Skinned cells of chicken gizzard were used to study the effect of a smooth muscle phosphatase (SMP-IV) on activation and relaxation of tension. SMP-IV has previously been shown to dephosphorylate light chains on myosin. When this phosphatase was added to submaximally Ca2+-activated skinned cells, tension increased while phosphorylation of myosin light chains decreased. In contrast, when the myosin phosphatase was added to cell bundles activated in the absence of Ca2+ by a Ca2+-insensitive myosin light chain kinase, tension and phosphorylation of the myosin light chains both decreased. These data suggest that Ca2+ inhibits the deactivation of tension even when myosin light chains are dephosphorylated to a low level. Furthermore, comparison of Ca2+-activated cells caused to relax in CTP, in the presence or absence of Ca2+, shows that cells in the presence of Ca2+ do not relax completely, whereas in the absence of Ca2+ cells completely relax. Solutions containing Ca2+ and CTP, however, are incapable of generating tension from the resting state. Endogenous myosin light chain kinase is not active in solutions containing CTP and dephosphorylation of myosin light chains occurs in CTP solutions both in the presence and absence of Ca2+. These data imply that Ca2+ inhibits relaxation even though myosin light chains are dephosphorylated. These data are consistent with a model wherein an obligatory Ca2+-activated myosin light chain phosphorylation is followed by a second Ca2+ activation process for further tension development or maintenance.