James Arness Net Worth, Career & Personal Life

admin December 27, 2019
Updated 2019/12/27 at 9:40 PM
James Arness net worth
James Arness net worth

This article features interesting info about James Arness net worth, biography, Age, Career highlights, Awards, Family, Children, Life events, and Death.

James Arness was born James King Arness on May 26, 1923. He was an American actor who was best known for his role in the CBS television series Gunsmoke, as Marshal Matt Dillon for 20 years.

James Arness is quite notable for the role of Marshal Matt Dillon which he played in five separate decades. His younger brother is Peter Graves, an actor.

James Arness Early Life

James Arness was born on the 26th of May 1923 to Rolf Cirkler, a businessman, and Ruth Duesler, a journalist, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

James Arness schooled at John Burroughs Grade School, Washburn High School, and later, West High School in Minneapolis.

At this time, he worked as a courier for one jewelry wholesaler, loading and offloading railway boxcars at Burlington freight yards in Minneapolis, and also logging in Pierce, Idaho.

Despite that he was a poor student who had to skip many classes, James graduated from high school in 1942.

James Arness Personal Life

James Arness got married to Virginia Chapman in the year 1948 and adopted her late son Craig who died on December 14, 2004. The couple also had a son, Rolf Arness, and a daughter, Jenny Lee Arness, who died of a drug overdose in 1975.

His son, Rolf became the World Surfing Champion in 1970, while Craig founded a stock photography agency, Westlight. Craig was also a photographer for National Geographic.

James Arness and his wife Virginia Chapman divorced in 1963 and he was granted legal custody of the children. Virginia later died of a drug overdose in 1977.

James Arness met Thordis Brandt four years after his divorce from his first wife Virginia Chapman. They had a relationship that lasted for six years before James Arness married Janet Surtees in 1978.

James Arness disdained publicity. He was said to be a sensitive and shy man, who even banned reporters from the Gunsmoke set. He enjoyed sailboat racing, poetry, and surfing. 

James Arness Career

Military Service

James Arness served in the US military during the Second World War. He would have been a naval fighter but his height (2.01 m) barred him due to the set limit (1.88 m) for aviators.

He joined the US Army and in March 1943, he reported to Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

In January 1945, after a series of injuries and undergoing several surgeries, James Arness was honorably discharged from the US Army. His injuries continued to trouble him throughout the rest of his life.

His military decorations included the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Purple Heart, and Bronze Star, as well as a World War II victory medal, three bronze battle stars, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.


James Arness entered Beloit College in Wisconsin after his discharge from service. He started his entertainment career as a radio announcer in 1945 at Minneapolis station WLOL.

He came to Hollywood by hitchhiking and soon started to act and appear in films. He appeared in Westerns, Science-Fiction films, and many others.

Movies and Awards

James Arness was a talented award-winning actor who had his own share of Hollywood fame. His works in the roles he played on screen through many films he appeared in earned him a handful of well-deserved awards. Below is a list of movies James Arness appeared in, as well as his awards.


  • The Lone Ranger (as Deputy Bud Titus) — 1950
  • Lux Video Theatre, “The Chase” — 1954
  • Gunsmoke (as Marshal Matt Dillon) — 1955 – 1975
  • Front Row Center — 1956
  • The Red Skelton Chevy Special — 1959
  • The Chevrolet Golden Anniversary Show — 1961
  • A Salute to Television’s 25th Anniversary — 1972
  • The Macahans (as Zeb Macahan) — 1976
  • How The West Was Won (as Zeb Macahan) — 1977-1979
  • McClain’s Law (as Det. Jim McClain) — 1981-1982
  • John Wayne Standing Tall (as James Arness) — 1989
  • Pioneers of Television


For his numerous contributions to the TV industry, James Arness has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street. He was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame in 1981 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. In 2006, he was inducted into the Santa Clarita Walk of Western Stars.

He was number 6 in People magazine’s top 25 television stars of all time in 1989. He ranked number 20 on TV Guide‘s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list in 1996 and had nominations for the following Emmy:

  • 1957: Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series
  • 1958: Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic or Comedy Series
  • 1959: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series

James Arness Death

James Arness died on June 3, 2011. He was 88 years old when he died of Natural Causes in Los Angeles at his Brentwood home.

He is survived by his wife from his second marriage, Thordis Brandt as well as Rolf Arness, his son.

James Arness Net Worth

At the time of his death, James Arness was worth $8 million

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