Ken Curtis Poster


Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Family (2)  | Trade Mark (5)  | Trivia (24)  | Personal Quotes (1)

Overview (4)

Born in Lamar, Colorado, USA
Died in Fresno, California, USA  (heart attack in his sleep)
Birth NameCurtis Wain Gates
Height 5' 11" (1.8 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Considering the kind of scruffy, backwoods, uneducated, Deep-South hillbilly types he played, many people would be surprised to hear that Ken Curtis wasn't actually born in the south but in the small town of Las Animas, Colorado, the son of the town sheriff. They would probably be even more surprised to learn that he began his show business career as a singer in the big-band era, and was a vocalist in the legendary Tommy Dorsey orchestra. He entered films in the late 1940s at the tail-end of the singing-cowboy period in a series of low-budget Westerns for Columbia Pictures. When that genre died out, Curtis turned to straight dramatic and comedy parts and became a regular in the films of director John Ford (who was his father-in-law). Curtis branched out into film production in the 1950s with two extremely low-budget monster films, The Killer Shrews (1959) and The Giant Gila Monster (1959), but he is best known for his long-running role as Festus Hagen, the scruffy, cantankerous deputy in the long-running TV series Gunsmoke (1955).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: frankfob2@yahoo.com

Family (2)

Spouse Torrie Ahern Connelly (12 March 1966 - 28 April 1991)  (his death)
Barbara Ford (31 May 1952 - 23 July 1964)  (divorced)
Relatives John Ford (aunt or uncle)

Trade Mark (5)

Hillbilly accent.
The role of Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke (1955).
High-pitched voice.
His beard.
Before 'Gunsmoke', he often appeared in films with John Wayne and/or directed by John Ford.

Trivia (24)

Grew up in Las Animas, CO, where his father, Dan Gates, was sheriff. As was the custom at the time, they lived above the jail and his mother, Nellie (Sneed) Gates, cooked for the prisoners. He once said he patterned "Festus" after a local character known as Cedar Jack, who lived about 40 miles out in the cedar hills and made a living cutting cedar fence posts for farmers and ranchers. When he came to Las Animas, he usually ended up drunk and in jail. This gave Curtis plenty of opportunity to observe him.
Introduced the western standard "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" to movie audiences.
Before taking up an acting career, he sang with Tommy Dorsey's band and the Sons of the Pioneers.
Son-in-law of director John Ford.
Inducted (as a cast member of Gunsmoke (1955)) into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1981.
Early in his career he sang with the Shep Fields' Orchestra.
Although his character, Festus Haggen, was introduced to Gunsmoke (1955) in an episode called "Us Haggens," in which he arrived in Dodge City to avenge the death of his twin brother, the fact that Festus had a twin was never again mentioned on the show.
On Gunsmoke (1955) as Festus Haggen, he always drew and fired a pistol with his right hand -- but whenever he had to use a rifle, he would bring it up to his left shoulder and pull the trigger with his left hand (sighting with his left eye and squinting with his right). Often, Festus would squint with the right eye partially closed as well. This means he is right handed but left eye dominant. There are many other actors who do this too. Clint Eastwood does it on Rawhide. Steve McQueen, Sidney Poitier and David Caruso have been known to do it too.
Refused an offer to appear as Festus Haggen in the movie Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987), which reunited James Arness, Amanda Blake, Buck Taylor and Fran Ryan from the original series. Money was the issue. Producer John Mantley, interviewed for TV Guide when the movie aired, said Curtis had demanded double what Blake got; other sources say Mantley was at fault in offering Curtis an insultingly low salary (not specified in either account).
The Sons of the Pioneers, of which Curtis was once a member, were awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6843 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Appeared with the Sons of the Pioneers at Carnegie Hall.
Came from a musical family -- his father played the fiddle, his mother the pump organ, brother Chester the banjo, and another brother Carl sang.
In 1935 he went to a college in Colorado Springs, CO, to study medicine. While there his love for singing grew and he involved himself in various college musical events.
His stage name was changed to the easier-sounding "Ken Curtis" when he temporarily replaced Frank Sinatra in Tommy Dorsey's band in 1941.
He met singer Jo Stafford while appearing with Johnny Mercer on a radio program. Mercer invited him to make a guest appearance and, in acknowledgment of Jo's latest recording, Ken sang "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". As a result of this appearance, Columbia Pictures signed him up for a series of musical westerns.
His maternal great-grandfather Sebron (Seaborn) Graham Sneed (1828-72) was the senior second lieutenant of Company A, Harrelson's Battalion, Arkansas Cavalry (Confederate) during the US Civil War. Sebron's brothers Samuel and William R. were privates in the same unit.
While appearing in John Ford westerns, he initially utilized his musical talents before turning to straight acting. In Rio Grande (1950) he was a guitar-playing lead-singing tenor with the "Regimental Singers". In The Quiet Man (1952) he played an accordion and sang tenor in the bar.
Not only was he a resident of Dodge City, KS, in the TV series Gunsmoke (1955) from 1962-75, he was also a Dodge City resident in Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
Best remembered by the public for his role as Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke (1955).
His first appearance on Gunsmoke (1955) as Festus Haggen was entitled "Us Haggens" s8e13 on Dec 08, 1962. His very first appearance on Gunsmoke was as a character named Jesse Turnball in the episode "Exurbanites," s5e30 on 31 January 1959.
Easily confused with John Carradine, whom Ken very much resembled.
His long association with John Ford came to an end in 1964, the year he was divorced by Ford's daughter Barbara. Later, Ford accused him in interviews of having been a wife-beater.
Before playing the rowdy and talkative hillbilly deputy Festus on Gunsmoke, replacing Dennis Weaver, his style of acting was very mellow, lowbrow. Whether inspired by or just coincidental, his Festus accent and delivery is very similar to how character-actor Strother Martin, who had appeared on a handful of Gunsmoke episodes and was a Western movie staple, spoke naturally.
Right before becoming the co-star on Gunsmoke as James Arness's replacement deputy, he was the sidekick on another popular series, Ripcord.

Personal Quotes (1)

I'm really proud of Gunsmoke (1955). We put on a good show every week, one that families could all watch together without offending anyone.

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