Mantley, Oversaw TV's 'Gunsmoke' In Its Later Years,
Dead at 82
John Mantley, who oversaw Doc, Festus, Matt and Kitty
producer of "Gunsmoke" during the landmark TV
western's final decade,
has died, Tuesday, January 14, 2003, at his home in Sherman
California, with Alzheimer's disease, at the age of 82.
A former stage and radio actor who began his television
live dramas in New York City, New York, in the early 1950s,
later wrote for many live and filmed dramatic shows, including
Checkmate," "Desilu-Westinghouse Playhouse," "Kraft
Theater," "The Outer Limits" and "Rawhide," as
well as 23 episodes of
the "The Untouchables."
began on radio in 1952, debuted on CBS-TV in 1955. With James Arness starring as Marshal Matt Dillon, the
series helped usher in an era of TV western fare aimed at adult audiences.
Mantley began as a script consultant on the show in 1964.
associate producer the following season, producer the next
and, in 1967, took the reins as executive producer.
recalled this week: "The ratings
were sliding a bit, and they
wanted to get some new blood on the show. They luckily
were able to get John, and he came and just completely revived the show."
Shifting the show from its focus on the central characters
to more of an
anthology style with stories featuring guest stars such
as Bette Davis,
Arness said, "was one of the innovations that he brought
in. And it
really worked well, because this gave us the opportunity
to broaden out
the story approach to things by bringing in new characters
that, Arness said, "the drop
in the ratings we were suffering at
the time turned right around and went back up."
Until "Gunsmoke" was canceled in 1975 after
20 years, Arness said, "John ran that show and made it work better than it ever had
Mantley was involved in all aspects of the series, Arness
was a guy who was just completely dedicated to doing
possible job that could be done on the show," the
actor said. "Plus, he
had a monumental amount of energy and drive.
be up until 11 or 12 o'clock at night sometimes in the
room going over and over a scene he wanted to make a little
lived for the show, and he had the desire for excellence."
back over his years on "Gunsmoke," Mantley
told The Times in
1975 that he thought the show's finest hours were during
its period as a dramatic anthology with guest stars of the caliber of Jack
Richard Kiley, Vera Miles and Suzanne Pleshette.
"What we were doing was 'Studio One,' " said
Mantley, referring to the
respected dramatic anthology series that ran from 1948
to 1958 on
The producer regretted the loss of the classic western
"It's the American morality play," he said, "as
stylized as a ballet,
the eternal struggle between good and evil reenacted with
After "Gunsmoke" was canceled, Mantley was executive
producer of "How the West Was Won," an ABC series also starring Arness
-- as a mountain man -- that began as the 1976 miniseries "The Macahans." They
later teamed up on "Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge," a 1987
CBS movie, which led to four other TV movie revivals.
Born in Ontario, Canada, in 1920, Mantley grew up in a
His parents were stage actors, and silent screen legend
Mary Pickford was a second cousin. Mantley, who dreamed of becoming an
actor as a boy, delivered the eulogy for "America's sweetheart" in
Mantley earned a bachelor's degree from the University
of Toronto in 1942 and served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian
during World War II. He earned a master's degree in theater
arts from the Pasadena Playhouse in 1947.
In 1951, after finding acting to be less exciting than
he thought it
would be, he became a director of live television in New
At one point, he was directing three half-hour shows a
Teatro Televisione," a show for the Italian community,
which may have
been the first foreign-language dramatic show on U.S. TV.
Moving to Rome in 1952, Mantley directed a filmed anthology
aired in America as "The Conrad Nagle Theatre." He
also directed Italian
Unable to land directing jobs when he returned to the
United States in
1956, he turned to writing for television. He also wrote
two novels in
the 1950s -- "The 27th Day" and "The Snow
Birch," both of which were
Book-of-the-Month Club selections and were turned into
Mantley, whose TV credits include a stint as producer
of the '60s
western "The Wild Wild West" and co-producer
of the 1968 western movie "
Firecreek," starring James Stewart and Henry Fonda,
was inducted into the Producers Hall of Fame in 1992.