Ken Curtis, the son of a Colorado county sheriff, left his home state to seek his fortune as a singer in Los Angeles. He quickly met up with singer Jo Stafford who sent Ken's demo recording to band leader Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey signed Ken as a replacement for Frank Sinatra.
Curtis left Dorsey's band to serve in the Army during World War II. At the end of the war, he sang the tune "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" on Stafford's radio show. The song, an immediate hit, launched his career as a cowboy actor/singer. He subsequently appeared in several John Ford films, including The Searchers, How the West Was Won and Rio Grande. (Ken's ability to land such roles was probably due in part to his 1952 marriage to Ford's daughter, Barbara.)
Ken won the role of Gunsmoke deputy sheriff Festus Haggen in 1964. Although he was cast to fill the void left by the departing actor Dennis Weaver, Curtis' character proved extremely popular. As a result, he remained with the show for more than 10 years, until its cancellation in 1975.
In 1983-84, Ken appeared in another western, The Yellow Rose, with Cybill Shepherd and Sam Elliott. He then retired to Fresno, California, where he died in 1991 at age 74.
As Dodge City's Deputy Marshal, Festus is the pride of the Haggen family, a clan of no-account hillbillies who may have less than 32 teeth among them. Although illiterate and often incoherent, the dog-eared Deputy has earned the respect of Dodge's townspeople as a capable lawman. And he is easily the most colorful resident of this frontier town. Festus is fiercely loyal to Matt Dillon and counts Matt as one of his two best friendsthe other is his mule. His meager salary as a deputy forces him to do odd jobs to make ends meet, so when he's not covering Marshal Dillon's back, he's most likely painting a barn or digging a well to earn extra income.
Festus is a bachelor, which should come as no surprise given his educational background and lack of personal hygiene. In his spare time, he can be found at the Long Branch Saloon, waiting for someone to buy him a drink.