How old was Burt Reynolds in Gunsmoke?
Gunsmoke is arguably one of the most successful television shows of all time.
It’s definitely one of the most memorable.
Across its 20 years on air, it was nominated for a staggering 16 Primetime Emmy awards, and ranked as the #1 show on television globally—five years in a row.
The Western drama series also held the spot for the longest-running live-action TV series on primetime up until it was ousted by Law & Order: SVU.
At the time of writing, Gunsmoke still maintains a spot in the top 5 longest-running television series around the world, although cult classic The Simpsons and the original Law & Order series both outrank it.
There was a lot that made Gunsmoke great.
It had drama and intrigue, it had action, it had sheer entertainment value—and it had some incredible actors.
From the show’s lead Jim Arness, to Doc—played by Milburn Stone—and Amanda Blake, the show’s cast was well stocked for talent.
For a while there, it also had Burt Reynolds on its billing.
Reynolds called the Gunsmoke set home for three seasons starting in season eight, and he would appear in 50 episodes through that time.
Here’s what Gunsmoke fans need to know about the iconic Burt Reynolds—and why he left Gunsmoke.
When did Burt Reynolds join Gunsmoke?
Gunsmoke execs were a little hesitant when they brought Burt Reynolds on board in 1962. At the time, Reynolds was 26.
They had a solid cast and crew—one which was often described by insiders as being “like a family”—and Burt Reynolds had quite the reputation.
He had recently—and publically—demanded his way out of a contract with NBC’s hit Western series, Riverboat.
The actor had clashed with co-star Darren McGavin—and would continue to do so for years afterwards.
He had also criticized his character as being “bland” in television and radio interviews.
While the charismatic and talented young star wasn’t blacklisted, his reputation around television networks wasn’t as stellar as his list of credits.
As it turned out, though, Reynolds got along with his Gunsmoke co-stars like a house on fire.
Did Burt Reynolds cause trouble on Gunsmoke?
Even decades later, Burt would reference his Gunsmoke colleagues with fondness.
Before he even joined the cast, producers understood that they would need to keep Reynolds’ role small.
He was a big personality and could easily overshadow the main focus of the show if left to his own devices.
“Innately,” said one of the show’s producers, “he’s a leading man.”
Burt Reynolds’ character—Quint—was initially written in as a guest star for exactly that reason.
Producers wanted the draw of Burt Reynolds, without the pressure of fighting his natural ability to claim the spotlight.
Did Burt Reynolds like being on Gunsmoke?
Following the departure of Dennis Weaver from Gunsmoke, and Reynolds subsequent addition to the cast, Burt called Weaver out for making a “terrible mistake.”
He stated that it was a terrible mistake for an actor to leave a series in the middle of it.
He would also go on to say that being a part of Gunsmoke was “the happiest period of my life.”
The charismatic actor claimed that everyone involved in the show felt the same way.
According to Reynolds, “it was a family” and that his cast mates all had incredible generosity of spirit.
As an ensemble group, explained, it didn’t matter who was taking a turn in the spotlight on any given episode—everyone had manners and encouraged each other.
There was no room for ego or hogging the spotlight for yourself.
Burt had a theory as to why that was, too:
“Number one, Jim Arness and Milburn wouldn’t put up with it.”
Why did Burt Reynolds leave Gunsmoke?
While Reynolds sang the praises of the Gunsmoke “family” at every turn, he ended up leaving after three years in his role as Quint, the blacksmith.
So, what happened to make Burt Reynolds leave Gunsmoke?
As it turned out, there were a few things that led to his departure from the show.
For starters, he explained that—while he “hated to leave that show”—he had learned what he could, and there would never be room for two leading men in a cast led by Jim Arness.
Secondly, Arness had taken him aside and encouraged him to strike out on his own.
Finally, there was a conversation with Milburn Stone which Burt Reynolds credits as changing his life.
Reynolds explained that when he got back to the set after wrapping a movie, Milburn said to him, “Your movies are taking off. Get out of here.”
Taken aback, Burt thought Milburn was trying to get rid of him.
He says he cringes over what he said next.
“I asked [Milburn], “Don’t you like me?” Gentleman that he was, he said, “I love your work. It’s time you think about your movie career.”
Reynolds said that was all it took. “I knew he was the smartest guy—I always thought that. He was so wonderful. So I quit.”
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What did Burt Reynolds do after Gunsmoke?
In a nutshell: a lot.
He scored his first lead role in Operation CIA, followed by Flipper, 12 O’Clock High, Hawk, and Navajo Joe.
He rose to prominence as a sex symbol and would go on to become the epitome of 1970s pop culture in the US.
Deliverance, White Lightning, The Longest Yard, Semi-Tough, and a slew of other movie leads followed—including his iconic role in Smokey and the Bandit in 1977.
Throughout his illustrious career, Burt Reynolds was voted the top box-office star for four years running, won two Golden Globe awards, and a Primetime Emmy.
Despite his success as a film superstar, Reynolds’ shared in an interview later:
“I’ve often wondered what would have happened had I stayed for the whole run [of Gunsmoke]. There’s a lot to be said for peace of mind and the fun.”
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