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James Arness: An Autobiography Hardcover – September 10, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0786412211 ISBN-10: 0786412216 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


“Gives a full account of his early years, his family, and his World War II military career...well written” --Classic Images

“An account that's clean, free of malice and which tells the story completely…a lot of detail” --Big Reel

“A magnum opus” --SPERDVAC Radiogram

“An account that's clean, free of malice and which tells the story completely…a lot of detail” --Big Reel

“A magnum opus” --SPERDVAC Radiogram

About the Author

The late James Arness lived in suburban Los Angeles with his wife Janet, where they were involved in various charity projects.

James E. Wise, Jr., a retired Navy captain, has written many books of military history, biography and the performing arts. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland; 1st edition (September 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786412216
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786412211
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 7.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #523,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Marks on November 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Arness, best known as Matt Dillon on television's longest running primetime drama, Gunsmoke (...), is described in TV Guide as a "recluse on a horseback" [1] and "the Greta Garbo of Dodge City" [2]. He is a man who wants to be left alone. After Gunsmoke soared in the ratings in the late 1950's and early 1960's, Arness walked of the set if a publicist or journalist appeared. At one point, he called the CBS brass together and said "I'll pay you to keep me out of the papers" [1]. Arness' history of secrecy and seclusion is what makes this a juicy book. What prompted him to come into the sunshine? Arness, who wrote his autobiography in his late seventies, says "[If] I was going to write a book about my life, I better do it now . `cause I'm not getting any younger" [3].
James Arness' account of his life is jam packed with fascinating facts and anecdotes but is largely devoid of personal insight, introspection, core belief assessment, and passion. Arness' privacy shell seems manifest in his writing. The book’s pros are correspondingly wooden. Beginning a biography summary of a fascinating personality with “James Arness was born May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis” would, at best, get a C in college. This, the first sentence of the paragraph used to summarize Arness’ book, is largely commensurate with the rest. There are, however, many interesting tidbits diehard Arness fans can glean from the plodding pros.
Some have opined that James Arness is Matt Dillon and Matt Dillon is James Arness. Comparison, however, is complicated. Matt Dillon is the type of man who would walk point on a patrol into World War II enemy territory and courageously take out a Nazi machine nest with a hand grenade. James Arness won a bronze star in WWII for doing this.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By R. C. NELSON on December 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I was stunned at how this book described the details of James Arness in great detail -- yet it sounded like Matt Dillon himself. I certainly got the impression that, other than all the fights and gun-fights, James Arness and the role he played, Matt Dillon, are nearly identical people.
Jim does not blow a lot of wind or brag a bit. This book is addressed directly to you, as if you were sitting in a rocking chair in the same room as Jim and were conversing. He approaches self-deprecation in many areas, but this still-alive actor invites you into his life, and the lives of the co-stars, like Miss Kitty, Newly, Doc, and last but certainly not least -- Festus (a name from the Bible, I learned from the book).
The book is not too long or short and is filled with pictures of his activities on and off stage. You also get a glimpse into some of the other actors.
How many war heroes do you know who never mention it. Right -- very few! Because of his height (6'7"), he was ordered off the landing craft first in the landing at battle of Anzio during World War II. All too often, a soldier would step into weighted-down oblivion and drown. Due to Jim's height, he was selected to go first. Later in the campaign, he received a rifle wound to his leg that is beginning to act up as Marshal Dillon matures.;-)
This is a book that you want to read, and, if you have children, have them read, or read it to them if they are young.His series remains on a twice-daily broadcast on TV LAND.
Jim and his brother lied a charmed life, and anyone can take something from this wonderful autobiography. I also strongly recommend his web site -- [...] .
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Smith on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
For years, I watched James Arness on Gunsmoke, respecting and admiring what he stood for both on the show and in real life. He endured great pain from his war wound in the later years of Gunsmoke, but he gutted it out, continuing to preserve law and order.
Arness did an excellent job of summarizing a crowded career in a minimal amount of pages. The book could just as easily have been 400 pages on Gunsmoke alone.
Even though he is a very private man, the book reveals a good deal of his personal side - his love for surfing, flying and practical jokes. As serious as his character of Matt Dillon was, I found it astounding that Arness was constantly cracking everybody up with his joking, laughing and buzzing the Gunsmoke set in his airplanes. Yet, at the same time, we see, through comments of those who knew him and the fans who have written to him, the commanding presence he had as a role model, being an icon second only to John Wayne.
As is Marshall Dillon, James Arness is a man of few words, but when he talked, people listened. But it wasn't to stroke his own ego. He did it to help the new generation along, passing on this gift because he had been so blessed with fame and fortune in his life.
We see Arness go from a rambling childhood where he hitchhiked on trains across country and didn't care about school to a man who was known worldwide and respected for his character both on and off screen. He was Matt Dillon through and through, upholding the law and doing it without a bunch of fanfare and bravado. He simply was doing his job and moving on.
What was really impressive was the superstars of today who got early starts as guests on Gunsmoke. The list was incredible.
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