James Arness is an American actor, best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years. His brother was the late actor, Peter Graves. Arness has the distinction of having played the role of Marshal Matt Dillon in five separate decades: 1955 to 1975 in the weekly series, then in Return to Dodge and four more made-for-TV Gunsmoke movies in the 1990s.
Arness was born as James Aurness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness, a businessman, and Ruth Aurness, a journalist. His father’s ancestry was Norwegian, his mother’s German. The family name had been Aursnes, but when Rolf’s father Peter Aursnes immigrated from Norway in 1887, he changed it to Aurness. He was raised as a Methodist.
Arness attended John Burrows Grade School, Washburn High School and West High School in Minneapolis. Despite “being a poor student and skipping many classes”, he graduated from high school in June 1942. He then enlisted in the United States Army to serve in World War II.
Arness had a brother, actor Peter Graves. He too was raised as a Methodist.