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Ken Curtis

Ken Curtis

Dick Haymes replaced Frank Sinatra as male vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Sinatra himself in his final appearance with Dorsey introduced his replacement during a September 2, 1942, broadcast.

Although his character, Festus Haggen, was introduced to "Gunsmoke" (1955) in an episode called "Us Haggens," in which he arrived in Dodge City to avenge the death of his twin brother, the fact that Festus had a twin was never again mentioned on the show.

Appeared with the Sons of the Pioneers at Carnegie Hall.

Before acting career, sang with Tommy Dorsey's band and the Sons of the Pioneers.

Came from a musical family -- his father played the fiddle, his mother the pump organ, brother Chester the banjo, and another brother Carl sang.



Early in his career, he sang with Shep Fields' Orchestra.

Grew up in Las Animas, Colorado, where his father, Dan Gates, was sheriff. As was the custom at the time, they lived above the jail and his mother, Nellie (Sneed) Gates, cooked for the prisoners. He once said he patterned "Festus" after a local character known as Cedar Jack, who lived about 40 miles out in the cedar hills and made a living cutting cedar fence posts for farmers and ranchers. When he came to Las Animas, he usually ended up drunk and in jail. This gave Curtis plenty of opportunity to observe him.

He met singer Jo Stafford while appearing with Johnny Mercer on a radio program. Mercer invited him to make a guest appearance and, in acknowledgment of Jo's latest recording, Ken sang "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". As a result of this appearance, Columbia Pictures signed him up for a series of musical westerns.

His stage name was changed to the easier-sounding "Ken Curtis" when he temporarily replaced Frank Sinatra in Tommy Dorsey's band in 1941.

Inducted (as a cast member of "Gunsmoke" (1955)) into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1981.

Introduced the western standard "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" to movie audiences.

On "Gunsmoke" (1955) as Festus Haggen, he always drew and fired a pistol with his right hand -- but whenever he had to use a rifle, he would bring it up to his left shoulder and pull the trigger with his left hand (sighting with his left eye and squinting with his right). Often, Festus would squint with the right eye partially closed as well. This was never explained unless the actor or character had lost vision in his right eye.

Refused an offer to appear as Festus Haggen in the movie Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987) (TV), which reunited James Arness, Amanda Blake, Buck Taylor and Fran Ryan from the original series. Money was the issue. Producer John Mantley, interviewed for TV Guide when the movie aired, said Curtis had demanded double what Blake got; other sources say Mantley was at fault in offering Curtis an insultingly low salary (not specified in either account).

Son-in-law of director John Ford.

The Sons of the Pioneers, of which Curtis was once a member, were awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6843 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

Went in 1935 to a college in Colorado Springs to study medicine. While there his love for singing grew and he involved himself in various college musical events.


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