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James Arness & Mom of His 3 Kids Wed When He Was 'A Beach Comber' — She Felt He Flew like a 'Comet' with Fame

Olawale Ogunjimi
Jul 10, 2022
03:30 P.M.
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Virginia Chapman and James Arness had a beautiful marriage for many years until the actor's soaring career caused a storm in their relationship, which ultimately led to their separation.

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Iconic actor James Arness was working as a beachcomber when he met actress Virginia Chapman. The pair subsequently fell in love and started a romantic relationship.

At the time, Arness struggled to make ends meet as he was not making much from his work as a beachcomber. On the day he was to meet Chapman's parents, Arness showed up in a wrecked car and did not look like he took life seriously.

Actor James Arness in Western Clothing. | Source: Getty Images

Actor James Arness in Western Clothing. | Source: Getty Images

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Chapman's parents could not help but wonder what their daughter saw in Arness. However, the actress, who had just divorced her first husband and was a mother to an 8-month-old child, was in love with Arness. Arness stopped working at the beach to get a steady job and her parents' approval.

Instead, he applied for a job at the Los Angeles Examiner, where he got the position in the classified advertising department. His goal at the company was to get clients in the real estate market to opt for more prominent display ads. This new job allowed Arness to buy a new car and dress up nicely.

After Chapman's parents saw Arness's determination, they suggested that once they were married, the couple should move into the house on Beverly Boulevard near Alvarado, where they ran their chinaware business.

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Virginia Arness and James Arness at home. Image date July 23, 1955. | Source: Getty Images

Virginia Arness and James Arness at home. Image date July 23, 1955. | Source: Getty Images

Arness and Chapman tied the knot in 1948 and moved into the house. Life looked even better when the former's parents offered to take Arness into their business. Even though things looked better than they could have imagined, Chapman encouraged Arness to take up acting.

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She believed he had what it took to become successful in the profession. Due to Chapman's persuasion, Arness began taking acting lessons, working out, and lifting weight to add a few pounds to his body weight.

Afterward, Arness started getting acting jobs, and with more money coming in, the couple decided to get their own place, and he also chose to adopt Chapman's son, Craig, from her first marriage.

The Arness family at home. James Arness with Rolf (age 5), Virginia with daughter Jenny Lee (age 8) and Craig (age 10) on the floor on May 4, 1957. | Source: Getty Images

The Arness family at home. James Arness with Rolf (age 5), Virginia with daughter Jenny Lee (age 8) and Craig (age 10) on the floor on May 4, 1957. | Source: Getty Images

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In January 1950, the pair expanded their family when Chapman gave birth to their daughter, Jenny, at Good Samaritan Hospital. Later, they moved to Cape Cod Cottage in Pacific Palisades, which they built.

The pair welcomed their second child, Rolf, in February 1952, and with Arness making between $20-30,000 a year, life looked perfect. However, that changed shortly after Chapman urged her husband to audition at the Players Ring Theater in Virginia, and he was subsequently booked to star in several plays.

After starring in a Greek drama, a man approached Arness and asked to meet at the Charles Feldman Agency the next day. On getting to the agency, one of the biggest in town, Arness was informed John Wayne wanted to meet him.

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Actor James Arness of TV's 'Gunsmoke' poses for a photo 1969 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Actor James Arness of TV's 'Gunsmoke' poses for a photo 1969 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

The iconic star wanted him to sign with the Wayne-Fellows Company, where he would earn $1,000 a week with a guaranteed 40 weeks of work. Arness could not believe he would get to work with stars while making such a staggering amount.

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Nonetheless, this new deal started causing problems in Chapman and Arness's marriage. The former had been involved in his career until that moment and wanted to continue helping her husband. However, the Wayne-Fellows Agency would not allow women or wives to participate in film planning or script rehearsals.

This new arrangement annoyed Chapman and even led to an argument between her and the agency. Things between Chapman and Arness deteriorated, and the former became feisty and unapproachable at home. Sadly, their relationship did not improve at all over time.

CHAPMAN AND ARNESS'S DIVORCE

Actor James Arness attends the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Actor James Arness attends the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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Chapman and Arness divorced in 1963. However, Arness was awarded custody of the children, and Chapman continued living in Los Angeles.

Seven years after their divorce, Chapman decided to speak on her once beautiful marriage with Arness, which had turned into a sad and heartbreaking story.

Actor James Arness poses for a photo circa 1950 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Actor James Arness poses for a photo circa 1950 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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She married Arness as a beachcomber who would later become a superstar actor due to his sterling performance in the TV show "Gunsmoke." Chapman confessed:

"As his career sky-rocketed, I gradually realized I was tied to a star that had turned into a comet shooting into outer space, leaving me earth-bound and terribly alone. I lost my husband to his career and therefore experienced my share of tragedy, heartache, and sorrow."

 Actor James Arness waits on the set of "Gunsmoke" in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Actor James Arness waits on the set of "Gunsmoke" in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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She, however, referred to that period as her "growth years" because she learned the hard way that growth cannot happen without suffering. Also, out of sadness comes wisdom.

Chapman disclosed that she had overly exerted into her husband and his career and, in doing so, lost her identity. So when Arness left, she could not find her identity in herself, her community, family, or friends.

ARNESS FINDS LOVE AGAIN

James "Jim" Arness And Wife Janet Pose For A Photograph In Their Garden In 1995 In Brentwood, Ca. | Source: Getty Images

James "Jim" Arness And Wife Janet Pose For A Photograph In Their Garden In 1995 In Brentwood, Ca. | Source: Getty Images

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After his marriage to Chapman crashed, Arness, a superstar actor, married Janet Surtees. The pair met after the wife of Arness's makeup artist introduced them. Surtees was initially not intrigued by the idea of meeting Arness but decided to because her son was a huge fan of his series "Gunsmoke."

Eventually, when they met, the pair connected over their love for skiing. Arness subsequently asked her out to ski whenever she had the chance and walked her to the car after dinner. The actor also requested if he could call Surtees, and she agreed.

The next day he called to invite her out to Mammoth Lakes, and the pair flew to the lake in Arness's Beechcraft Bonanza plane. At the lake, the couple rode horses and had lunch on the beach.

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: Actor James Arness poses with his wife Janet during a signing of his new book "James Arness: An Autobiography" at the Gene Autry Museum November 3, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA. | Source: Getty Images

: Actor James Arness poses with his wife Janet during a signing of his new book "James Arness: An Autobiography" at the Gene Autry Museum November 3, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA. | Source: Getty Images

However, Arness waited three months when they returned before calling Surtees again. Finally, the pair went out to dinner and started a romantic relationship afterward. The pair had a beautiful relationship, and Arness often even gushed about his second wife.

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The actor called her his best friend, who had supported him through some rough times. He also lauded her as his champion and bedrock through their 20+ years of marriage. The actor said she remained his soulmate and a gift he thanks the Lord for daily.

Arness and Surtees remained married for more than two decades, during which the latter became stepmother to his kids from his marriage to Chapman. They remained together until his death.

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