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James Arness Called Wife ‘Best Part of My Life’ - He Did Not Phone Her for 3 Months after 2nd Date

Olawale Ogunjimi
Dec 21, 2021
03:20 A.M.

James Arness was quite the force to reckon with in classic Hollywood, which came with loads of recognition. However, James once shared that being a husband to Janet Surtees was the best part of his life.


Hollywood star James Arness's success story is a spectacular one, and so is his love story, and although it was his second time walking down the aisle, James' marriage to fellow actor Janet Surtees was one he cherished so much.

The pair were a married couple for over three decades and were only separated when James passed away in 2011. Here's a look into Arness' life.


Every Hollywood star, young and old, has a success story and that eureka moment when they realized they hit the jackpot. For James Arness, his Hollywood journey started after a life-changing injury in the army.


The late actor, who was born a Minneapolis native in 1923, was drafted into the US army during his freshman year at Beloit College in Wisconsin. James reported at Fort Snelling, and from there, he became an infantryman.

Things turned awry in 1944, amid the invasion of Anzio, Italy. James' right leg suffered the impact of a machine gun and left him unable to continue in the army. Young James underwent several surgeries to save his affected leg.

Actor James Arness of TV's 'Gunsmoke' poses for a photo 1969 | Photo: Getty Images

Actor James Arness of TV's 'Gunsmoke' poses for a photo 1969 | Photo: Getty Images


Ultimately he returned to the world as a veteran army officer and sought menial jobs. The would-be star went from being a radio announcer to a Hollywood actor.

The 6 foot 7 giant debuted his acting career in 1947 when he appeared in "The Farmer's Daughter." After that, he was cast in "The Thing From Another World."

During that time, he met actor and filmmaker John Wayne, and they worked together for many years. James' acting credits after he met Wayne included 1952's "Big Jim McClain," "Hondo," and "The Sea Chase," in 1955.

James Arness on the set of "Gunsmoke" | Photo: Getty Images

James Arness on the set of "Gunsmoke" | Photo: Getty Images



James Arness's life gathered momentum after he landed the beloved role of Marshall Dillion in "Gunsmoke" in 1955.

Wayne was initially slated to play that role, but he passed it on to the new actor. Wayne had been the person who recommended James for the Marshall Dillon role. And so, James took the part that changed his career forever.

"Gunsmoke" ran for twenty years and was the longest-running primetime show format long time until "The Simpsons" took over. James was married to actress Virginia Chapman through the gradual ascension to fame.


The couple tied the knot in 1948 and were parents to two children, Jenny and Rolf Arness. James also adopted Chapman's son, Craig, from an older relationship. James and Chapman legally ended their union in 1963.

Promotional portrait of American actor James Arness, 1950s. | Photo: Getty Images

Promotional portrait of American actor James Arness, 1950s. | Photo: Getty Images



James Arness was years into his Hollywood fame when he met his second wife, Janet Surtees. Surtees joined Rob Word in an interview on "A Word on Westerns," where she shared their love story. James did not give up on love after his divorce.

Surtees recalled that she met James while working for his make-up artist, Glen Aden's wife. Surtees worked for her for six or seven years, and through that time, Aden's wife often talked about James and her spouse's adventures.

Then one day, Surtees' boss invited her to dinner while letting her know James would be there. The now-aged Surtees shared that she was skeptical at first because of James' societal status.

James Arness stars as Marshall Matt Dillon, in the CBS television series "Gunsmoke."| Photo: Getty Images

James Arness stars as Marshall Matt Dillon, in the CBS television series "Gunsmoke."| Photo: Getty Images

Surtees, who also had a child from an older relationship, shared that her son, Jimmy, loved "Gunsmoke" and, because of that, decided to see James so that she could tell her son.


Surtees was shocked by James' stature at first, but they bonded over their love for skiing after talking. After dinner, James saw Surtees off to her car and asked to call her.

Surtees mentioned that James was quite intentional because he called her the next day, and they set up a date for an airplane ride. The two had a fulfilling first date out in the open and enjoyed camping with other people.

Despite enjoying a dream date, Surtees's favorite part of it all was when James picked up everybody's trash after they left. It was a date Surtees enjoyed, but she did not want to look "too anxious."

James Arness on  "How The West Was Won" - Airdate: February 12, 1978. | Photo: Getty Images

James Arness on "How The West Was Won" - Airdate: February 12, 1978. | Photo: Getty Images


So when James asked her on a second date, Surtees said she was busy. He told her he would be gone for some weeks, and that was their last conversation for three months.

The pair did not see each other for three months after their first date. But after that hiatus, James called Surtees, and their love life became a relationship that lasted the whole of his life.


In 2017, Surtees posted her husband's letter to fans, a personal message to all who loved him during his lifetime. James addressed the letter as foresight if he was no longer alive when it reached the public.


The "How the West Was Won" actor bared his heart to his family and admirers. Showing his appreciation for the woman in his life, the actor wrote: "The best part of my life was my family, especially my wife, Janet."

James also thanked his millions of fans for sticking with him throughout his career and loving all his craft movies. In addition, he briefly wrote about his time in the army and the honor that came with it.


James Arness passed on in 2011 at his home in Brentwood. According to the family's spokesperson, James died of natural causes at 88. He is survived by Janet, his two children, Rolf and Jimmy, six grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

His daughter, Jenny, died in 1975, while Chapman passed on two years later. Craig, who was James' stepson from his first marriage, died in 2004.

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