James Arness: Bio, Wiki, Career, Height, Weight, Death, Net Worth, Movies, Shows, Awards, Kids, Marriage & More

James Arness bio, height, weight, net worth, movies, kids, marriage, and career. James was one of the famous actors in America who worked on three different entertainment platforms. Likewise, these three platforms are radio, television, and film. Unfortunately, we lost him 19 years back but people are still curious about him. And that is the main reason for coming up with this article with all the interesting facts about James Arness. Imagine a man working in 40+ films, 12 tv shows, and his first priority was not acting! This article would reveal all the information you are seeking about James Arness.

Who was James Arness?

James Arness was a famous television personality of the late ’40s in America. He started his career with a peak like playing 20 years in Gunsmoke as the lead character and then worked in the entertainment industry for almost 45 years. James was a heartthrob. Know everything about this actor in this article.

Biography / Wiki

Full name James Aurness (later, James Arness)
Nickname Jim
Date of Birth May 26, 1923
Age 88 years
Died on June 3, 2011
Birthplace Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Nationality American
Religion Methodist
Zodiac Sign Gemini
Profession Military army, Radio announcer, Actor
Net worth $8 million (approx.)
Parents Rolf Cirkler Aurness and Ruth Duesler
Siblings Peter Graves (younger brother)
Spouse/Girlfriend Virginia Chapman (m. 1948-60)

Thordis Brandt (1964-70)

Janet Surtees (m. 1978-2011)

Best known for Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke

(co-author James Arness)

James Arness: An Autobiography (2001)

Early Life and Education

James Arness is the first son of Rolf Cirkler Aurness and Ruth Duesler. He was born on May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US. Then, after three years, his younger brother Peter was born. Their parents were businessmen and journalists. Rolf was a Norwegian and his wife, Ruth was a journalist.

James attended three schools in Minneapolis as John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School, and West High School. After that, he went to Beloit College. However, their financial condition was not pretty good and James had to work as a courier boy and had to skip many classes.

James Arness Family

As mentioned earlier, James lived with his parents and his brother Peter Graves. Their family name was Aursnes but James’s grandfather changed it to Arness when they emigrated from Norway. On the other hand, Peter used the surname  ‘Graves’ as his maternal family name. James Arness and his family believed in Methodism.

Personal life

In 1948, James Arness married American actress Virginia Chapman in California, US. Virginia was known for her work in the Matinee Theatre, Highway Patrol, and Whirlybirds. Their marriage lasted for 15 years and then they got divorced. They had one daughter Jenny Lee Arness in 1950 and a son Rolf Arness in 1952. Jenny was an actress and died at the early age of 24 due to an overdose of sleeping pills. Rolf was a surfer.

Post-divorce, James married Janet Surtees in 1978. Janet worked in a clothing store whose owner was the wife of James’s make-up artist in the Gunsmoke set. Gradually they met at a dinner and fell in love. James and Janet had two children, Jim Surtees and Craig Arness. Jim was the stepson of James Arness. Craig was born in 1946 and was Virginia’s son. Janet is still alive and her age is around 80 years.

James Arness in Military

James wanted to be a naval pilot in the first place. However, he thought that his poor eyesight would penetrate this dream. In reality, his extra 5-inch height became the actual reason for the rejection.

Later, he joined the US Army and moved to Fort Snelling. This fort is a primary center for government forces. During the second world war, in 1944, the battle of Anzio took place. This battle continued for five months and caused several five months and with several controversies, ended. As a result of this battle, James got a serious wound in his right leg. He had to move from Italy to the US for treatment. He was admitted to 91st General Hospital in Clinton, Lowa. It took a long time to recover the wound. However, he found it tough with the wounds even after retiring from the US military in 1945.


In his short work-life in the military force, James Arness recieved several badges and honors. His uniform decorations included the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the American Campaign Medal, the European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

James Arness Career, Movies and Shows

James Arness

As a radio announcer

When James was in the hospital with his leg injury, his brother Peter visited him. In the time of long recuperation, Peter suggested his older brother study a course on the radio. Likewise, James did the course and with a teacher’s recommendation, he began his career in the world of entertainment. He was a radio announcer in WLOL in 1945. WLOL was a radio station near the twin cities in Minnesota.

He was getting success as a radio performer. In contrast, he tried for another option in the entertainment field, that is, acting. And before he worked in 30+ films in 40 years, he had to work an extra mile.

Career in films

At first, James worked as an extra in films at the suggestion of one of his friends. Then he also attended Bliss-Hayden Theatre School under actor Harry Hayden. While playing a part in the theatre there, Leon Lance spotted him. And a short character of Peter in The Farmer’s Daughter gave him the break.

James Arness worked in 30+ films including some evergreen movies like BattleGround (1949), Hondo (1953), Them! (1954), etc.  This is to say, this famous actor had to work an extra mile to create this identity in Hollywood. In films like Gang Member (1948), Stars In My Crown (1950), In a Lonely Place (1950), Belle De Grand (1951), Double Crossbones (1951) his name was not credited.

Career in television shows

Not only for Gunsmoke but James Arness received great reactions as a television actor for his successive works. Although, his casting for this show was another story. While playing a Greek warrior in a play, Charles K. Feldman noticed him. Charles was working for director John Wayne. Then, James met him and worked for and with him. As a result, John recommended James Arness the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke.

In the first place, James wanted to continue his film career but then agreed. And guess what? Gunsmoke is still one of the popular American tv shows and it has a rating of 8.0 in IMDb. After this, James worked in The Macahans (1976), How the West Was Won (1976-79) as Zeb Macahan, McClain’s Law as Det. Jim McClain, etc.

Other Appearances

James Arness worked in a documentary called America’s Star in 1988. For this performance, he received the honorary title of US Marshal and was an official badge. Secondly, he hosted a television show as John Wayne Standing Tall in 1989.

James Arness Net Worth and Awards

As per the final news, before James died, his net worth is $8 million. His source of income includes acting in films, tv shows, and stage shows. Coming to the awards, James Arness received several important awards for his acting. Firstly, he was nominated for the Emmy awards thrice in 1957, 58, and 59. Other than that, James’s name was present in different halls of fame as the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street and the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Also, James Arness was at number six in the list of top 25 television stars of all time in People magazine (1989). Similarly, he ranked 20 out of 50 in the Greatest TV Stars of All Time list by TV Guide (1996).


James Arness

  • C.Potter, director of the film ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’ suggested James drop the ‘u’ from Aurness from his surname. Since then, his stage name was James Arness.
  • James met his first wife, actress Virginia Chapman in the production of “Candida” at the Pasadena Community Playhouse.
  • After getting the divorce, James Arness dated German-American actress Thordis Brandt for six years. However, they never accepted their relationship in public.
  • James had an injury in his right leg during the battle of Anzio and that bothered him during actions in the shooting also.
  • James Arness died at the age of 88 due to natural aging. At that time, he lived at his Brentwood home in Los Angeles. Subsequently, his body was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale in California.
  • Important to mention, James Arness’s trademarks were his 6.6 feet height and commanding voice.

This is to say, James Arness was a popular face of Hollywood for a long time. His official website is available where you can find the latest information about him.

Figure Measurements, Size, Height & Weight Of James Arness

Hair Color Blonde
Eye Color Grey
Height 6 feet 6 inch
Weight 235 lbs

How Did James Arness Died?

James Arness died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home, as reported by his business manager, Ginny Fazer.

How tall was James Arness?

James Arness was very tall. His height was 6 ft 6 inches or 198.1 cm tall.


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