Sunday, July 6, 2014
John Mantley Part III
"Gunsmoke" producer John Mantley said of the show's star, "I can tell you it was great fun to work with James Arness and the entire cast. They were a sheer delight and some of the best professions I've ever had the pleasure to work with. I wrote "Gunsmoke" scripts but I was far too busy producing the show to write many of them. And to be honest, I have never really liked to write.
"Most of what I have today was earned with words, but I never actually enjoyed the process of writing. I've found it the hardest work I've ever done."
Mantley received five consecutive Western Heritage awards, and shared honors with Calvin Clements and Earl Wallace for the 1978 Spur Award for "How the West was Won." He was also a recipient of the William F. Cody Award.
He felt that the networks should stay out of the creative process. During the golden age of television, "the only people who looked at your rough cuts or your manuscripts were advertising agencies to protect their clients. They came to rough cut screening to make sure you didn't ford a river if you were sponsored by Chevrolet--as in "Bonanza." As a result of that, in their 13-year history, characters in "Bonanza" never forded a river, they crossed it. On the other hand, we at "Gunsmoke" forded a lot of rivers, but I was fond of saying that 'we never chevroleted one.'"
Mantley operated his own production company for a number of years and was loaned out to produce "Wild, Wild West," "Dirty Sally" and "How the West Was Won," among others.
Heavily involved in show business politics, he served on the board of directors of the Producer's Guild, and hosted the earliest meetings of the caucus of the Producers,Writers and Directors in his own backyard. He also co-chaired the organization in his later years, which was comprised of some 175 members "who between them are responsible for the majority of all prime-time television entertainment."
Mantley advised fledgling script writers to "Write, write, write. The more you write, the more you learn. " But that doesn't offer much encouragement in the declining freelance market. "Yes, you do have to be thick-skinned to survive as a script writer, because having your work rewritten by producers is bad enough, but you also have to expect to have it rejected for the most inane reasons."
Having apprenticed in two of the most highly skilled but lowest paying jobs as actor and writer, Mantley said, "I did all kinds of things to support my acting career--liquor store clerk, dishwater, parking attendant, bus boy--and as far as acting is concerned, I really never had much problem. But after I sold those two novels, I sort of wrote steadily until I got to producing and then I was able to get away from writing, which was a consummation devotedly to be wished."
Mantley was back in Dodge City as executive producer of "Gunsmoke" during the fall of 1987. Filmed in Calgary, Canada, the two-hour CBS television movie, featured an aging Marshall Matt Dillon back in the saddle again.
(This interview was excerpted from my book, Maverick Writers.)