James Arness (originally Aurness) (born May 26, 1923 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) is an actor best known for portraying Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years, a record length for prime time shows that is shared with Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of Dr. Frasier Crane. Arness's parents were Rolf Cirkler Aurness and Ruth Duesler, descendants of German and Norwegian immigrants. Arness is the older brother of actor Peter Graves. He was the tallest actor ever to play a lead role, standing 6' 7" (2.01 m).
Though primarily identified with Westerns, he also is remembered for appearing in two science fiction films, The Thing from Another World and Them!
James Arness served in the United States Army during World War II and was severely wounded at the Battle of Anzio. He was a close personal friend of John Wayne's and co-starred with him in Big Jim McLain. In fact, Wayne recommended Arness for the role of Matt Dillon after he turned the part down.
Since Gunsmoke ended, Arness has continued to perform primarily in western-themed movies and television series, including How the West Was Won, and five made-for-television Gunsmoke reunion movies between 1987 and 1994. A notable exception was a brief turn as a big city policeman in the short-lived 1981 series, McClain's Law.
For his contribution to the television industry, James Arness has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street. In 1981, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.