Ken Curtis

Active - 1945 - 2006  |   Born - Jul 2, 1916 in Lamar, Colorado  |   Died - Apr 28, 1991   |   Genres - Western

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Biography by Hal Erickson

It was while attending Colorado College that American actor/singer Ken Curtis discovered his talent for writing music. After an artistic apprenticeship on the staff of the NBC radio network's music department in the early '30s, Curtis was hired as male vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, then went on to work for bandleader Shep Fields. Preferring country-western to swing, Curtis joined the Sons of the Pioneers singing group in the 1940s, and in this capacity appeared in several western films. Columbia Pictures felt that Curtis had star potential, and gave the singer his own series of westerns in 1945, but Ken seemed better suited to supporting roles. He worked a lot for director John Ford in the '40s and '50s, as both singer and actor, before earning starring status again on the 1961 TV adventure series Ripcord. That was the last we saw of the handsome, clean-shaven Ken Curtis; the Ken Curtis that most western fans are familiar with is the scraggly rustic deputy Festus Haggen on the long-running TV Western Gunsmoke. Ken was hired to replace Dennis Weaver (who'd played deputy Chester Good) in 1964, and remained with Gunsmoke until the series ended its 20-year run in 1975. After that, Ken Curtis retired to his spread in Fresno, California, stepping back into the spotlight on occasion for guest appearances at western-movie conventions.

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