What of the Nameless Gunslinger—Arvo Ojala and the Others?

Updated on July 8, 2019
kenneth avery profile image

I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.

Look Closely and Carefully in The Background

Who in Blazes is Arvo Ojala

and why am I asking? To be brutally-honest, I took a lot of time to find out ONE of the famous, nameless actors whom you and I used to see every week on the hit TV western on CBS Network known by Gunsmoke, starring James Arness, "Matt," Ken Curtis, "Festus Hagin," Milburn Stone, "Doc," and the charming Amanda Blake, "Kitty." I loved this show during and even after this mega-show was cancelled.

My original headline deals with Arvo Ojala, the nameless guy whom "Matt Dillion" draws and shoots in the opening minutes of Gunsmoke. I have always wondered if this guy, Arvo Ojala, ever got tired of being filmed in the background while the audience saw "Matt's" butt seen a lot bigger than Ojala? Maybe not, but even Ojala was human and very talented, plus I found out that he and Arness, "Matt," were good buddies off the screen, so we can only guess if Ojala ever confessed to (some) Hollywood magazines "why" he felt so used and much like a pure outcast to be shot down dead by the famous Arness and not once, but the years that "Gunsmoke" ran. To me, that my friends, is a lot of being shot and dying--except we did not see Ojajla actually fall when "Matt" shot him, so here we are with another cover-up, no, a major conspiracy, I tell you!

Framkly, I think that it's high time that I spend a few good minutes to take-up for Arvo Ojala born Feb. 21, 1920 in Seattle, Washington – passing July 1, 2005 in Gresham, Oregon). Ojala was a Hollywood technical advisor on the area of quick-draw with a revolver. He also worked as an actor; with his most-famous role was that of the unnamed man shot by Marshal Matt Dillon in the opening sequences of the long-running television series Gunsmoke. As a joke on the producers, James Arness and Arvo actually did the opener once with Dillon falling to the ground.

So even with Arness and Arvo pulling-off such a clever prank, how did that help to make Ojala reach the same fame as that of James Arness? I can tell you honestly that as a "TV Addict," since 1965 (until now in 2019), I can tell you, my friends, that I have NEVER witnessed any other drama or sitcom that ever had Ojala as the leading man or even a co-star. Shoot! he did not even get to have a co-star's name in the ending credits, much less a speaking role in the Long Branch Saloon where Kitty and her cronies, Matt, Festus, Doc and Sam, the bartender, sometimes sat around sucked-down cold beer, but not my new friend, Arvo Ojala, no, sir. After Matt shot him every week, we did not see him again until the next time Gunsmoke aired.


Cast of Tombstone And These Guys, Two of Them, Were Gunslingers.
Cast of Tombstone And These Guys, Two of Them, Were Gunslingers. | Source

Just Look At What I Discovered

a few hours ago. This IS a very complex conspiracy, one that would rival that of the Watergate break-in and the many guys who were nailed, sent to prison, and some made tons of cash by appearing on the major talk shows on every TV network in business.

The very depth of this Arvo Ojala Conspiracy goes further than any thing that went into Watergate and goes further than The Truth Behind Vietnam. I will not put you or anyone on, for I still believe that there is a lot of unanswered questions from Watergate and especially Vietnam. Yes. I have been listening to Jesse Ventura, on the TV program that shows certain shows about conspiracies and things that were swept under the rug.


How Gunfighters Dressed In The Old West.
How Gunfighters Dressed In The Old West. | Source

Now Let's Talk About

what I can believe the TRUTH about Arvo Ojala and the rest of the UNNAMED actors who did more than their share of hard-labor, sacrificing, and just being taken for granted. You may think that I am upset and you would be right. I do know as you know that when Gunsmoke, Dirty Sally, The Rifleman, and all of the hit shows from CBS, NBC, and ABC, broadcast drama or comedy one-hour shows and thirty-minute comedies such as The Andy Griffith Show, among others, there is ONE thing that stands clear, and this is NOT any beer brand, but all of these shows, had NAMELESS and NEEDED ACTORS to help make their shows fly.

"But Kenny," you say in disbelief. "We thought that a sense of fair play and Respect had a lot to do with the highly-paid, famous actors, and they all took good care of their nameless employees such as taking them to a good dinner to show them appreciation for their work or maybe literally patting them on the back for a show well done."

And who have you been listening to? I doubt that any of these Nameless Actors were ever invited to the Studio Christmas Party. Did you ever think of that? If you do not have the nerve to say it, I will. Shameful is all I can say to describe how the Nameless People were shut-out and never appreciated. Hey, in the hit show on ABC with Robert Blake in Baretta, even the trained cockatoo named "Fred" was as entertaining as Blake, and not to forget Tom Ewell, as drunken "Uncle Billy," who took care of Baretta when things were not going well.

But I guess that in many years after the three networks, production companies, and major Hollywood film studio's, began to show, although a meager, respect for their employees who were never credited--although their producers told them just how needed that they were. Yeah. And I think that Bigfoot lives in the Pentagon as a highly-trained agent to gain information from China just so the Fed's can sell this information to the country's most-successful car and mattress manufacturers. Hey, I would wager if the truth is know, "this" hypothetical statement would be considered as "tame" to the REAL Pentagon and Federal Government.

The Actor Who Played Will Bill Hickock, Used Twin Revolvers In A Gunfight.
The Actor Who Played Will Bill Hickock, Used Twin Revolvers In A Gunfight. | Source

Sad, Sad Summary

How That I Think James Arness

met Arvo Ojala, and if you stop and think about it, you might agree with everything that I have published in this piece. Speaking (no pun intended) about "extra's" who show-up in TV shows, but do not have any lines fit into the following information block:

Non-Union. Background actors who are not members of an entertainment union earn minimum wage for the state in which they perform. As of 2012 in California, the rate was $8 an hour, or $64 a day. Production companies normally pay extras the daily rate, even if they work for less than eight hours.

I wonder now. Did Ojala ever get paid every week, or just that once when James Arness shot him "dead" and even then, like I said earlier, we never saw him fall! But to me, it is about two things: these nameless men and women and how they fit into TV shows and how their pay is considered "chicken feed." Which it is.

Let's say that one day, James Arness gets out of bed, showers, eats some bran flakes, drinks a few cups of coffee, then sets up an important meeting with his buddy, Arvo Ojala, who later allegedly-said, "I am now on my way for fame and fortune!"

One of their skeptical friends asked: "Ojala, what do you mean by fame and for how much moolah?" Now Ojala shook his head, stunned at maybe he was being set up for a patsy to be used and I mean that in the coldest way, for Arness even thinking that Ojala was only going to be used ONCE and we can read how this alleged meeting went:

Arness arrives first at the "Cowboy Deluxe Steak House and Bar," smiles at the female waitresses who know him on a first-name basis. One waitress, "Billie," adores Arness because she is 22, single, and looking for a break into show business.

As Arness is seated, "Billie," quickly brings him a cup of black coffee (his favorite) and just like a perfect script . . .in walks Arvo Ojala, an expert on gun fighting and all about the Colt .45 that is used by most men in TV westerns. Ojala is nervous as he walks to Arness' table and shakes his hand and Arness smiles and invites him to sit.

(I wonder if the dialogue would have went like this):

James: "Good to see you, uhhhh, Arness forgets and is embarrassed . ..

Ojala laughs and does not laugh at Arness' flawed introduction.

Ojala: "Arvo Ojala and it is my pleasure to meet you, Mr. Arness."

James: "Ha, ha! Hey, just call me James, or maybe Matt, if I decide to hire you for a very important role."

Ojala: "Wow! Thanks, uuhh, James, errr Matt, haw, haw. What will I be doing?"

James: "Well, Orville, oops, Arvo . . .sorry, from all that I can gather, you and I will be seen in a crucial gunfight scene, but this role is very important and a role that your grandkids will remember."

(Arvo looks down, sheds a few tears and James has noticed that he is human.)

James: "Hey, now. It is fine. You will see in a litle while how EASY this role really is, so what do you want to eat? Huh?"

Ojala: "Well, I would like a cheeseburger and a soda. I am wathing my weight."

James: "Aww, buddy. Weight is not a problem---eat all that you want. I am the boss on the Gunsmoke set, so let's loosen-up, eat some great food and talk."

(The two grunt, eat, chew, cough, Arvo sips coffee, Beer for Arness who belches and the two laugh loudly as the restaurant staff all laugh in unison. "Billie" laughs too and dreams that she will be working for Arness.)

Arvo: "Great food, James. Thanks a lot. Now can you fill me in on this IMPORTANT job?"

James: "Role, not job, Arvo. You have to learn what show business terms to say and what not to say. Ha, ha. You will be okay."

Ojala: "Uhh, thanks again, James, but what ROLE will be doing on . . . .Gunsmoke, right?"

James: "Ojala, you catch on fast. You are right. You are going to have a FAKE gunfight with me as Gunsmoke comes on the air. Of course, we only use blanks, so do not worry. And we will rehearse this crucial scene enough that you will be so relaxed that we can shoot this scene one time. Deal?"

Ojala: "So . . .you are going to be Marshall Matt Dilion, and well, what is going to be MY name?"

James: "Well, you will not use a name--at first, because we have to measure the viewers to see if Gunsmoke is going to be a hit or not. Then if it is . . .we will see about your name."

Ojala: "Do I have any lines to say?"

James: "Now, look at how IMPORTANT you are going to be as you walk into the street and to make you look even more scary, we will kinda blur you so people will think that YOU ARE a scary gunfighter. Okay, and for now . . .NO lines yet."

Ojala: "No lines? Yeah. I understand. I am new to the business and I do not need lines, but you said that YOU were the boss on the set of Gunsmoke, so you can let me know what my gunfighter name is what lines you will let me say."

James (nods in agreement) "Ojala, do you have any more questions?"

Ojala: "Do I, and I hate to ask, get paid for this role?"

Arness suddenly glares at Ojala and scares him into shaking.

James: "Sure, my man. Did you see me act like I was glaring at you? That is acting and you will be as good as I am one day. And as for pay, sure. But not a lot at first, but a lot more than you are making now which I hear is next to nothing, right?"

Ojala: "Right.Thanks, James."

James: "You will work out fine and I see you being a household word and everyone who has watched Gunsmoke will see YOU at the first of every show, so with that exposure and nominal pay to start . . . .welcome to show business!"

(the two shake hands and part ways--until Arness tells Ojala when to show up at the Gunsmoke set).

Ojala (runs back to ask James before he drives from the parking lot) "you said to me, James, that I am a nasty gunfighter and you will shoot me at the first of Gunsmoke each week, but do I fall or just stand there? And I guess I will shoot once, so what about this?"

James: "Man, you have got it! Be with us at Gunsmoke on Studio B next Friday for shooting. And be sure to come angry, because you cannot be smiling and laughing as we walk into the street."

Ojala: "Sure, James. No sweat. You can count on me!"

At least the dialogue between James Arness and Arvo Ojala could have happened. But even though Ojala was seen each Gunsmoke episode was shown, we did NOT see him EVER on any Gunsmoke episode.

Which does irk me for Arvo being so good-hearted and yes, gullible, for allowing the Big People of TV, namely, Arness, to convince him that all he had to do each week was let me shoot you.

Don't sweat it, Arvo. You did something that your kids and grand kids are still talking about for years.

My last question is: Are they?

July 5, 2019________________________________________________________

https://truewestmagazine.com/who-is-the-man-james-arness-shoots-every-week-in-the-...

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    © 2019 Kenneth Avery

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