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'Gunsmoke' Star Ken Curtis Was Also a Talented Country Singer — A Glimpse into His Life

Bettina Dizon
May 31, 2020
12:00 P.M.
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Ken Curtis, born Curtis Wain Gates in 1916, was a multifaceted actor who also had a vocal gift to complete his talent in entertaining.

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In his younger years, Curtis lived above a place of confinement as his father was sheriff, while his mother served prisoner meals.

EARLY YEARS

Growing up, he continued his journey in pursuit of a degree in medicine. However, everything changed when he discovered his interest in singing.

Ken Curtis (Festus Hagen) and Milburn Stone (Doc Adams) from the television program "Gunsmoke.," July 19, 1974. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ken Curtis (Festus Hagen) and Milburn Stone (Doc Adams) from the television program "Gunsmoke.," July 19, 1974. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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In 1942, the Colorado native moved to New York, where he got his first stint with NBC radio -- an opportunity that landed him in Tommy Dorsey’s fancy orchestra.

Since then, a star was born, and the “Don’t Fence Me In” singer went on to build a career worthy of comparison to remarkable names in the industry, such as Frank Sinatra and Roy Rogers.

Photo of Ken Curtis as Festus Hagen and guest star Joseph Campanella from "Gunsmoke," September 13, 1968. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Ken Curtis as Festus Hagen and guest star Joseph Campanella from "Gunsmoke," September 13, 1968. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Curtis founded his own production companies that gave life to 1950s thrillers, “The Killer Shrews” and “The Giant Gila Monster.”

BECOMING A STAR

After signing with Columbia Pictures, Curtis meshed his singing with acting and was paired with Carolina Cotton and the Hoosier Hotshots, on-screen.

His western roles continued to be associated with Bob Wills’ music and the Texas Playboys, appearing with him in the 1945 classic “Rhythm Round-Up.”

Ken Curtis as Festus Hagen and James Arness as Matt Dillon from "Gunsmoke," August 23, 1968. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ken Curtis as Festus Hagen and James Arness as Matt Dillon from "Gunsmoke," August 23, 1968. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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As the son-in-law of producer John Ford, Curtis benefitted in many on-screen exposures to movies that became all-time classics.

Among such films are Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), The Wings of Eagles (1957), The Horse Soldiers (1959), and How the West Was Won (1962).

Ken Curtis poses for a western film, February 15, 1964. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ken Curtis poses for a western film, February 15, 1964. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

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CURTIS EXPANDS HIS TALENTS

Nevertheless, the American singer-actor was best known for his portrayal of deputy Festus Haggen in CBS’ western series “Gunsmoke.”

Curtis’ charismatic performance earned him more roles in western shows, including “Have Gun – Will Travel,” “Perry Mason,” and “Death Valley Days.”

from the CBS television Western series Gunsmoke. July 22, 1965. | Source: Getty Images

from the CBS television Western series Gunsmoke. July 22, 1965. | Source: Getty Images

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The momentum allowed the World War II veteran to venture into other fields in the industry. Curtis founded his own production companies that gave life to 1950s thrillers, “The Killer Shrews” and “The Giant Gila Monster.”

In 1991, the same year in which his last film aired, Curtis died. The cause of his passing remained to be unknown, yet his cowboy persona leaves a great legacy that beautifully blends with his effect as a songwriter.

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