With 635 television episodes, 480 radio shows and five movies, no other series in any genre has equaled the longevity of Gunsmoke. And to fans who read credits, Jim Byrnes is a familiar name, having penned 34 of the very best episodes, and one of the movies.
The Iowa-born writer always knew what his specialty would be. “I loved Rawhide, Wanted: Dead or Alive, and of course I loved Gunsmoke, never dreaming I’d ever write for Gunsmoke. I was in high school when I sold my first script.” His older brother Joseph was taking a writing course at Los Angeles Valley College from prolific Western telewriter Richard Carr. “My brother said, ‘They want us to write something, and you watch all the Westerns. Any ideas?’ We wrote a story called Desert Flight. Carr read it and said, ‘You guys should submit it: this is pretty good.’” It became an episode of Zane Grey Theater, “and James Coburn and Dick Powell starred. Then I didn’t sell anything for six years.”
Byrnes wrote scripts on speculation, and drove taxis and trucks until his script, Gaucho, landed him an agent. Gunsmoke producer John Mantley read Gaucho, and called Byrnes in. “They said, we want you to write a Gunsmoke. Come up with a story.” The problem was, they’d already been on for 13 years. “I started pitching stories. ‘We did that 10 years ago.’ I think, this is my great chance; I can’t blow this. I fi