Jimmy Don Cox, painter and sculptor whose work is on display at the Landmark National Bank Western Art Show this week, has artistic talents that go beyond his ability to create images of the Old West. His adventures have also taken him into the world of television and movies .


Jimmy Don Cox, painter and sculptor whose work is on display at the Landmark National Bank Western Art Show this week, has artistic talents that go beyond his ability to create images of the Old West. His adventures have also taken him into the world of television and movies .
    Cox’s Hollywood adventures are rooted in his friendship with the late Ken Curtis, the actor who played the popular character of Festus in the later years of "Gunsmoke."            

    Curtis was born in Colorado and had a singing career that few people know about, singing with The Sons of the Pioneers and replacing Frank Sinatra as vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey band.
    Curtis married the daughter of legendary western film director John Ford and eventually made seven western films with Ford and John Wayne.
    Once Curtis was tagged for "Gunsmoke," though, he was destined to be forever known in the collective consciousness as Matt Dillon's feisty sidekick, Festus.
    Curtis had seen and appreciated Cox's art work, and the two struck up a friendship. Curtis had a habit of asking Cox to draw cartoons of him with a friend. He gave the cartoons to his friends, and they became treasured collectibles.
    So when Curtis was invited to participate in a roast of a Hollywood celebrity, he suggested to organizers that they invite Cox to create a drawing and present it.
    "We had the cartoon on a fancy easel, draped with a black veil, and everyone expected a formal portrait," Cox said in an interview with the Globe Monday. "When they saw the caricature, quite a wave of laughter went across the hall."
    That event made an impression on a number of Hollywood types and became Cox's introduction to show business.
    He eventually signed with the agent who guided the careers of Slim Pickens, Chuck Connors and "a couple of those Trekkie fellas," Cox said.
    A cattle-call audition to read for a bad guy in one of the "Desperado" movies led to a featured part on "Young Riders."
    "I was just a soldier strumming a banjo in that," Cox said.
    He landed a speaking part and earned his Screen Actors Guild card in one of the "Young Guns" films.
    Playing a sheriff in "The Good Old Boys," he worked with fellow Texan Tommy Lee Jones.
    "I fired the only gunshot in the whole movie and didn't even kill anybody," Cox said.
    A young actor whom no one  really knew played a small role in the film.
    "We eventually figured out he wasn't from Texas, 'cause we had to help him a little with his accent," Cox said.
    Carefully explaining to the young actor that he was  enunciating too crisply for Texas, Cox advised him, "We are a little lazy down here, and we don't like to move our mouths any more than absolutely necessary."
    Later he realized that the actor, Matt Damon, was actually doing a pretty good job of covering up his native Massachusetts accent.
    Cox appeared in "Gunsmoke: To the Last Man," renewing his connection with the "Gunsmoke" saga.
    "I have an idea for a sculpture I'd like to do with five or six of the main 'Gunsmoke' characters — maybe that would look good somewhere in Dodge City?" Cox said.
    Cox is on hand in the lobby of Landmark National Bank, on the corner of Spruce and Central, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.

Reach Don Steele at (620) 408-9910 or e-mail him at don.steele@dodgeglobe.com.