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

James Arness continues to resonate in the annals of American entertainment even after his death. A talent that is multifaceted, James Arness left a lasting trace across three major entertainment heydays; radio, television, and finally film. Despite having a career that was breath-taking and astounding at over 40 films and 12 TV shows, James never considered himself an actor as a first choice profession. Such is the enigma around this iconic figure that there is no dearth of curiosity on his life to ask questions around it, prompting the creation and completion of this detailed article.

Explore the amazing life and performances of James Arness through explorations into his biography, wiki, notable films and television series involving him, his impressive height and weight, his passing, and finally his wealth too. Know about his achievements prior to getting into much more detail about James Arness in this complete overview of his exciting journey across the entertainment industry.

Who was James Arness?

James Arness, a renowned television personality in America during the late 1940s, achieved great success throughout his career. He gained widespread recognition for his iconic portrayal of the lead character in the series Gunsmoke, which lasted for an impressive 20 years. With a career spanning nearly 45 years, Arness left a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. As a heartthrob, he captivated the hearts of many. This article provides a comprehensive overview of James Arness, delving into his life and achievements as an esteemed actor.

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, Parents and Education

James Arness, born on May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, was the eldest son of Rolf Cirkler Aurness and Ruth Duesler. His younger brother, Peter, was born three years later. Both of James’ parents were involved in business and journalism, with Rolf being of Norwegian descent and Ruth working as a journalist.

During his early years, James attended several schools in Minneapolis, including John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School, and West High School. Following his high school education, he enrolled at Beloit College. However, due to financial constraints, James had to take on a job as a courier boy, which resulted in him missing numerous classes.

James Arness Family

James Arness was part of a close-knit family that consisted of his parents and his younger brother, Peter Graves. Originally, their family name was Aursnes, but James’s grandfather decided to change it to Arness when they immigrated from Norway. Meanwhile, Peter adopted the surname “Graves” from their maternal family side. The Arness family held strong religious beliefs and followed the teachings of Methodism.

Personal life

In 1948, James Arness tied the knot with American actress Virginia Chapman in California, USA. Virginia was recognized for her performances in shows like Matinee Theatre, Highway Patrol, and Whirlybirds. Their marriage endured for 15 years before they divorced. Together, they had a daughter named Jenny Lee Arness, born in 1950, and a son named Rolf Arness, born in 1952. Tragically, Jenny Lee Arness, who pursued acting like her parents, passed away at the young age of 24 due to an overdose of sleeping pills. Rolf, on the other hand, became a surfer.

Following his divorce, James found love again and married Janet Surtees in 1978. Janet worked at a clothing store where the owner happened to be the wife of James’s makeup artist on the Gunsmoke set. Their paths crossed at a dinner, and they fell in love. James and Janet went on to have two children together, Jim Surtees and Craig Arness. Jim became James Arness’s stepson, while Craig, born in 1946, was Virginia’s son from a previous relationship. Janet, now around 80 years old, is still alive.

James Arness in Military

James Arness initially aspired to become a naval pilot but was unable to pursue this dream due to his poor eyesight. Interestingly, his height, standing at an additional 5 inches, became the actual reason for his rejection.

Instead, he joined the US Army and was stationed at Fort Snelling, a significant military installation. It was during World War II, in 1944, that James found himself involved in the Battle of Anzio. This intense battle spanned five months and was marked by various controversies before its eventual conclusion. Unfortunately, James sustained a severe injury to his right leg during this battle.

Due to his injuries, James was transferred from Italy to the United States for treatment. He received medical care at the 91st General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. Recovering from such a serious wound took a considerable amount of time for James. Even after retiring from the US military in 1945, he faced ongoing challenges related to his injuries.


During his service in the military, James Arness received numerous badges and honors as a recognition of his contributions. Some of the notable uniform decorations he earned include the Bronze Star, which is awarded for acts of heroism or meritorious service in a combat zone; the Purple Heart, given to those wounded or killed in action; the American Campaign Medal, presented for service in the American theater during World War II; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, indicating participation in multiple campaigns; the World War II Victory Medal, bestowed for service during World War II; and the Combat Infantryman Badge, awarded to infantry soldiers who have actively participated in ground combat. These accolades symbolize James Arness’s bravery, dedication, and sacrifices during his time in the military.

James Arness Career, Movies and Shows

As a radio announcer

While recovering from his leg injury in the hospital, James Arness received a visit from his brother Peter. During this time, Peter suggested that James consider studying radio. Taking his brother’s advice to heart, James pursued a course in radio and received a recommendation from one of his instructors. This marked the beginning of his career in the entertainment industry.

In 1945, James Arness secured a position as a radio announcer at WLOL, a radio station located near the twin cities in Minnesota. As a radio performer, he found success and recognition in his field. However, James also harbored a desire to explore acting as another avenue within the entertainment industry.

Despite his accomplishments as a radio announcer, James had to go the extra mile to transition into acting. It wasn’t until later that he gained significant opportunities and appeared in over 30 films throughout his four-decade-long acting career. This persistence and dedication propelled him forward in his journey as an actor.

Career in films

James Arness initially started his journey in films by working as an extra, following a friend’s suggestion. Additionally, he honed his acting skills by attending the Bliss-Hayden Theatre School, where he studied under the guidance of actor Harry Hayden. It was during his time at the theatre school that he caught the attention of Leon Lance, which led to his breakthrough role as Peter in the film The Farmer’s Daughter.

Throughout his career, James Arness appeared in over 30 films, leaving a notable mark in Hollywood. Some of his notable works include BattleGround (1949), Hondo (1953), and Them! (1954), among others. However, it’s worth mentioning that in certain films such as Gang Member (1948), Stars In My Crown (1950), In a Lonely Place (1950), Belle De Grand (1951), and Double Crossbones (1951), his name was not credited despite his involvement.

James Arness’s journey in the film industry required dedication and hard work as he worked diligently to establish his identity in Hollywood. Despite facing challenges and initially being uncredited in some roles, his talent and perseverance ultimately propelled him to become a renowned and respected actor.

Career in television shows

James Arness not only achieved immense success as Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke but also garnered praise for his subsequent television roles. Interestingly, his casting for Gunsmoke came about in a rather serendipitous manner. While portraying a Greek warrior in a play, James caught the attention of Charles K. Feldman, who was working with director John Wayne. This encounter led to James meeting John Wayne, and their collaboration eventually resulted in John Wayne recommending James Arness for the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke.

Initially, James had aspirations to continue his film career, but he ultimately agreed to take on the role in Gunsmoke. The decision proved to be a significant turning point, as Gunsmoke went on to become one of the most popular American TV shows, earning an IMDb rating of 8.0. This iconic role solidified James Arness’s place in television history.

Following Gunsmoke, James continued his television success with notable appearances in shows such as The Macahans (1976), where he portrayed Zeb Macahan, and How the West Was Won (1976-79). He also starred as Detective Jim McClain in McClain’s Law, further showcasing his versatility as an actor in the television medium.

Other Appearances

In addition to his roles in television shows and films, James Arness made notable appearances in other projects as well.

In 1988, he appeared in a documentary titled “America’s Star.” His performance in the documentary earned him the honorary title of US Marshal, and he was even presented with an official badge as recognition of his contribution.

In 1989, James Arness hosted a television show called “John Wayne Standing Tall.” This show allowed him to pay tribute to his late friend and colleague, John Wayne, while showcasing his own hosting abilities.

James Arness Net Worth and Awards

At the time of his passing, James Arness had a net worth of approximately $8 million. His wealth was primarily derived from his acting career, which encompassed films, TV shows, and stage performances.

Throughout his career, James received significant recognition and awards for his exceptional acting talent. He garnered three Emmy Award nominations in 1957, 1958, and 1959, showcasing his skill and impact on the television industry.

In addition to these nominations, James Arness was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 1751 Vine Street, commemorating his contributions to the entertainment industry. He was also inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, further acknowledging his impact on Western-themed performances.

James Arness’s talent and popularity were widely acknowledged by various publications. He was ranked at number six in People magazine’s 1989 list of the top 25 television stars of all time. Additionally, in TV Guide’s 1996 list of the Greatest TV Stars of All Time, he held the 20th position out of 50, highlighting his enduring legacy and enduring popularity.


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

We know some important information about James Arness’s body measurements. In keeping with his tough and recognizable appearance, his hair was an eye-catching blonde color. His intense presence on screen was heightened by his piercing grey eyes.

James’ extraordinary height of 6 feet 6 inches, which truly set him apart, was one of his most notable features. He had a commanding presence and was easily recognized due to his towering stature.

James maintained a strong physique and weighed around 235 lbs, which helped to further establish his reputation as a powerful force in the entertainment industry. James Arness left a lasting impression and became a well-known and adored actor thanks to his unique physical characteristics.

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

How Did James Arness Died?

James Arness, the iconic American actor known for his legendary career, passed away on June 3, 2011, at the age of 88. His death occurred at his home in Los Angeles, California. The cause of his passing was reported to be natural causes. According to his business manager, Ginny Fazer, James Arness peacefully passed away in his sleep.

The news of James Arness’s death saddened fans around the world, as they mourned the loss of a beloved and talented actor. His towering height of 6 feet 6 inches, along with his remarkable performances, had made him a prominent figure in the entertainment industry. Following his passing, tributes poured in, celebrating his legacy and the indelible mark he left on American culture.

James Arness will always be remembered for his contributions to the world of acting and his lasting impact on the hearts of his fans.

How tall was James Arness?

The well-known American actor James Arness made a strong impression on screen. He was a towering figure, standing at 6 feet 6 inches or 198 point 1 cm, and commanded attention. James Arness became a well-known figure in the entertainment industry as a result of his extraordinary height, which enhanced his on-screen charisma.