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Louie Pheeters – Gunsmoke’s Town Drunk

March 3, 2013


One of my readers wanted to know more about the character Louie Pheeters on Gunsmoke. Because the Stranded Alien appreciates his readers and strives to give them what they want, here you go…

James Nusser (born in Cleveland Ohio in 1905) played various roles on radio’s Gunsmoke, but because he was an alcoholic in real life, most directors were reluctant to cast him. Six years after Gunsmoke moved to TV, however, producer Norman MacDonnel went out on a limb and cast Nusser in the role of Dodge City’s town drunk “Louie Pheeters”. Nusser truly blossomed in the role and Gunsmoke fans loved him. Most drunks on TV then were played by comedians, but Nusser’s lifelong struggle with alcoholism allowed him to bring total believability to the character of Louie.

I was watching an episode of Perry Mason one night recently and there was Nusser playing the part of the judge. He looked and sounded just like Louie except that he’d shaved, combed his hair and donned a robe. He appeared in a few films too including: It Should Happen to You (1954,debut), Hell Canyon Outlaws (1957), Hail,Hero! (1969) and Cahill: U.S. Marshal (1973) which was his last.

Sadly, he never received an Emmy or a nomination for his work on Gunsmoke, but he should have. James Nusser died (pre-embalmed) in Hollywood in 1979 at the age of 74. Here’s mud in your eye, Louie.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2013 2:36 AM

    I can’t believe you recognized him. He looks so different. We used to have an Ottis who walked by our house almost everyday for years. He is gone now. We have a new character, perfectly harmless but almost always drunk. The only way he knows how to live. It’s really sad.

    • March 5, 2013 10:12 AM

      The tipoff was that he was slurring his words. I said, “I know that voice!” Then it hit me that it was Louie from Gunsmoke.

  2. July 24, 2013 6:38 PM

    There even was an episode titled Louie Pheeters.That’s what brought me here.He had that “bum with a heart of gold” that I find irresistible.

  3. Michael Richardson permalink
    November 14, 2013 4:42 PM

    Roger Ewing tells me that James Nusser was an educated and very kind man. I have plenty of Thad photos. Being a friend of his is a lot of fun. We chat via email about once a week, and the quote from a “fan” was from one of my emails, but I am not sure how it got online. I think I may have shared it with the TVLand fan forum, that is no longer active.

  4. Ron Bradford permalink
    May 9, 2015 7:19 PM

    The episode I remember him best for, was when outlaws, Bruce Dern, n associates.made Louie crawl on his hand,s n knee,s for a badly needed drink. He did but, after being given the drink by Dern refused it. A heart rendering performance by Pheeter,s

  5. Brian Robbins permalink
    May 27, 2015 2:43 PM

    Allways wondered about him tyvm hes not on wikipedia its a shame

  6. Anonymous permalink
    July 9, 2015 6:48 PM

    I want to know where he went to school. Drunk or not he had an
    educated attitude

  7. February 4, 2016 1:42 PM

    best actor on the show

  8. Laurie permalink
    July 15, 2016 2:19 PM

    An AMAZING Actor who portrayed his true self & gave it 110% everyday as we can see ever episode! To know now since reading this article that he had a drinking problem is TRULY AMAZING that he could give such a performance in every episode! Addiction is HARD & makes it NEAR TO IMPOSSIBLE to carry on a normal everyday job !! It’s such a CRYING SHAME, that he was not recognized for his talent in any Catagory of AWARDS!! 50 yrs now have passed & it’s like he NEVER EVEN EXISTED!!! How can talent as RARE AS HIS , GO SOOO UNNOTICED for this long ! Shame shame shame , to Every one of The different Awards that he COULD HAVE & SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED IN & SHOULD HAVE WON an Award in ! Guess they are rigged just like they say ! And it’s WAY TO LATE NOW ! You won in my book !!! Your AMAZING TO ME !!! THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES LOUIS !!!

  9. Anonymous permalink
    September 6, 2016 3:49 PM

    Great comments! My favorite episode is when he finds illegal liquor on a train. The marshall shoots it up and it breaks his heart.

  10. The Donald permalink
    April 11, 2017 2:55 PM

    What’s​ cool about Louie was when he see something fishy he tells the Marshall or Kitty and ends up with a free drink.

  11. Anonymous permalink
    February 13, 2018 11:56 AM

    Great actor, I look for him on every show.

  12. Brandon permalink
    February 21, 2018 10:53 PM

    Louie!! He is one of my favorite characters on the show besides dang ol Festus. All my years watching him I would’ve never known he was an alcoholic because of his acting was superior. One of my favorite episodes is when he loses his watch in a bet to someone for a bottle of whiskey. He then witnessed that person getting murdered and Festus catches him at the scene and he says, “He’s not a nice man” and the town then thinks he killed him! The name of the episode is “A Matter of Honor”. Another good one with him in the main story of the episode is “O’Quillean” which is about this Irish troublemaker that takes Louie as a sidekick and gets him in a bit of a jam as well!
    Favorite Louie Lines
    “I better go get doc”
    “One more Ms Kitty, please..”

  13. Al boecker permalink
    May 2, 2018 1:52 PM

    Great actor drunk orsober

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