Dennis Weaver

Star of 'Gunsmoke' and 'McCloud'


William Dennis Weaver, actor: born Joplin, Missouri 4 June 1924; married 1945 Gerry Stowell (three sons); died Ridgway, Colorado 24 February 2006.

Dennis Weaver was familiar in his Stetson to television viewers worldwide - first as the limping deputy sheriff, Chester Goode, to James Arness's Matt Dillon in the classic western series Gunsmoke, then as the cowboy- lawman causing mayhem in the big city in McCloud. "McCloud was the kind of role I left Gunsmoke to get," he said. "I wanted to be a leading man instead of a second banana."

But the second banana was part of one of the biggest success stories in television's so-called Golden Age. He played the sheriff's number two during Gunsmoke's early years (1955-64), speaking with a twang and always calling his 6ft 7in boss "Muster Dellon".

The series, set in Dodge City during the late 19th century and styled as an "adult" western, but effectively a weekly morality play, began on radio and was given John Wayne's seal of approval on screen when the film star - who turned down the lead role but recommended Arness - introduced the first episode. (In Britain, the programme was entitled Gun Law.) It continued until 1975, making it television's longest-running western, but Weaver - whose performance won him an Emmy Best Supporting Actor award in 1959 - left halfway through, looking to be top banana himself.

He eventually resurfaced in McCloud (1970-77), as the law enforcer from Taos, New Mexico, despatched to New York to study policing methods in the Big Apple's 27th Precinct. But, wearing a cowpoke hat, sheepskin jacket and boots, Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud went his own way and treated Manhattan like the Wild West.

Inspired by the 1968 Clint Eastwood film Coogan's Bluff, the series had its tongue firmly in its cheek. McCloud was watched over by Police Chief Peter B. Clifford (J.D. Cannon), who was bemused as he watched his horse-riding subordinate bring rush-hour traffic to a halt on the streets of New York. Talking in a folksy, "down on the range" manner, McCloud brought with him from down south the catchphrase "There you go".

Weaver was himself from south-west Missouri, born in 1924 in Joplin, where his father worked for the electric company and farmed 10 acres during the Depression. Weaver excelled as a track and field athlete, served in the US Navy during the Second World War, then graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a fine arts degree.

Although, in 1948, he came sixth in the United States's decathon trials for the London Olympics, he opted for a stage career and studied at the Actors Studio, New York. After making his professional début as understudy for the role of a college athlete, Turk, in the Broadway production of Come Back, Little Sheba (Booth Theatre, 1950), he toured in that play with Shelley Winters and Sidney Blackmer, before gaining further stage experience in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire (as Stanley Kowalski), and Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

On the recommendation of Winters, Universal signed Weaver to a film contract and he made his screen début in the western Horizons West (alongside Robert Ryan and Rock Hudson, 1952). Twenty pictures followed, many of them westerns, as well as five bit parts in the television police series Dragnet (1954-55), before Weaver landed the role of Chester Goode in Gunsmoke.

He then had moderate success in two family dramas, as a vet and horse trainer who adopts a Chinese orphan in Kentucky Jones (1964-65) and the park ranger, Tom Wedloe, in Gentle Ben (1967-69), featuring a friendly, 600lb black bear.

While he was taking off as McCloud, Weaver also made waves in an American television film that gained cinema screenings around the world. Directed by Steven Spielberg, Duel (1971) starred the actor as a salesman driving along California backroads who finds himself in a nightmare tussle with a menacing petrol tanker.

He never quite left his western background behind, starring in the television series Buck James (1987-88) as a Texas hospital doctor who has a passion for ranching and the patriarch, Henry Ritter, trying to save his ranch from financial ruin while offering a new life to an 18-year-old girl out of a teen detention centre in Wildfire (2005).

Weaver was President of the Screen Actors Guild, 1973-75, and donned his western gear for Great Western Bank commercials from 1982, a role he took over from John Wayne after "The Duke's" death.

A keen environmentalist, he had his solar-powered, 8,500sq ft, 16-room Colorado home built out of 3,000 recycled tyres and 3,000 aluminium cans and called it his "Earthship". He also founded the Institute of Ecolonomics to tackle both economic and environmental problems. Appropriately, when he reprised one of his most famous characters in the television film The Return of Sam McCloud (1989), the law enforcer had become a New Mexico senator fighting for new environmental laws.

Anthony Hayward

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test