Collection of western film scripts
A Guide to the Collection
The western has been one of the most prolific genres in American filmmaking, despite repeated shifts in popularity and content. Whether as nostalgic longing for a romanticized past or a critical reevaluation thereof, westerns continue to offer a characteristic blend of myth and history through which this quintessential American genre has influenced filmmakers worldwide.
Westerns are typically set in the transmississippi West during the second half of the nineteenth century, but might reach as far back as the colonial era or forward into the twentieth century, and geographically into Mexico, Canada, or Alaska. Most plotlines revolve around such staple characters of the "Wild West" as cowboys, Indians, settlers, outlaws, sheriffs, and the cavalry.
A great number of Hollywood stars (e.g. Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, James Stewart) appeared in westerns during their career, but no actor was as closely identified with the genre as John Wayne, whose career spanned five decades and nearly ninety westerns. Wayne was the biggest male box office star in the United States between 1950 and 1965, working with such influential directors as John Ford and Howard Hawks on many classic westerns. Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh, and Delmer Daves also directed several well-regarded westerns prior to the 1960s. Influential directors since the 1960s include Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, and Clint Eastwood.
Inexpensive, formulaic "B" westerns, also known as series westerns, were produced in large numbers during the 1930s and 1940s. Even in the 1950s, however, when western films with a revisionist or political agenda began to emerge at the same time as television production heightened, action-packed but formulaic plotlines continued to dominate low-budget features.
Revisionist westerns set out to address the violence and racial prejudice at the core of the westward expansion of the United States, a trend that carried on into the 1960s and 1970s with director Sam Peckinpah’s ruminations about violence and changing times, or Italian director Sergio Leone’s cynical spaghetti westerns. After the spectacular failure of Michael Cimino’s high-budget Heaven’s Gate (1980), many declared the western dead, but the genre yet again proved its resilience in the 1990s – though that most recent run of westerns is beyond the scope of this collection.
The collection includes 76 scripts (screenplays) from 73 U.S. westerns. The scripts range from the 1929 adaptation of Owen Wister’s popular western novel The Virginian, starring Gary Cooper, to several drafts of the 1981 The Border. Individual scripts are from various stages of production, ranging from first drafts to second or third revised final drafts. Most titles in the collection are from 1940s and 1950s "B" westerns, but there are also a few scripts from well-known westerns such as Anthony Mann’s The Man from Laramie (1954), which starred James Stewart, or Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1970), which featured James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Collection of western film scripts, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Purchase, 1986; A1986.1387.
Anna Banhegyi, 2008.
Lara Corazalla, 2009.
Detailed Description of the Collection