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Ken Curtis

Ken Curtis (July 2, 1916 - April 29, 1991), Singer-Actor, best known as Festus of Gunsmoke fame. (b. Curtis Wain Gates and raised in Las Animas, Colorado)

Dan Gates, his father, was the sheriff in Las Animas. The family lived above the jail and his mother, Nellie (Sneed) Gates, cooked for the prisoners.

Ken Curtis, who was a singer before he moved into acting, sang with the Sons of the Pioneers and Tommy Dorsey's band. Movie audiences will hear his voice from the introduction of the western standard: Tumbling Tumbleweeds.

This son-in-law of director John Ford teamed up with father-in-law and also John Wayne in Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Wings of Eagles, The Searchers, The Horse Soldiers, and How The West Was Won. Curtis also teamed up with Ford, along with Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, and William Powell in the comedy Navy classic Mister Roberts. In the 1950's Curtis even tried his hand at producing with two extremely low-budget monster films, The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster.

Ken is best known for his long-running role as Festus Hagen, the scrofulous, cantankerous deputy in the TV series Gunsmoke. Festus is patterened after Cedar Jack, a man from Ken's Las Animas childhood. Cedar Jack, who lived about 40 miles out of town in the hills, made a living cutting cedar fence posts, gave Curtis plenty of opportunity to observe him when Jack would come to Las Animas where he would usually end up drunk and in jail.

Inducted (as a cast member of Gunsmoke) into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1981.

His last role was as cattle rancher Seaborn Tay in the TV production Conagher (1991), by famed Western author Louis L'Amour, starring Sam Elliot in the lead role.

In 1991 Curtis died in his sleep of natural causes in Fresno, California.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Ken Curtis Facts

Birth Name Curtis Wain Gates
OccupationActor, Musician
BirthdayJuly 2, 1916
Date of deathApril 29, 1991 (age 74)
Height6' (1m83)  How tall is Ken Curtis compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Not available.