Marshal Matt Dillon (Jim Arness) is up in heaven right now with Kitty (Amanda Blake), Deputy Dennis Goode (Dennis Weaver) and Doc (Milburn Stone) enjoying a beer at the Long Branch Salon swapping stories and reminiscing about the good old days when TV shows didn’t need gratuitous sex and violence to enthrall viewers.
Arness was the last of the Dodge City gang of “Gunsmoke” of TV fame to pass away. He died this past week at age 88.
The character of Matt Dillon that Arness played was kept righteous and was always peace seeking despite the fact the show almost always involved gun play. It didn’t take 60 minutes of non-stop violence and risqué scenes and dialogues to captivate an audience from 1955 to 1975. All it took was believable story lines executed with solid acting. There was no need for gore, flesh or profanity.
Those days now seem light years away given the current genre of what passes for entertainment on TV and in the movies.
Part of that Gunsmoke crew - Dennis Weaver - had ties to Manteca.
Weaver uttered his trademark lines, “‘Mis-ter Dil-lon, Mis-ter Dil-lon” in his role as Deputy Chester Goode as he walked with a slight limp to earn him a place in the heart of Gunsmoke fans forever. Weaver passed away five years ago at age 81.
Weaver could also be part of a Manteca version of Trivial Pursuit. He spent one year in Manteca attending Yosemite School from 1937-38.
He also starred in two other TV series - “Gentle Ben” and “The Buck Smith Television Series”. He had the starring role in the movie “Duel” that has been deemed by many film critics as one of the film industry’s all-time classics. It was the first movie by director Steven Spielberg.
Weaver also was Deputy Sam McCloud in the “McCloud” series about a Taos, New Mexico deputy assigned to the New York City Police Department. In that series that ran from 1970-77, Weaver’s signature line was “there you go again.”
He was born Billy Dennis Weaver in Joplin, Missouri, in 1924 and always spoke highly of the few years he spent growing up in Manteca. He specifically credited an older Manteca boy - George Hogrefe - with providing him with not just his first bicycle but a wealth of characteristics and habits that he built his life on including the importance of honesty, to be the best you can be, to play chess, to enjoy poetry, and how to drive a car.
It was a part-time job cleaning alongside George at Manteca’s fabled El Rey Theatre that Weaver got to help pay for room and board and spending money while living a year with Hogrefe and his family that cemented his love of acting.
The Dust Bowl prompted the Weaver family to come to Manteca in 1934 to find work in the local packing sheds. They spent five years coming to Manteca during the harvest season to work and then return to Joplin.
Weaver wrote of Manteca in is his autobiography “All the World’s A Stage.” He specifically mentions renting the old Duval house on the edge of town that “proved to have an unpredictably strong effect on my life.”
Weaver wrote of Hogrefe that “I am sure that I have incorporated his work ethics into my life. He was a positive role model who contributed greatly to what I am today.”
Weaver told of the fun he had playing in the canal that ran south of Woodward Avenue along Tinnin Road.
One year the family returned to Joplin after the harvest season and Weaver remained behind. He lived with the Hogrefes and attended eighth grade in Manteca at the old Yosemite School that is now the Manteca Day School.
You never know where live will take you as Weaver would tell you.
One summer you’re working as a teen in a movie palace known as the El Rey in a dusty Northern San Joaquin Valley town named Manteca where you fall in love with acting and 16 years later you’re the sidekick for the most famous TV sheriff of all time.