Book Reviews!

James Arness: An Autobiography

Dennis Weaver : A Renaissance Man

A review of All the World's a Stage by Dennis Weaver, 314 pages (October 2001)
Hampton Roads Pub Co; ISBN: 1571742875 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.18 x 8.78 x 5.92

I admire Dennis Weaver. He has a long consistent acting career in diverse roles, a marriage now celebrating its second half century and deep convictions on what is meaningful in life. His life story is full. Besides his lead in the television series McCloud and the role of Chester on television's longest running prime time series, Gunsmoke, Dennis Weaver won an Emmy for his portrayal of Chester on Gunsmoke; is an inductee of the Cowboy Hall of Fame; co-founded LIFE (Love is Feeding Everyone); serves as host of cable TV's Western Channel; and served for fourteen years as the spokesman for Great Western Bank replacing John Wayne after Wayne's death. Dennis Weaver starred in Steven Spielberg's first movie, "Duel"; teamed with Orson Welles in the movie "A Touch of Evil"; acted with James Cagney in "The Gallant Hours"; co-hosted Farm Aid IV with Willie Nelson. He is a singer/songwriter and has recorded his works with the likes of John Denver. Like Ronald Reagan, Dennis Weaver served as President of the Screen Actor's Guild. Weaver was a naval aviator in the Naval Air Corps in WWII; was offered a football scholarship at the University of Oklahoma; and finished #6 in the decathlon tryouts for the United States Olympic team. He built a house out of old tires,dirt filled pop cans and adobe and dubbed it "Earthship". Behind the scenes, he introduced the parents of Ron and Clint Howard. Ron Howard, of course, played Opie on the Andy Griffith Show and later made great films like "Apollo 13". Clint Howard costarred with Weaver in the television series "Gentle Ben." Dennis Weaver introduced Linda Evans ("Dallas") to her first TV acting job on McCloud; coached his son's little league team; was financially helped by Shelley Winters in lean times; and, before fame, made money delivering flowers to people like Lucille Ball, Jack Webb and John Ford. Director extraordinaire John Ford's son-in-law, Ken Curtis, later replaced Dennis Weaver's character of Chester on Gunsmoke as the hay seed Festus.

The first eight chapters of "All the World's a Stage" are Weaver's autobiography. The account of his life in the Great Depression reads wonderfully like John Grisham's "The Painted House". The times were tough, but there was love, family, adventure and good friends. Some of Weaver's pros are poetic: "A shared crisis is fertile soil in which kindness can grow"; "The purpose of life is to Love and be Loved". Some read like proverbs: "to achieve a goal, three things are necessary, focus, focus and focus"; "Everyone should be passionate about something"; "that which you would have for yourself, give to others"; "Be happy with yourself;" and one his favorite sayings, "The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer."

Dennis Weaver soared to popularity as stiff legged Chester Goode in television's Gunsmoke. Chester was Matt Dillon's hired help - not a deputy as reported in most commentaries on the series. The cast and theme of the early Gunsmokes were magic. Doc, Kitty, Matt, Chester and the magic writing of John Meston zoomed the early black-and-white half hour Gunsmokes into the number one spot for four straight years. Purists (like me) say these are among the best westerns ever aired. Dennis Weaver soon tired of the role of Chester. He felt the possibilities of Chester's character were exhausted and left Gunsmoke after the first nine seasons. He wanted to be a leading man. He achieved this in numerous roles including the television series, McCloud.

The last ten chapters of "All the World's a Stage" proselytize Dennis Weaver's pantheistic worldview. He is a vegetarian concerned about the planet earth. His call to activism came during meditation. "One evening, while I was practicing the stillness, the Divine Presence of God came in a very sweet and loving way; and I was moved to mentally speak to that Holy Consciousness, which I often refer to as the `Divine Mother'." He envisions his god as a female. In the book's preface, he writes, "I sincerely and humbly thank God for we are all together in Her". He is the member of Self-Realization Fellowship described as "half-Yoga [Hindu] and half-Christian". (There are Christians - like me - who believe being half-Christian, like being half-pregnant, is not possible.) Weaver is not passive about his faith. He has placed his passions into action. Besides LIFE, he champions the discipline of "Ecolonomics", a term he created to describe joint concern of ecology and economics.

Compared to the autobiographies of James Arness and Burt Reynolds, both Gunsmoke regulars, Weaver's autobiography overflows with passion, concern for truth, introspection, and search for spiritual identity. Little emphasis or concern is placed on the importance or the fame of self. The title of Weaver's autobiography, unlike those of James Arness and Burt Reynolds, does not include his name. "All the World's a Stage" emphasizes both who he is - an actor - and where his passion lies - in the spirituality of planet Earth. Dennis Weaver holds these precepts higher than self. Some may not agree on the conclusions of his quest for truth, but all must admire the sincerity and outstanding character that constitutes a remarkable man.

Gunsmoke Fiction: Blood Bullets And Buckskin