How Much Did Ken Curtis Make Per Episode On Gunsmoke?

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When discussing the iconic Western television series “Gunsmoke,” one cannot overlook the contributions of Ken Curtis, who played the beloved character Festus Haggen. His portrayal of the scruffy, cantankerous, yet good-hearted deputy became a staple of the show, endearing him to audiences for decades. A question that often arises among fans and television historians alike is: How much did Ken Curtis make per episode on “Gunsmoke”? This article delves into the financial aspects of Ken Curtis’s role on the show, providing a comprehensive look at his earnings and the context of television salaries during that era.

Ken Curtis’s Role in “Gunsmoke”

Before diving into the specifics of Ken Curtis’s earnings, it’s important to understand his role in “Gunsmoke.” Curtis joined the cast in 1964 as Festus Haggen, initially as a recurring character. However, his popularity with viewers soon made him a series regular, and he remained with the show until its conclusion in 1975. Festus’s dynamic with Marshal Matt Dillon, played by James Arness, became a central element of the series.

Understanding TV Salaries in the 1960s and 1970s

Television salaries in the 1960s and 1970s were vastly different from what actors earn today. The industry was still in its early stages, and the financial models for compensating television actors were not as lucrative. Factors such as the show’s budget, an actor’s experience, and the success of the series played significant roles in determining pay.

Ken Curtis’s Salary on “Gunsmoke”

Exact figures regarding Ken Curtis’s salary per episode of “Gunsmoke” are not widely publicized. However, it is known that salaries for actors during this period varied greatly. Stars of hit shows could expect to earn several thousand dollars per episode, while supporting actors often earned less.

Comparing Salaries with Other “Gunsmoke” Cast Members

To put Curtis’s earnings into perspective, it’s helpful to compare his salary with that of other cast members. James Arness, for example, was one of the highest-paid actors on television at the time, reportedly earning around $20,000 per episode in the later seasons. It is likely that Curtis, as a supporting actor, made significantly less than Arness.

Salary Increases Over Time

As with many long-running television shows, it’s common for actors to receive salary increases as the series progresses. This is often a result of contract renegotiations, the show’s success, and the actor’s growing popularity. It’s plausible that Curtis’s per-episode earnings increased over his 11-year tenure on “Gunsmoke.”

Inflation and Its Impact on Historical Salaries

When discussing historical salaries, it’s important to account for inflation. The value of money changes over time, and the purchasing power of Curtis’s salary back then would be different today. Adjusting for inflation provides a clearer picture of his earnings in contemporary terms.

Ken Curtis’s Net Worth

While his per-episode earnings are not precisely known, Ken Curtis’s overall net worth at the time of his death in 1991 was estimated to be around $5 million. This figure would have included earnings from “Gunsmoke,” as well as other acting roles, personal appearances, and investments.

Other Sources of Income

In addition to his salary from “Gunsmoke,” Curtis had other sources of income. He appeared in numerous films and other television shows, both before and after his time on “Gunsmoke.” He also had a career as a singer, which may have contributed to his financial status.

Contractual Agreements and Syndication Rights

Another factor that could have influenced Curtis’s earnings is the contractual agreements regarding syndication rights. If his contract included residuals for reruns, he would have continued to earn money from the show long after it ended. However, such deals were not as common in the 1960s and 1970s as they are today.

Ken Curtis’s Legacy and “Gunsmoke”

Curtis’s legacy as Festus Haggen extends beyond his financial earnings. His character became an integral part of “Gunsmoke,” contributing to its status as one of the longest-running and most beloved series in television history. His performance left an indelible mark on the Western genre and television as a whole.

Comparative Salaries of TV Actors Then and Now

To further understand Curtis’s earnings, it’s useful to compare the salaries of TV actors from his era with those of contemporary actors. Today, top television stars can earn upwards of $1 million per episode, highlighting the significant growth in TV salaries over the years.

Ken Curtis’s Contribution to “Gunsmoke’s” Success

Curtis’s contribution to the success of “Gunsmoke” cannot be overstated. His character brought humor, depth, and a unique charm to the show, which helped to attract and retain viewers. This popularity likely played a role in any salary negotiations he may have had.

The Evolution of Television Actor Salaries

The television industry has evolved significantly since the days of “Gunsmoke,” and so have the salaries of those who work in it. The rise of streaming services and the increased demand for content have led to higher pay for actors across the board.

Ken Curtis’s Financial Savvy

Aside from his acting career, Ken Curtis was known to be financially savvy. He invested wisely and managed his finances in a way that ensured he could live comfortably after his acting career slowed down. This financial acumen likely contributed to his overall net worth.

Summary Table of Ken Curtis’s Earnings on “Gunsmoke”

  • Role: Festus Haggen
  • Joined Cast: 1964
  • Left Show: 1975
  • Estimated Salary Per Episode: Not Publicly Disclosed
  • Comparative Star Salary (James Arness): ~$20,000/episode (later seasons)
  • Net Worth at Time of Death: Estimated $5 million
  • Other Income Sources: Film, television, music
  • Syndication Rights: Unknown

FAQs About Ken Curtis’s Earnings on “Gunsmoke”

What was Ken Curtis’s salary per episode on “Gunsmoke”?

The exact amount Ken Curtis made per episode on “Gunsmoke” is not publicly known, but it was likely less than the series’ star, James Arness.

Did Ken Curtis earn residuals from “Gunsmoke” reruns?

It is unclear whether Ken Curtis’s contract included residuals for reruns, as such deals were not common during the time “Gunsmoke” was produced.

How did Ken Curtis’s salary compare to other actors of his time?

Ken Curtis’s salary would have been in line with supporting actors of the era, which means he earned less than the main stars but still a respectable amount for the time.

What contributed to Ken Curtis’s net worth?

Ken Curtis’s net worth was a combination of his earnings from acting, music, personal appearances, and wise investments.

How has the television industry changed since Ken Curtis was on “Gunsmoke”?

The television industry has seen significant changes in terms of actor salaries, the rise of streaming services, and the overall production value of shows since the days of “Gunsmoke.”


In conclusion, while the exact figure of Ken Curtis’s per-episode earnings on “Gunsmoke” remains undisclosed, it is clear that his role as Festus Haggen was both culturally significant and financially beneficial for him. His portrayal contributed to the show’s massive success and his own enduring legacy. Despite the lack of concrete figures, this article has provided a comprehensive overview of the factors that would have influenced his salary and overall net worth. Ken Curtis’s impact on “Gunsmoke” and television history is undeniable, and his financial rewards, though not as grandiose as today’s television stars, were a testament to his talent and the value he brought to one of America’s most cherished television series.

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