Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Summer 2011 (August 4, 2011 at 12:00 am)

In Memoriam: James Arness'46


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July 22, 2011 at 12:00 am

James Arness'46Many alumni who learned that Gunsmoke star James Arness’46 passed away may not have realized he attended Beloit. The actor best-known for playing U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon on the enduringly popular western was 88 when he died June 3, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Arness (then spelled Aurness) came to Beloit in 1942 from Minneapolis. According to his autobiography, he wasn’t a serious student and didn’t see himself at college, but his mother insisted that Beloit College would make “an ideal place to settle down and study.”

At 6-feet, 7-inches tall, and with a fine baritone singing voice, Arness would have been difficult to miss on campus. Known as “Big Jim,” he joined Beta Theta Pi at a time when “sending-off parties” were commonplace as World War II escalated, and students left in droves to serve in the armed forces. Arness also left Beloit to join the Army in March of his freshman year and never re-enrolled. He was wounded in Italy and received the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart.

Before his television career, Arness appeared in a number of movies, including four with John Wayne, before Wayne recommended him for the role of Matt Dillon. Gunsmoke aired from 1955 to 1975.

Survivors include his wife, Janet Surtees Arness, and two sons.

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