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“Go ahead and take it, Jim,” Wayne urged him. “You’re too big for pictures. Guys like Gregory Peck and I don’t want a big lug like you towering over us. Make your mark in television.”

Then Wayne filmed an introduction for the first episode of “Gunsmoke” to give the largely unknown Arness the proper send-off.

“I predict he’ll be a big star,” Wayne told viewers. “So you might as well get used to him, like you’ve had to get used to me.”

Arness’ 20-year, prime-time run as the marshal was tied only in recent times, by Kelsey Grammer’s 20 years as Frasier Crane from 1984 to 2004 on “Cheers” and then on “Frasier.”

The years showed on the weathered-looking Arness, but he _ and his TV character _ wore them well.

“The camera really loved his face, and with good reason,” novelist Wallace Markfield wrote in a 1975 “Gunsmoke” appreciation in The New York Times. “It was a face that would age well and that, while aging, would carry intimations of waste, loss and futility.”

Born James Aurness in Minneapolis (he dropped the “u” for show business reasons), he and younger brother Peter enjoyed a “real Huckleberry Finn existence,” Arness once recalled.

Peter, who changed his last name to Graves, went on to star in the TV series “Mission Impossible.” (He died in 2010.)

A self-described drifter, Arness left home at age 18, hopping freight trains and Caribbean-bound freighters. He entered Beloit College in Wisconsin, but was drafted into the Army in his 1942-43 freshman year. Wounded in the leg during the 1944 invasion at Anzio, Italy, Arness was hospitalized for a year and left with a slight limp. He returned to Minneapolis to work as a radio announcer and in small theater roles.

He moved to Hollywood in 1946 at a friend’s suggestion. After a slow start in which he took jobs as a carpenter and salesman, a role in MGM’s “Battleground” (1949) was a career turning point. Parts in more than 20 films followed, including “The Thing,” “Hellgate” and “Hondo” with Wayne. Then came “Gunsmoke,” which proved a durable hit and a multimillion-dollar boon for Arness, who owned part of the series.

His longtime co-stars were Blake as saloon keeper Miss Kitty, Milburn Stone as Doc Adams, Dennis Weaver as the deputy, Chester Goode, and his replacement, Ken Curtis, as Deputy Festus Haggen.

The cancellation of “Gunsmoke” didn’t keep Arness away from TV for long: He returned a few months later, in January 1976, in the TV movie “The Macahans,” which led to the 1978-79 ABC series “How the West Was Won.”

Arness took on a contemporary role as a police officer in the series “McClain’s Law,” which aired on NBC from 1981-82.

Despite his desire for privacy, a rocky domestic life landed him in the news more than once.

Arness met future wife Virginia Chapman while both were studying at Southern California’s Pasadena Playhouse. They wed in 1948 and had two children, Jenny and Rolf. Chapman’s son from her first marriage, Craig, was adopted by Arness.

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