According to an article on TV westerns in Time magazine (March 30, 1959), Arness stood 6' 7", weighed 235 lbs, and had chest-waist-hips measurements of 48-36-36. However, Arness usually gave his own height as 6' 6" in interviews.
Although they never married, he had a long-term relationship and lived with actress Thordis Brandt.
An infantry soldier during World War II, Arness took part in the landings at Anzio, Italy. It was during this battle that he was shot in the foot and wound up losing part of it, an injury that made it difficult for him to walk for extended stretches. When shooting movies or TV shows, any scenes that required extensive walking would be shot early in the morning, before his feet and knees started giving out.
Attended Beloit College.
Became U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke" (1955) after John Wayne suggested Arness to play it. (Wayne himself, contrary to legend, was never offered the role.).
Confirmed in a 2001 interview that he is completely retired from acting because he no longer has the stamina for it.
Did not attend the premiere of The Thing from Another World (1951) because he found his role as the Thing embarrassing. He often remarked that he felt his make up as "The Thing" made him look like a giant carrot.
During his service in World War II, James Arness received the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze campaign stars; the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Father of Jenny Lee Arness (born May 23, 1950) and Rolf Aurness (born February 18, 1952), with Virginia Chapman. He also adopted her son from her first marriage, Craig (born 1946).
He attended public schools and graduated from West High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1942. He studied for a year at Beloit College in Wisconsin before he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II as an infantryman. During the invasion of Anzio, Italy in 1944, his right leg was shattered by machine-gun fire. He was hospitalized for a year and underwent surgeries to correct his leg which left a limp. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his services during World War II.
He had a lifelong affiliation with the Methodist church.
He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
He is survived by his wife, Janet Surtees of Brentwood, Los Angeles, California; son, Rolf Arness; stepson, Jim Surtees; six grandchildren, and a great grandchild. His adopted son, Craig, died in 2004 and his daughter Jenny died in 1975.
He married Virginia Chapman and adopted her son, Craig, by a previous marriage. They had daughter, Jenny Arness and son, Rolf Arness.
He never played the lead male role in a theatrical movie, only on the various televised incarnations of "Gunsmoke". In his theatrical films, he usually acted along tall leading men such as John Wayne, Robert Ryan and Jeff Chandler.
He was a lifelong supporter of the Republican party.
He was a longtime resident of Brentwood, Los Angeles, California with his second wife, Janet Surtees.
He was said to be somewhat self-conscious about his stature and quite happy when they took measures to obscure his towering height while filming "Gunsmoke".
He was the son of Rolf Aurness and Ruth Duesler who divorced in the 1940s.
Held the record for the longest continuous role portrayed by a single actor (20 years) on prime-time television (for Marshal Matt Dillon on the CBS western "Gunsmoke" (1955)), until Kelsey Grammer (Dr. Frasier Crane on "Cheers" (1982) and "Frasier" (1993)) tied the record in 2004 (at 20 years).