This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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Gunsmoke 's Unknown Writer
by By Stewart Wright © 2014
(From Radio Recall, October 2014)
Gunsmoke was one of the most honored series of the Golden Age of Radio and was the end result of the efforts of an incredibly talented group of radio professionals. One writer did not join the Gunsmoke family until the beginning of its sixth season on the air. While little is known about this writer, they would rank as the third most prolific provider of Gunsmoke radio scripts after John Meston and Les Crutchfield.
Prior to September 1, 1957, 281 network broadcasts of the radio version of Gunsmoke had been aired. The script for only one of those episodes was written by a woman, "The Old Lady" by Kathleen Hite which aired on January 24, 1953.
Of the last 199 episodes of the series, 83 episodes would be written by two women. Kathleen Hite penned six. Marian Clark wrote 77 scripts. During this time period, September 1, 1957 through June 18, 1961 , if you eliminate 2nd and 3rd productions of previously aired Gunsmoke scripts by John Meston, Les Crutchfield, and Norman Macdonnell (53 episodes in total), Clark wrote more new Gunsmoke radio scripts than all other writers combined! This is amazing because prior to Gunsmoke, Marian Clark had only written scripts for radio news broadcasts!
By September, 1956, John Meston was almost exclusively involved in writing for the TV version of Gunsmoke. While Meston would receive writer's credits for 59 more radio episodes, only 3 episodes were new Meston radio scripts. Twelve were Meston TV scripts adapted for radio by Norman Macdonnell and Frank Paris. The remaining 44 scripts were new productions of previously aired Meston Gunsmoke radio scripts.
Veteran radio scribe Les Crutchfield succeeded Meston as the primary writer and would continue in that capacity through the broadcast of 12/07/1958, "The Grass Asp." During this timeframe, Crutchfield would pen nearly half of the scripts. He too would move on to other projects, mainly in television. It was during Crutchfield's time as lead Gunsmoke writer that Marian Clark wrote her first script.
Marian Clark and Kathleen Hite met in 1943 when they were both working at CBS Columbia Square in Hollywood; Clark for the CBS Los Angeles affiliate, KNX, as a news writer and Hite for Columbia Pacific Network (CBS West Coast) as a secretary. The two women became friends. Hite would soon become a radio script writer. (See "Kathleen Hite: Radio Writer Pioneer," Radio Recall, August, 2014.) Later, after Clark became a paraplegic and was confined to a wheelchair, Hite thought script writing would be good therapy for her friend. Hite gave Clark instruction on the basics of script writing for radio, especially for Gunsmoke. She then introduced Clark to Gunsmoke producer Norman Macdonnell, and a new career was born.
Clark became a writer for Gunsmoke with the script "Jobe's Son" which was broadcast on 09/01/1957. Even with this first script, Marian Clark displayed a knack for creating interesting characters and placing them in compelling and often unusual situations. She obviously learned her lessons well from Hite. It is exceedingly difficult to find a weak script written by Clark. During her first 17 months with the series, Clark penned 22 episodes.
By early February, 1959 Marian Clark was Gunsmoke's primary script contributor; she would write 55 of the last 124 scripts. The other 69 scripts came from a variety of sources. Thirty-four radio scripts previously written by Meston, Crutchfield, and Macdonnell were produced a second time. Additionally, twelve John Meston Gunsmoke television scripts were adapted for radio. In 1960, Kathleen Hite would contribute her six episodes, four of which were originally written for another Macdonnell series, Fort Laramie. The remaining 17 scripts were by director Norman Macdonnell, assistant director Frank Paris, veteran writer John Dunkel, sound men Ray Kemper and Tom Hanley, and actors Vic Perrin and Harry Bartell.
Most of Clark's scripts used one or more of the recurring themes that were established by series co-creator, John Meston. These central themes were: the dignity of man, man's inhumanity to man, the inescapability of life and problems, and the difficult position of women on the Western Frontier.
Roughly a quarter of Clark's scripts focused on women dealing with the hard life on the prairie in the 1870's. Clark tackled the issue of domestic violence in the episodes "Jud's Woman." and "Tall Trapper."
One of Clark's most memorable scripts was "The Piano." While trailing a pair of stagecoach robbers; Matt Dillon and Chester meet Mrs. Hanford, an elderly Southern lady who is losing her grip on reality. Mrs. Hanford dies defending her prized possession, a cherry wood piano.
In "Newsma'am," Matt has to deal with an overly assertive female Eastern newspaper reporter. While she wants to "observe and send back a true story of the way things are in the West; the Wild, Wild West," she is incredibly naive about the everyday dangers in the Old West.
Many of Clark's scripts focused on one of Gunsmoke's central characters dealing an unusual situation or problem. These epis0des include "Blue Horse," "Chester's Choice," "Chester's Rendezvous," "Doc's Indians," "Doc's Showdown," "Doc's Visitor," "Don Mateo," "Kitty's Kidnap," "Kitty's Killing," "Kitty's Quandary," and "Matt's Decision."
All of the broadcasts of Gunsmoke radio episodes written by Clark are in circulation. She also adapted a single Have Gun, Will Travel television script for radio. The radio broadcast of this script, "Death of a Young Gunfighter," is also available.
The quality of her scripts were acknowledged by the fact that no fewer than 18 of Clark's radio scripts were adapted for the television version of Gunsmoke. Most of these television adaptations aired in less than 18 months after their radio broadcast dates. She also wrote 3 story lines for television episodes.
Marian Clark was beginning to make her mark in writing scripts and story lines for television when she died after a brief illness on February 26, 1963, in Santa Monica, California. Clark was 50 years old.