If you’re an American, you’ve either used the phrase “Get Outta Dodge” or heard the phrase spoken at some point in your life. Chances are, you probably also know the origin of the term. If you don’t, that is a story worth telling. The phrase refers to the city of Dodge City, Kansas, which was a popular stomping ground for cowboys moving stock north from Texas in the late 1800s. Several famous people from the Old West went through Dodge, including legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.
But as interesting as all that may be, the phrase “Get Outta Dodge” didn’t become common until after America’s longest-running live-action television show, Gunsmoke, hit the air in 1955. When the show was finally cancelled twenty years later, six hundred thirty-five episodes had been produced. Not only were most Americans familiar with Marshal Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Doc, and Festus, but audiences around the world came to love this quintessentially American epic.
Gunsmoke actually began as a radio show in 1952, but the popularity of the Western genre in general, and the show in particular, led TV producers to transition it to the small screen. It didn’t take long for the show to build a large fan base and do well in the ratings.
Unlike other Westerns of the time, Gunsmoke often took a grittier and harsher view of life on the frontier.
For example, Marshal Dillon didn’t always get his man and sometimes the innocent were hanged. Marshall Dillon’s primary love interest, Miss Kitty, was a saloon/brothel owner and was herself a former “saloon girl.” Despite its sometimes dark tone, Gunsmoke rarely moralized, unlike some other Westerns of the period, such as Bonanza and Big Valley.
Over the course of its long run, Gunsmoke saw many regular actors come and also featured a number of guest stars on single episodes. Many famous actors got their start on Gunsmoke in somewhat surprising roles. For instance, Lenard Nimoy, best known as Spock in the Star Trek franchise, played an Indian on an early episode.
There were also some cases where actors played guest stars in different roles in several episodes. Ken Curtis, who played Marshal Dillon’s most memorable sidekick, Festus Hagen, appeared in one episode as a con artist ladies’ man named Kyle and in another episode as an Indian scout.
And of course, Gunsmoke is where Burt Reynolds got his start when he played “half-breed” Quint Asper from 1962 to 1965.
Amazingly, James Arness, who played Matt Dillon, appeared in every episode of the show. And it wasn’t until 2018 that the Simpsons, an animated show, beat Gunsmoke for the record of most scripted American-made television shows.