Gunsmoke – The Gambler (Aired on CBS Radio, Oct 7, 1956):
Gunsmoke, best loved Western of all time:
In this episode of Dramatic Listening, we’re starting a new story — and a new genre once again. It’s an episode from the best-loved Western of all time, ‘Gunsmoke’. Gunsmoke was aired on the radio for 10 years from 1952-1961 and was also adapted to TV and played from 1955-1975. The radio years formed the characters in the show, but none of them moved over to the television show. The head writer wrote for both radio and T.V.
When the West was young:
The writers wanted a show that showed how rough and violent the West was really in the late 1800s. They went for a flawed hero instead of a perfect hero like the Lone Ranger. They were writing for adults, so they included sexual crimes like rape, prostitution, and violence like scalping, lynching. For the first three years, the show was unsponsored (no advertising) — CBS Radio was afraid that sponsors wouldn’t like the nature of the crimes and the seedy side of life portrayed in the show. They didn’t want to give these things up because they gave the show its sense of reality.
Matt Dillon and Dodge City, Kansas:
The story is set in Dodge City, Kansas where US Marshall Matt Dillon lives. Rough and rowdy cowboys often came into Dodge City to ‘whoop it up’ after weeks on the trail, herding cattle. Gunmen, gamblers, and medical ‘quacks’, often stopped in the town to do some business on their way through. Matt Dillon had to deal strongly with some, kindly with others. He was a man with a history (once a gunman himself), but now a man of authority who handled situations with fairness, and that earned him most people’s respect. However, as the representative of the law, he was often a target and that is probably why he never felt free to marry.
- Matt Dillon: U.S. Marshall, a lawman
- Chester Proudfoot: Deputy Marshall, assistant to Matt Dillon
- Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Russel: a saloon girl (dancehall girl/prostitute)
- Doc Adams: a medical doctor
- Clint Ascombe: a riverboat gambler from Ohio
- Jim Cass: a local rancher near Dodge City, Kansas
The Gambler, Scene 1 ~ Guilty Remorse:
Today’s Gunsmoke radio play is called “The Gambler”, and not surprisingly, the theme is gambling. I’ve called this episode, “Guilty Remorse”. You see, gambling is one of Chester’s weaknesses, so today he is flat broke. He lost all his money playing faro last night — a card game that you won’t see in any casino today. This game was very popular during the California Gold Rush. It was well liked because a whole crowd of people could play it, but it became unpopular for two reasons. One, the cards were dealt from a spring-loaded box and it was easy for the dealer to rig the box in his favor. If he didn’t cheat, the house only had a narrow advantage over the players. In other words, the gambling house didn’t make enough money on this game. They were always paying out to a winner. I suppose it’s because so many people can play at once that there have to be a lot of losers too, so this time Chester is among the losers. He can’t even afford to eat so he’s skipping lunch. He seems to feel guilty about gambling and wishes Matt would lecture him. The lecture would make him feel like he’d “paid” for his failure to live right. Chester seems to have grown up going to church. He knows the preacher would tell him that gambling is wrong. But what is wrong with it, really? This whole Gunsmoke episode faces this issue, so we’ll let the story answer this question.
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Chester seems to feel guilty about losing all his money at gambling. Was he wrong to gamble? Is it truly evil? Does it lead to bad things? Do you think Chester would change his ways and quit gambling if he heard a real fire-and-brimstone sermon? Matt doesn’t preach at Chester, but he doesn’t offer to buy him lunch either. What do you think of that? Post your answer in the comments below.