leads to more questions than answers when it becomes apparent that he cannot stop an unknown and inscrutable sniper who strikes at different moments and locations. Clues to the killer’s identity become the crucial elements as time runs out. Will there be a fourth victim, who could it be and, most critically, can Matt save them in time? The story’s crafty finale, though logistically ludicrous, is nevertheless a gem worthy of treasuring.


This is one of the only episodes in which a former series character is spoken of and briefly commented on regarding where they have gone.

#10 Island in the Desert (two parts)


When Festus stays behind after bringing an outlaw, Gard(William Watson) into a town on the edge of a vast desert, he ends up tracking him after the escaped prisoner kills the town’s sheriff. The trail takes him into the unforgiving desert where Gard injures Festus and takes off again, letting the elements overcome him until he is tended to by an eccentric hermit named Snow(Strother Martin) who lives in a habitable patch surrounded by endless stretches of heat and desolation in all directions.


Snow has found time to prospect gold and has acquired enough to journey to a nearby town called Ten Strike. There he has longed to settle a score with a fellow prospector who left him crippled and lost. Matt and Newly set out to locate Festus by which time Snow has departed to find the town using the weakened deputy as his new “pack mule” to haul water along the way. Soon the pair confront Gard, stranded on foot, who eventually overtakes them until Snow uses his pet rattler to turn the tables once more. The climax sees them enter Ten Strike where Snow’s delusion sets in amidst his broken dreams and hard luck.

Fine performances highlight the story particularly that of Martin whose delightfully maniacal role is the key to the entire episode. It’s curious, incidentally, how someone can manage such social charm despite years of solitude and isolation in a desert. Perhaps rattlesnakes make the finest companions.

Editor's Note: WMD apologizes, but we were unable to find the Gunsmoke "Island in the Desert" video for this article.


Conclusion

And so sums up the summaries. Feel free to share your favorites with us. If you’re new to Gunsmoke, you’ve got some television to watch. Already a fan? Keep tuning in. Everybody else? Well, everybody else can…
Get out of Dodge!

Bonus!

Dennis Weaver Talks About Getting The Part of Chester in Gunsmoke!




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