Q. A friend of mine insists that the actor who played the character Thad on “Gunsmoke” was James Arness’ son. Is this true?
— D.M., of Belleville
A. I’d say your friend better be careful of the whoppers he’s telling or else he might find himself cooling his heels in the Dodge City hoosegow. There were actually two Thads on the show, but neither involved Arness’ two sons, who apparently showed no interest in acting.
Audiences were introduced to Thad Ferrin when 12-year-old Roger Mobley rode the stage into town for an appearance in “Miss Kitty” on Oct. 14, 1961, but he immediately hit the trail again. An Evansville, Ind., native, Mobley had already enjoyed a three-year stint on “Fury” along with guest roles on “Cheyenne,” “The Virginian” and “Wagon Train.” As Mobley grew older, Disney lassoed him for five years, during which time he played the title role on the popular “Gallegher” series on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.”
But after returning from Green Beret duty in Vietnam, he found his acting career had all but dried up. So he married, had three children and joined the Beaumont, Texas, Police Department. Later, after attempting another acting comeback that fizzled, he became a minister and then traveled the country as a wind-turbine inspector. Now 66, he reportedly catches and sells live rattlesnakes as a hobby.
Then, from 1965 to 1967, Roger Ewing enjoyed his biggest TV claim to fame when he joined the Gunsmoke cast for 36 episodes as deputy marshal and handyman Clayton Thaddeus “Thad” Greenwood. Born in 1942, the nearly 6-foot-6 Ewing had enjoyed a number of roles on shows ranging from “Bewitched” to “Rawhide” along with such movies as “None But the Brave.” However, after 1972, he also called it quits to take up photography. Now 73, he is a resident of Morro Bay, Calif., where he is active in local politics.
On the other hand, Arness’ two sons have no TV credits. Craig became a noted photographer for National Geographic and won several national awards. Later, he would found the Westlight stock photo agency before he died in 2004 of lung problems at age 58. His brother, Rolf, born in 1952, became World Surfing Champion in 1970. (Both, by the way, used their dad’s real name — Aurness, a derivative of the original Norwegian “Aursness.”) Arness’ only daughter, Jenny Lee, committed suicide just before her 25th birthday in 1975. Arness, who will always be remembered for his portrayal of Matt Dillon, died in 2011 at age 88.
Q. My question concerns movie remakes.” Lately there has been a rash of (mostly science fiction) reboots. What is the difference between a remake and a reboot? What remakes or reboots have done better than the originals? My favorite remake was the 1994 “Miracle on 34th Street,” in which Mara Wilson stole the show as the little girl.
— W. Craft, of Edwardsville
A. Although the line can be blurry, I’d argue the basic difference is fairly straightforward and easy to understand.
A “remake” is generally a one-shot deal in which a filmmaker finds a previous movie so compelling that he just has to pay homage by making a modern version. There will be different actors, of course, and the filmmaker usually changes plots and characters to a degree, but the overall idea remains the same and usually there are no sequels. (You may remember when, in 1998, Gus Van Sant felt he had to do a shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”)
Your “Miracle on 34th Street” is a perfect example. In addition to a new cast in 1994, the fictional Cole’s department store, for example, was used when Macy’s declined to participate, and Shopper’s Express replaced the defunct Gimbels. Yet the overall idea and gushy ending were repeated — just as they were in remakes for TV in 1959 with Ed Wynn and 1973 with Sebastian Cabot. At no time was there talk of a “Miracle on 35th Street” or “Return of the Miracle.” It was one and done.
A “reboot” is sort of like what you may do to your computer each morning — you bring it back to life after it sits idle all night. It’s the same with movie franchises. For example we had a “Batman” in 1989 followed by three sequels, including the dreadful “Batman and Robin” in 1997. But after nearly a decade of cobwebs collecting in the batcave, “Batman Begins” brought audiences flocking back in 2005. The same is true of “Star Trek,” which also found new life with a 2009 reboot that focused on the early career of Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise gang. So in general, reboots often totally re-invent the characters and change the timeline and backstory in hopes of relaunching a once-popular series. It’s the same thing “Fantastic Four” is currently trying to do, but, sadly, it’s failing miserably again.
As for which does better, it depends on the movie. Adjusted for inflation, the 1990 “Total Recall” ($277 million) buried the 2012 remake ($58 million) and the “Psycho” remake bombed ($389 million to just $36 million), but the 2004 “Manchurian Candidate” did better than the 1962 original and audiences went far more ape over King Kong in 1978 ($216 million) and 2005 ($261 million) than they did over the 1933 original ($33 million).
Who coached the winning team to the most lopsided victory in college football history?
Answer to Tuesday’s trivia: According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail solo around the world (1895-1898), claimed he once fended off a band of barefooted pirates by spreading a bag of carpet tacks on his deck.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2465.