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

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
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

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence