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|Los Angeles Time Obituary:
April 29th 1991
Ken Curtis, who as a boy helped out in his father’s jail in Colorado and as a character named Festus Haggen performed similar work for Marshall Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke” is dead.
Film producer A.C. Lyles said yesterday that his friend was 74 when he was found dead by his wife in their home near Fresno, Calif., Sunday. The onetime big-band vocalist had been in apparent good health, Lyles said, attending a rodeo in nearby Clovis Saturday. The cause of death has not be determined.
Born Curtis Gates in Bent County, in the dry lands of Colorado where his father was Sheriff, he worked on the family ranch and at the town jail and studied saxophone in high school.
He came to Los Angeles in 1938 and became a staff singer on NBC Radio, where he was heard by composer Johnny Mercer and singer Jo Stafford.
He did infantry service in World War II, and then, after he was heard singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” Columbia Pictures converted him into a singing cowboy. He appeared in a series of low-budget westerns with Guinn “Big Boy” Williams.
He then joined the singing group Sons of the Pioneers. Director John Ford hired those vocalizing cowboys for the soundtrack of his 1950 “Wagonmaster” and Mr. Curtis afterward became a stock player with Ward Bond, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey in the legendary Ford Production Company.
Mr. Curtis – who’s first wife was Ford’s daughter Barbara –soon began appearing on television programs, including “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Rawhide” and “Gunsmoke.”
His seedy, drawling, unwashed Gunsmoke character with the squinty
eyes and drooping hat became so beloved that when Dennis Weaver left
the role of Chester Goode in 1964, Mr. Curtis signed on as his replacement
for the remaining 11 years of what proved the most enduring Western
series in TV history