Radio Writer Pioneer
By Stewart Wright © 2014
(From Radio Recall, August 2014)
Kathleen Hite traced her roots to pioneering family members who helped settle the West. She was a pioneer in her own right, becoming the first West Coast-based woman CBS radio script writer. After penning approximately 200 radio scripts, she would become a highly successful writer for television.
Hite was born June 17, 1917 and raised in Kansas. She credits her ambition to become a writer to her grandmother who told wonderful stories about Kansas and the West in the 19th century. Other family members, including her father and grandfather related additional narratives about their adventures in the West involving prospecting, mining, and ranching. These stories provided background for her radio and later, television scripts.
Upon graduation from the University of Wichita in 1938, Hite worked as a continuity writer for NBC affiliate KANS in Wichita. She decided to try to become a network radio script writer. In 1943, she moved to California and got a job with CBS. She remembered at that the time, "CBS had a policy against hiring women writers so I hired on as a secretary. I figured once I got inside the building I could destroy them from within…I badgered the head of the writing department until he gave me a chance to write."
Within a year she became the first woman staff writer at CBS. She wrote scripts for CBS West Coast Network series such as Fact or Fantasy, One For The Book, The People Next Door, The City, The Ghost Walks, and The Private Practice of Dr. Dana. In 1950 she was promoted to script editor of the regional network's most prestigious series: The Whistler. Two months later she also became the script editor of the nationally aired series, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.
Sometime in late 1950 or early 1951, Kathleen Hite made a major career decision: she decided to leave her position as a CBS staff writer/editor and then become a freelance radio writer. Freelancing was a more risky proposition, but paid far better. She could write for any of the networks and could earn as much as $450.00 per script as opposed to less than $100.00 as a staff script writer.
Hite's first major free-lance assignment was to pen the scripts for the 1951 summer run of Norman Macdonnell's Philip Marlowe series. It was the beginning of a collaboration that would span more than 20 years and continue into the new medium of television. The Marlowe scripts were the first of Hite's 109 scripts and adaptations that she wrote for radio shows directed by Macdonnell. Only John Meston and Les Crutchfield wrote or adapted more scripts for Macdonnell.
Through 1960 Hite would supply scripts for other Macdonnell radio series such as The Judge, Escape, The Lux Summer Theatre, Rogers of the Gazette, Romance, and Suspense. Additionally, Hite penned scripts for 28 of the 40 broadcasts for MacDonnell's Fort Laramie and 7 scripts for his Gunsmoke; 4 of these being adaptations of Fort Laramie scripts. She also wrote for non-Macdonnell-directed series such as The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Night Beat, and The General Electric Theatre.
Hite's procedure for writing a script began with developing a central character and the qualities, good and bad that made that person interesting. Then she put that person into an exciting situation. From there she created additional characters and filled out the plotline as appropriate for the specific series.
She broke into television script writing in the mid-1950s and became increasingly busy in that lucrative medium. Initially her television script writing efforts were dramas and mysteries such as General Electric Theater, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Suspicion, Jane Wyman Presents, and Crown Theatre. By the late 1950s she branched out into Western series such as Boots and Saddles, Klondike, Riverboat, Laramie, Zane Grey Theater, and Wagon Train.
In 1961 she started a 5-year writing assignment for the television version of Gunsmoke producing 31 scripts, 8 teleplays, and 2 story lines. After she left Gunsmoke, she wrote for other series including Apple's Way, Lancer, The Guns of Will Sonnett, and The Road West.
Hite created and was the lead writer for the 1962-63 NBC series Empire. She extensively utilized her knowledge of her family's ranching business in the series. In a 1962 interview she said, "My father was a cattleman and we had a family ranch in New Mexico operated by my brother."
Towards the end of her career, she became the most frequent contributor of scripts for The Waltons. She wrote her last scripts for the series Falcon Crest.
Kathleen Hite believed in giving back to her profession. For many years she was active in the Writers' Guild and other writing related organizations. She played an instrumental role in helping co-worker Marian Clark become a radio script writer. Clark would go on to be the third most prolific writer of Gunsmoke radio scripts. (An article about Marian Clark will appear in an upcoming issue of RADIO RECALL.)
During her writing career Hite was honored with several awards and honors, including the Women in Communications' Headliner Award and the Heritage Cowboy Hall of Fame Award. She was also a finalist for the prestigious Humanitas Prize which is an award for film and television writing intended to promote human dignity, meaning, and freedom.
After retiring, Hite traveled the country lecturing on script writing. Kathleen Hite died February 18, 1989 at the age of 81.