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How Much Did Ken Curtis Make Per Episode On Gunsmoke?

How much did Ken Curtis make per episode on Gunsmoke?


Today, we are used to reading about actors and actresses pulling in millions of dollars per episode, but this was not always the case.

Billions of dollars have poured into the entertainment industry over time, bringing athletes, TV and movie stars, and musicians into the stratosphere of multimillionaires – some, even billionaires.

Classic actors like Ken Curtis, though, were not so fortunate.

Ken Curtis was one of the best-known actors and singers of his life.

His main role, though, was that of Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke.

This popular TV series covered the 1870s Dodge City, Kansas era, and its main characters included Marshal Matt Dillon.

Festus was a major character in the show for many years and became one of the most acclaimed and loved by fans.

However, earning power back in the day was nothing like it is now.

So, with that in mind, how much did Ken Curtis make per episode on Gunsmoke? Let’s find out.

Short Biography

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Amanda Blake, Milburn Stone, Ken Curtis, Burt Reynolds, and James Arness – @Getty

Ken Curtis, known as Curtis Wain Gates when younger, was an American actor and singer born on the 2nd of July 1916.

He was a major part of the US acting scene for much of his life, but he is most well-known for his role as Festus Haggen in Gunsmoke.

He had appeared on Gunsmoke before becoming Haggen, first appearing in the fourth season as a man known as Brisco.

how much did festus make on gunsmoke

Ken (Festus) Curtis (left), Thayer Tutt of Broadmoor; The two were on hand for Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo opener – @Getty

He appeared for the first time in season 8 as Festus, and from the 13th episode of that season, he became a mainstay in the show.

By season 9, episode 16, he was now a permanent cast member and became one of the show’s most important members.

Away from Gunsmoke, though, Curtis enjoyed a successful career.

His first ever TV appearance came in the 1957 show The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.

This single episode, for which he was not credited, got him on the scene, and eventually, he would take part in Gunsmoke for all of those years.

who played festus on gunsmoke

October 16, 1967 – @Getty

Alongside Gunsmoke, he also appeared in various shows like Sea Hunt, Ripcord, Death Valley Days, The Yellow Rose, Airworlf, and Conagher.

His movie career was prolific, too, with his first appearance in movies coming in 1940 as a part of the Santa Fe Trail.

From there, he grew in stature and began to appear in more and more movies – by the end of the 1940s, he had appeared in as many as 13 movies!

The 1950s were arguably his peak as an actor, but he also enjoyed a successful singing career before acting.

Once an actor, he was part of bands like the Sons of the Pioneers, writing the famous “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” track.

His latter years in music and film saw him mostly take on smaller acting roles. He died of a heart attack on the 28th of April 1991 and was cremated.

His ashes were spread across the flatlands of Colorado – a fitting end for a legendary actor who was mostly known for his role in Western-inspired media.

What Was Gunsmoke?

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James Arness, Burt Reynolds, Milburn Stone, Amanda Blake, and Ken Curtis – @Getty

As mentioned above, Gunsmoke was a TV show that started as a radio series.

The radio series ran from 1952 until 1961, while the TV series ran for much longer. The TV series began in 1955 and ran for a whopping 20 seasons.

Until 1961, episodes were 30 minutes long; from 1962 until 1975, though, episodes lasted for an hour. In total, 365 episodes of Gunsmoke were created.

Some have even compared it to being a US version of the Iliad, such as its ability to romanticize the Western era.

People loved it, and the show was easily one of the most popular around when it was on.

As mentioned above, the show was focused on Dodge City in Kansas and was based in the 1870s.

The show gave us a much clearer look at what it must have been like for someone living in those “Wild West” times.

Throughout its runtime, the show was well-received by fans and often sat highly on the Nielsen ratings list.

It also won as many as 15 Primetime Emmy Awards, showing the show’s quality.

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Ken Curtis and Milburn Stone – @Getty

How Much Did Ken Curtis Make Per Episode On Gunsmoke?

Most of the actors who appeared in Gunsmoke were either already big names or became big names later in their careers.

With that in mind, many of the big-name stars of the era made a decent sum of money.

Curiously, though, Dennis Weaver was the most successful actor on Gunsmoke in earnings.

Though Weaver was only on the show briefly compared to icons like Curtis, he amassed a significant net worth of as much as $16m before he died in 2006.

The other leading light in income was James Arness, who played the lead role. He is believed to have made as much as $8m in his career before passing on in 2011.

ken curtis salary gunsmoke

Ken Curtis, 1970 – @Getty

However, according to most sources, Ken Curtis would have been third on the listing. He is believed to have made around $5m during his successful career. However, how much he made per show is clouded in more mystery.

According to some reports, Arness was making as much as $20,000 per episode back in the day – that would have been about $150,000 in today’s money. However, there is no real information on how much some of his other co-stars were paid per episode.

Given he was involved in as many as 300+ episodes, though, it would be fair to assume that Haggen would have been an important enough role to see Curtis make a strong sum of money.

Curtis even rejected chances to be in the latter Gunsmoke movies as he believed the money offered did not match Festus’ importance to the story.

We know, then, that he definitely valued the role and had likely made good money from taking on that role in the past.

How much he earned per episode, though, is not something that has been made clear.

If Arnett, the show’s star, made as much as $20,000 per episode, it would be fair to assume that Curtis might have been on a fair amount of money himself.

Some characters were believed to have been making as much as $1,500 per week at the start.

As the show exploded in popularity, though, those numbers rose to tens of thousands in the case of some.

So, who knows how much Ken Curtis made per episode from Gunsmoke? The information has never been verified. What we do know, though, is that, for its time, Gunsmoke paid very well indeed!


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