Arvo Ojala, a legendary Hollywood quick-draw expert who appeared as the bad guy who loses the gun duel with James Arness' Marshal Matt Dillon...
Arvo Ojala, a legendary Hollywood quick-draw expert who appeared as the bad guy who loses the gun duel with James Arness’ Marshal Matt Dillon in the opening of the long-running TV series “Gunsmoke,” has died. He was 85.
Mr. Ojala died July 1 at his home in Gresham, Ore., his family said. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Born in Seattle to Finnish parents, Mr. Ojala grew up on an apple ranch in the Yakima Valley. He later recalled that he taught himself marksmanship by “shooting the heads off rattlesnakes.”
With an ability to cock his pistol, fire and reportedly hit his target in one-sixth of a second, Mr. Ojala was the go-to guy to learn the art of the fast-draw during the heyday of TV Westerns in the 1950s and ’60s.
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Mr. Ojala, a stuntman and bit player who turned his skill with a six-gun into a lucrative business, manufactured patented, metal-lined fast-draw holsters that were used by countless sagebrush heroes, as well as quick-draw competitors.
Among those who benefited from Mr. Ojala’s quick-draw tutelage were Hugh O’Brian (“The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”), James Garner (“Maverick”), Ty Hardin (“Bronco”), Dale Robertson (“Tales of Wells Fargo”) and Wayde Preston (“Colt .45”).
Mr. Ojala also served as the gun coach on films such as “The War Wagon,” “Silverado,” “Three Amigos” and “Back to the Future Part III.” Among his students were Kevin Kline, Michael J. Fox, Kevin Costner, Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
But it was because of his quick-draw duel with Arness on a Dodge City street — a fleeting appearance for which Mr. Ojala initially received $100 but earned him thousands of dollars more in residuals — that he achieved a degree of small-screen immortality.
Mr. Ojala earned high praise from the star of “Gunsmoke.”
“There’s no one faster with a gun,” Arness said in a 1959 Los Angeles Times story.
“He was the top gun, you might say,” Hardin, who played Western adventurer Bronco Layne for four seasons, told the Los Angeles Times last week. “He certainly had the knowledge and the background.”
Mr. Ojala spent a great deal of time with Hardin on the set, showing him techniques such as where to position the holster so he could draw his revolver in one motion without reaching for it, and how to rapidly fire three rounds that sounded like one. They later worked on a ranch shooting live ammunition.
“I was a little leery of it,” Hardin recalled. “I heard a story where someone shot the (gun) off before it left the holster.”
Hardin said Mr. Ojala “was a wonderful guy and a very patient person. He was just a real gentleman — and deadly with a gun.”
For Hardin, working with Mr. Ojala paid off.
“I became the fastest gun at Warner Bros.,” Hardin said, then laughed. “Of course, other people will claim that, too. There was a lot of us out there.”
In 1959, Mr. Ojala ranked Preston, Garner and Arness as the best of those he taught to fast draw, although “not necessarily in that order.”
“Gunfighters are made, not born. It’s just as true on the movie sets today as it was in the days of the early West,” Mr. Ojala said. “Most of our present TV and film cowboys had little more than a nodding acquaintance with a revolver before they landed roles as Western heroes.”
Mr. Ojala’s wife, Doris, an actress, model and professional figure skater, died in 1978. The couple had been married for 26 years.
He is survived by his sons, Jon and Erikk; daughters Valerie, Kym and Inga; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.