Milburn Stone was born July 5, 1904 in Burrton, Kansas (Harvey County). He was the nephew of the Broadway comedian Fred Stone and son of a shopkeeper. Stone is probably best known for his portrayal of Doc Adams on the longest running western on television Gunsmoke.
As a young man, he turned down a congressional appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy to join a touring theatrical company.
He started his screen career in the 1930s in a featured role in Tailspin Tommy adventures, a Monogram Pictures series. In 1940 he appeared with Marjorie Reynolds, Tristram Coffin and I. Stanford Jolley in the comedy espionage film Chasing Trouble.
In 1943, Milburn was signed to Universal Pictures and became a familiar face in their various features and serials. He played a radio columnist in Gloria Jean & Kirby Grant’s musical I’ll Remember April. He made such an impression in the film that Universal gave him a starring role in the 1945 serial The Master Key. He appeared in over 150 films throughout his career.
The CBS Radio series Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, the roles were recast with experienced screen actors. Stone replaced Howard McNear (best known for his character of Floyd Lawson on The Andy Griffith Show) as Doc Adams the irascible but lovable Dodge City doctor.
He stayed with Gunsmoke throughout the entire 20 year run and was often seen as arguing in light humor with his costars Dennis Weaver (Chester Goode) and Ken Curtis (Festus Haggen). His popularity as Doc Adams was huge and made him a household name. In 1968 he received an Emmy as best supporting actor in a series.
Dennis Weaver, Amanda Blake, James Arness, Milburn Stone
In March, 1971 he underwent bypass heart surgery at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.
An artist from Stone’s home state, Gary Hawk, painted a portrait of Doc Adams. President Ronald Reagan learned about the portrait and invited Gary Hawk to the Oval office. Reagan was a good friend of Milburn Stone, He (Reagan) was presented the artwork by Gary Hawk.
Stone lived to see Reagan emerge as the “likely” Republican nominee for President, but sadly died on June 12, 1980, before he could witness the election.
I truly enjoyed watching Stone’s portrayal of Doc Adams. The one technique that stood out to me was his ability to “listen” to other actors as they spoke.
He died of a heart attack at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California. He has a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK.
He was married to Nellie Morrison in 1925 until her death in 1938. He married Jane Garrison in 1942.
Shirley, his daughter from his first marriage, resides in California.