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Where are you, Marshall Dillon?Posted Friday, February 12, 2010, at 11:20 AM
My family was living in Dexter during those years, and we all gathered in front of the old black and white television on Saturday night - prime time - to watch James Arness step out into the dusty streets of Dodge and face another dark, evil gunslinger, bent on murder and chaos. Someone was always riding in to "take over Dodge" and run it in their own sadistic fashion. The townspeople always looked out from behind the curtains in upstairs windows.
Back in the fifties, everyone - young and old - loved Marshall Dillon (who was pretty darned HOT, by any standards), but it wasn't until we were grown that we realized just how wonderful he was.
In those years, life was rosy - our parents were young and energetic and (more importantly) together. My two younger brothers strapped on toy guns and raced around our big yard, pretending to be cowboys. It was a good life.
In my mother's waning years, she sat in her recliner in the living room, watching 5 a.m. reruns of "Gunsmoke." When I visited with her and my sister, I woke up to the sound of six-shooters and that familiar theme song, echoing down the hall. No matter how many times she had seen the episodes, she never tired of watching Marshall Dillon fight the bad guys and give Miss Kitty that LOOK from under the brim of his hat.
James Arness cut such a larger-than-life figure in that iconic role that I'm not sure anyone has ever quite measured up to it. I don't think he had any flaws. If he did, they just weren't mentioned. I don't believe that his mysterious feelings for Miss Kitty could be considered a "weakness," though plenty of the bad guys tried to use them against him. How often was she kidnapped, terrorized, held captive and humiliated - and she always looked her tormenters in the face, with painted eyes and strategically-place beauty mark, and gave them that "Go-to-hell" glare?
When the marshall saved Kitty, there was none of the tears and drama that we see these days. I don't remember them ever even hugging when he rescued her from wild Indians or those horrible, horrible men who roamed the West during that time. It was all very reserved and civilized. He would just nod at her and tip his big hat - and that meant.......Oh, wow, girls - What DID it mean? "I'll meet you out back of the saloon at midnight tonight"? "Keep the door unlocked, Kitty - I'll be there in a couple of hours"?
If that's what the LOOK meant, we never knew. Ah, the mystery!
I believe that the series was ahead of its time. In an era when we were watching "I Love Lucy," the "Hit Parade," "Leave it to Beaver," and Cisco Kid, Gunsmoke was more than a shoot-'em-up western. Sometimes the realism was a little hard to watch, especially in the early episodes before Marshall Dillon was too big to be challenged. Some pretty bad characters roamed the West back then. Bad things happened to innocent people for no reason. Sometimes Matt could stop it, and sometimes he was just too late to do more than bury the dead.
Well, here's to the old days - and the old heroes! Thanks for the memories, Marshall Dillon! I'll see you in my dreams!
From the dusty streets of Advance, this is your rural reporter Madeline, looking for another hero.
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.