Before anybody ever laid eyes on James Arness as Matt Dillon, the first episode of Gunsmoke moseyed out with a face so familiar to Westerns, he really needed no introduction. That didn't stop him from saying in that sober, serious way of his, "I'm John Wayne. You may have seen me before, or I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time."
The introduction went on, but this was really all it took to get any Western fans to stay firmly planted in the saddle for the premiere, and out of all the fans in the audience when that very first episode aired, you should know that perhaps most surprised of all to see Wayne's face on the front of his own show was Gunsmoke star Arness. He dispelled a myth in an interview with the Archive of American Television, confirming he not only had nothing to do with Wayne's involvement, he and the rest of the cast didn't even know it was going to happen!
"I didn’t ask him," Arness said of John Wayne's introduction. "Not at all. In fact, I was really surprised when they said that he had done that. He [filmed] that, we didn’t know about it at all. They did that intro somewhere else on some picture he was doing, and I don’t think actually, that we knew about it until it came on the air that night. I think they were kinda holding it as a surprise."
Arness then went on to paint a picture of what exactly it was like to see one of his own heroes tipping his hat before the start of Arness' new show. He said, "We were all actually over at my house, all the gang from Gunsmoke, watching this... and here’s Duke Wayne with this intro."
Just imagine Amanda Blake, Dennis Weaver and Milburn Stone, sitting shoulder to shoulder on a couch when the screen flickers to reveal John Wayne. It must've been quite the surprise, indeed. Arness used a different word to describe the experience: "It was absolutely marvelous."
In a later interview, he used the same word when discussing his favorite John Wayne movie of all time, The Quiet Man. Arness said, "I watch television all the time, mostly PBS and old movies like The Quiet Man, my favorite Wayne movie. It's marvelous. I just loved the man and still do."