The Dean Riesner Papers, 1917–1992, contain film and television scripts and production materials, as well as correspondence,
story and development files, and other materials related to the life and career of the prolific film and TV writer Dean Riesner.
Dean Franklin Riesner was born on November 3, 1918 in New York City to a show business family. His father, Charles “Chuck”
Francis Riesner was a vaudeville headliner and later worked as an associate director for Charlie Chaplin and other comedy
film pioneers, including Buster Keaton. As a toddler, Dean Riesner started performing under the stage name “Dinky Dean,”
and in 1923 he was cast by Chaplin as the disobedient “Little Boy” in the silent comedy The Pilgrim (1923). Riesner continued
to work as a child and teen actor on other films, but eventually embarked on a writing career in the late 1930s after attending
the University of Southern California.
One of Riesner’s first professional writing credits was the 1940 Warner Bros. film The Fighting 69th, starring James Cagney
and Pat O’Brien. In 1947, Riesner wrote and directed a live-action short titled Bill and Coo, featuring a cast of actual
parakeets and lovebirds who protect their town of Chirpendale from a villainous crow. The film won a Special Academy Award
for its innovative artistry.
Starting in the early 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Riesner established a steady career in episodic television. Although
many of his TV credits were on westerns such as Cheyenne and Rawhide, he also demonstrated an ability to write for almost
any genre, contributing scripts to The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Slattery’s People, Ben Casey and Playhouse 90. During
this period, Riesner received two Writers Guild Award nominations, for a 1957 episode of the television series Conflict and
a 1964 episode of 12 O’Clock High. In the 1970s, Riesner earned a reputation for adapting popular novels into television
mini-series. He was nominated for a 1971 Primetime Emmy Award for writing Vanished and received a second Emmy nomination
in 1976 for adapting Rich Man, Poor Man to the small screen.
Riesner’s career in feature films was equally varied. In the 1970s, he collaborated with Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel on
Coogan’s Bluff, Dirty Harry, and Play Misty For Me. In addition, Riesner was a sought after “script doctor” in Hollywood
and did uncredited work on several well-known films, such as Godfather Part III, The Sting II, and the German feature, Das
Boot. The most notable of his uncredited work is 1984’s Starman. When he was not granted a credit following a WGA arbitration,
director John Carpenter included the dedication, “For Dean Riesner,” at the end of the film, acknowledging his contribution
and multiple rewrites on the project.
A longtime member of the Writers Guild of America, Riesner received his final screen credit for the 1987 action-comedy Fatal
Beauty. Over the next decade, he continued to write original stories, as well as being called upon by Hollywood studios and
producers for script consultations. He died on August 18, 2002 at his home in Encino, California, at the age of 83.