CBS Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Gunsmoke actor, Ken Curtis, is best remembered for his iconic portrayal of Festus Haggen, but Curtis also had a country music career.
Curtis was born in Las Animas, Colorado, on July 2, 1916. In his twenties, the actor moved to New York and worked for the NBC radio network as a singer. In 1942, he also cut a couple of songs for Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra, the same orchestra that worked with Frank Sinatra.
After serving in World War II, Curtis began his film career and signed with Columbia Pictures, but Curtis also stuck to his roots as a singer. Curtis was the lead singer in the Country Music Hall of Fame group, Sons of the Pioneers, from 1949 to 1953. During Curtis’ time with the band, Sons of the Pioneers popularized hits such as “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “Room Full of Roses.”
Outside of his music career, Curtis was married to Barbara Ford from 1952 to 1964. Barbara was the daughter of famous Hollywood director, John Ford, and Curtis was regularly cast in Ford’s films, including several classic John Wayne movies.
In 1964, Curtis was introduced as Festus Haggen in the eighth season of Gunsmoke. The actor played a loveable deputy with a permanent five-o’clock shadow and shrill voice. Fans immediately loved Curtis’ addition to the Western world of Marshall Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, and the actor stayed with the show until the series finally ended in 1975.
Listen to Curtis’ unique singing voice in the video below!