Considering the kind of scruffy, backwoods, uneducated, Deep-South hillbilly types he played, many people would be surprised to hear that Ken Curtis wasn’t actually born in the south but in the small town of Las Animas, Colorado, the son of the town sheriff. They would probably be even more surprised to learn that he began his show business career as a singer in the big-band era, and was a vocalist in the legendary Tommy Dorsey orchestra. He entered films in the late 1940s at the tail-end of the singing-cowboy period in a series of low-budget Westerns for Columbia Pictures. When that genre died out, Curtis turned to straight dramatic and comedy parts and became a regular in the films of director John Ford (who was his father-in-law). Curtis branched out into film production in the 1950s with two extremely low-budget monster films, The Killer Shrews (1959) and The Giant Gila Monster (1959), but he is best known for his long-running role as Festus Hagen, the scruffy, cantankerous deputy in the long-running TV series Gunsmoke (1955).
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