Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Learning John Weston

by Rita Hestand

Who is John Meston? Well, if you've watched Gunsmoke you've no doubt been exposed to his writings. Yeah, so sue me, I love the westerns. I always have, ever since Gunsmoke, Big Valley, and Rawhide hit the television industry, I have loved them, but more than that it goes deeper. For one I love the history of our great nation, and the cowboy is a symbol of that history.

He stands for truth, courage, heroism, and the high morals the country has aspired to for ages.

That being said I must tell you that I study writing in a strange fashion. As of late I make it a priority to study a certain writer’s work that you may or may not be acquainted with, John Meston. John wrote for Gunsmoke for several decades and won many awards for his work, but you may not realize what genius the man possessed. Television was still in its infancy when John began writing for Radio, then Television.

What is so surprising is the fact that Meston could write a 30 minute skit and leave an enduring trail to his audience. He knew characterization better than most except maybe Robert Newton Peck. Peck had a handle on characterizing someone in a story too. "Fiction is Folks" is one of the best written books on making characters shine, written by Mr. Peck.

What brought my attention to John Meston? Simple, I realized that not only did I like Gunsmoke but many others did too. It was the best dramatic show on TV for years, twenty to be exact, winning countless awards for its writers, and actors. It was one of the few shows that the leading stars, mainly James Arness did not have to be present to interest an audience. They might mention Matt Dillion's name or Dodge City, but that was all that was needed. Now that is characterization. Having countless guest stars and starting many careers for actors in the process. Burt Reynolds was a regular for a period of time. Pual Fix, Robert Culp, Claude Akins, John Dehner, Susan Oliver starred repeatedly as guest on Gunsmoke.

Gunsmoke ran from September, 1955 to September 1975. It ranks right up there with I Love Lucy.

It helped to establish the importance of character actors, such as Milburn Stone's "DOC", and Dennis Weaver's "Chester", and of course Amanda Blake as "Kitty" But there were other actors that regulared on the show and you knew who they were instantly, like Louie, the town drunk, soft hearted, always a little off kilter. And Chester with his bum leg, watch him when he rides his horse, it sticks out like a sore thumb, you know which one is Chester because of that leg, characterization my friend. John Wayne himself was offered the role of Matt Dillion, but because he didn't want to be tied down to a weekly series, he declined and instead suggested James Arness for the part. Arness had done many character roles, one of which was "The Thing" in which he actually played the monster. Thank God Arness became Matt Dillion, can you seriously imagine anyone else playing Matt? Of course not.

Matt Dillion stood for law and order, always did the right thing, even if the right thing meant going against the crowd. You knew Matt had a soft heart when he defended helpless women and children. This was his character, this was Matt Dillon and John Meston help make Matt as real as you and me.

Matt and Kitty Russell were an item, always suggested, never really admitting except in one or two episodes in which they confessed their love. But another thing that came out of Gunsmoke was the sexual tension between these two characters. The knowing looks, and the soft touches every now and then built this relationship. They didn't have to kiss to know how they felt about each other. Remarkable.

By studying the show, I have learned that each episode instilled high principles, awesome writing and clean fun into a story. The stories had heart, and soul. Gunsmoke might leave you with a tear in your eye, or a smile on your face. It incorporated all the dramatics of life in one show…every week. Awesome! So I study John Meston and wish to aspire to be that great a writer.

I now have seven westerns myself and I hope I have learned something, you tell me.

Beyond the Dream Catcher-Book 1

Just One Kiss- Book 2

Ask No Tomorrows-Book 3

Love Rules

Always Remember

Better Off Without Her

Jodi's Journey


Tina Donahue said...

Although I've never been a fan of westerns, I did enjoy Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" - wow, what characters and what a story.

And I absolutely adore "Hell on Wheels" - not a western, per se, but close enough for me. The guy who plays Bogrand is to die for. :)

Redameter said...

I consider Hell on Wheels a western Tina. The only problem I find on westerns made today is that they present a gruddy front that lacks appeal, they present the hero as dirty and I wish they would give them a bath. LOL

The old westerns had much scenery to admire, and great music, usually done by Elmer Bernstein.

Unforgiven was a great western, but then Clint always made good ones. Even now.

The point is, the writing was good back then. It was more than blowing up a train, or using a fast draw it was stories. And even though Gunsmoke usually centered on murder, which would also put it in another category, it had heart, and warmth and left you with something to think about. But Tina, hey, you really weren't born to the western generation. I just hope it never dies off, because a lot can be learned from that time period.

Fiona McGier said...

While you were falling in love with westerns, I was doing the same with sci-fi. Twilight Zone was the start for me, and many current actors got their starts there also. I am an unashamed sci-fi geek, as is my husband and all 4 of our kids. To me, sci-fi represents the hope that we will surmount the problems, many of our own creation, that we deal with now and take our place out among the stars, with the other species that may be out there.

That being said, I have to give a nod to the western genre, because that's one of the attractions that brought my Dad from Glasgow to Chicago when he was young, and he spent many vacations in the old west, thrilled to be wearing a cowboy hat and walking the dusty streets that he had read about when he was a kid. And my Mom treasured her old copies of Louis L'Amour's books.

Redameter said...

You know Fiona, I watched Sci-fi when I married my third husband, my soulmate. I too watched Twilight Zone, ran to the movies when ET came out, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What I find ironic at my age is that a lot of sci-fi is coming to pass and in some ways it's crazy funny and then it's scary too. I mean giant fish coming out of fresh water lakes. Sink holes all over the world. So much that has been written about has come to pass that I'm wondering about that genre.

And yes, I hope the westerns have an allure for all time to people too.

Bringing the old and the new together we can learn a lot of our trade and ourselves.
Love and blessings