Finding Aid to the John Dunkel Scripts and Papers MSA.37

Finding aid prepared by Holly Rose Larson
Autry National Center, Autry Library
4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, CA, 90027
(323) 667-2000 ext. 349
2012 April 12

Title: John Dunkel Scripts and Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSA.37
Contributing Institution: Autry National Center, Autry Library
Language of Material: English
Physical Description: 23.9 Linear feet 43 boxes, 1 rolled poster, 1 flat file folder.
Date (inclusive): 1945-1988
Abstract: John Dunkel (1915 February 21- 2001, February 22) was a radio and television writer, most prolific in the television Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s. This collection of scripts and other papers spans from 1945-1988 and includes completed scripts, stories, drafts, notes, correspondence, proposals, and plaques documenting Dunkel’s television script writing career.
creator: Donadio, Candida, 1929-2001
creator: Dunkel, John

Related Archival Materials

John Dunkel Radio Scripts (Collection 191). Performing Arts Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.


  • Series 1: Administrative, 1953-1988:
  • Subseries 1.1: Correspondence, 1953-1988
  • Subseries 1.2: Finances, 1969-1985
  • Subseries 1.3: Writing Credits, 1986
  • Series 2: Manuscripts, 1955-1985
  • Subseries 2.1: Screenplays, 1945-1983
  • Subseries 2.2: Literature, 1938-1983
  • Subseries 2.3: Other, 1956-1981
  • Series 3: Memorabilia, 1945-1979
  • Subseries 3.1: Artwork, 1960-1974
  • Subseries 3.2: Audio Tapes, 1956-1976, undated
  • Subseries 3.3: Clippings, 1945-1979
  • Subseries 3.4: Photographs, undated
  • Subseries 3.5: Plaques, 1956-1961

Processing history

Processing and finding aid completed by Holly Rose Larson, NHPRC Project Archivist, April 12, 2012, made possible through grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of John Dunkel’s working files from 1945-1985 and is arranged in the following series: Administrative Records, Manuscripts, and Memorabilia. The Administrative Records include correspondence, financial records, and writing credits on file with the Writers Guild of America. The Manuscripts series includes television scripts, manuscripts, and other written materials such as book reviews, poetry, and a symposium talk. The Memorabilia series includes artwork, audio tape reels, magazine and newspaper clippings, photographs, and plaques.


Collection is open for research. Appointments to view materials are required. To make an appointment please visit  or contact library staff at


Copyright has not been assigned to the Autry National Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Autry Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Autry National Center as the custodian of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Preferred citation

John Dunkel Scripts and Papers, 1945-1988, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MSA.37; [folder number] [folder title][date].

Biographical note

John Dunkel was born February 21, 1915 in Springfield, Ohio and attended Wittenberg University in Springfield. Dunkel came to Southern California in the 1930s and worked as a play reader at the Pasadena Playhouse. In the 1940s, CBS Radio hired Dunkel as a story editor. From 1946 to 1949 Dunkel was the head writer at CBS Radio, in charge of all West Coast radio programming. During this time, many of the writers, directors, producers, and actors worked together on the same productions, which resulted in a sort stock company. Dunkel met Gunsmoke creator Norman Macdonnell through this working group. Macdonnell asked Dunkel to start writing for Gunsmoke, which was already a great success. Dunkel declared that he did not have the requisite knowledge to write for a Western, but he took the job anyway in 1955 and wrote twelve episodes from seasons three through seven.
Dunkel continued with the Gunsmoke crew when it became a television series, writing 23 episodes during the first ten years of its run. Gunsmoke was noted for breaking the typical Western formula by creating emotional storylines that were more complex, adult, and far-reaching than the simple and sometimes youth-oriented stories of the popular Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s. Dunkel became more comfortable writing about the West by reading books and studying the land, exploring on both foot and horseback. Dunkel cited outdoor experience and a love of the land as requisites for successful writing in the Western genre. Dunkel is most noted for his episodes of Broken Arrow, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide, but he also wrote episodes of Big Valley, Bonanza, The Virginian, High Chaparral, and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Dunkel was honored by the Writer’s Guild of America between 1958 and 1962 with four writing awards for episodes he wrote of Broken Arrow, two episodes of Rawhide, and one episode of The Rifleman. The National Cowboy Hall of Fame gave its Western Heritage Award to episodes of Rawhide on which Dunkel was a writer in 1961 and 1962. During his prolific career, Dunkel also wrote poems and short stories, gave talks at symposiums, and drafted many scripts and story ideas. John Dunkel donated his radio scripts to the University of California Los Angeles Library in 1979.
John Dunkel was also a commodore in the Santa Monica Yacht Club and lived in North Hollywood until his death on February 22, 2001.


Donation from the Dunkel Family Trust to Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 2001 July 23; transfer of archival material to Institute for the Study of the American West, 2006 June 12.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

CBS Radio Network.
Broken Arrow (Television program : 1956-1958)
Financial records
Gunsmoke (Television program : 1955-1975)
Rawhide (Television program : 1959-1965)
Western television programs -- United States

Box 14, 27

Administrative papers, 1953-1988

Scope and contents

This series includes folders of general correspondence, correspondence with the National Endowment for the Humanities regarding the Origin of the Crown Dance script, correspondence with the UCLA Radio Archives, and correspondence regarding Gunsmoke. This series also includes a folder of correspondence and contracts with agents Candida Donadio and the firm Adams, Ray & Rosenberg. This series also contains financial records and writing credits on file with the Writers Guild of America.
Box 14, 27

Correspondence, 1953-1988

Box 27

Finances, 1969-1985

Box 27

Writing credits, 1986

Box 1-18, 24-40

Manuscripts, 1955-1985

Scope and contents

The Manuscripts series of the John Dunkel Scripts and Papers makes up the bulk of the materials in this archive. It includes television scripts for shows such as Broken Arrow, Gunsmoke, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Rawhide, The Rifleman, The Virginian, Western Marshall, and many others. The television script folders may include a script or story idea, notes, correspondence relating to the script, and a finished draft, when possible. The Manuscript series also includes scripts for pilots and other television projects, screenplay and story ideas, short stories, drafts and notes for a Navajo book project, book reviews, an article “Radio and television, Westerns on” for the Readers Encyclopedia of the American West, a symposium talk, poems, and research files for scripts, stories, pitches, and a documentary film idea.
Box 1-18, 24-40

Screenplays, 1945-1983

Box 14, 16-18, 25-28

Literature, 1938-1983

Box 17-18, 25-27

Other manuscripts, 1956-1981

Box 27-28, 40-43, Oversize Folder and roll

Memorabilia, 1945-1979

Scope and contents

The Memorabilia series includes artwork, reel-to-reel audio tapes, magazine and newspaper clippings, photographs, plaques, and a poster. The reel-to-reel tapes include a radio program entitled “The Story of Gunsmoke” originally broadcast on WAMU-FM, Washington, D.C., April 25, 1976. The plaques were awarded to John Dunkel by the Writers Guild of America for the 1956 “Ghost Face” episode of Broken Arrow, the 1959 “Incident of the Dry Drive” episode of Rawhide, the 1959 “Day of the Hunter” episode of The Rifleman, and the 1961 “Incident of the Buffalo Soldier” episode of Rawhide.
Oversize Folder and roll

Artwork, 1960-1974

Box 41

Audio tapes, 1956-1976

Box 27, 40, 42

Clippings, 1945-1979

Box 28, 40, 42

Photographs, undated

Box 42-43

Plaques, 1956-1961