A Guide to the Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection
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Creator: Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark
Title: The Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection
Abstract: The Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection spans 1972-2011 and documents the men’s forty-plus year friendship. The collection is arranged in five series: Correspondence, Dialogues, Photographs, Audio Material, and Video Material.
Identification: Collection 106
Extent: 8 boxes (3.5 linear feet)
Repository: Southwestern Writers Collection, The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos
Access Restrictions: Open for reearch. Please use the online request form to schedule an appointment:
Preferred Citation: The Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection, Southwestern Writers Collection, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University-San Marcos
Acquisition Information: Purchased in 2011.
Processing Information: Processed by Katie Salzmann, 2011.
Notes to Researchers: The Southwestern Writers Collection holds an extensive Sam Shepard Collection (SWWC Collection 054)
The University of Texas at Austin holds a collection of Sam Shepard papers.
Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark met in New York City in the early 1960s. Dark married Scarlett Johnson, and Shepard married one of Scarlett’s daughters, O-Lan, with whom he had a son, Jesse Shepard. Over the next several years, the two couples lived together in Greenwich Village, Newfoundland, and California; and through the decades, Dark and Shepard have remained close friends. When distance separated them, they wrote letters back and forth, beginning with the Shepards’ stay in England in 1972, and then beginning in earnest in 1983 when Shepard left the family for a relationship with Jessica Lange, whom he had met on the set of Frances. Shepard’s son, Jesse, remained with the Darks in California, and Dark often accompanied Jesse on visits to his father.
The friendship and letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark are the subject of a documentary by Director Treva Wurmfeld (Shepard and Dark, 2012), and their collection of letters are published by The University of Texas Press in Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark (2013).
Scope and Contents Note
The Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection spans 1972-2011 and documents the men’s forty-plus year friendship. The collection is arranged in five series: Correspondence, Dialogues, Photographs, Audio Material, and Video Material.
Series I: Correspondence comprises the bulk of the collection (boxes 1-4) and is arranged chronologically. The first letters are from the early 1970s when the Shepards lived briefly in England and the Darks remained in California. Because the two families lived together for many years, there are few letters until 1980 when Shepard began filming on location. The letters pick up in earnest in 1983 after Shepard left his wife and son and began a long-term relationship with actress Jessica Lange. For the next three decades, the two men kept up a fairly regular correspondence.
Series II: Dialogues is over 200 pages of typed transcripts of conversations that Dark and Shepard recorded in the 1970s and 1980s. Arranged in themed sections by Dark, the conversations cover a wide range of topics including relationships, writing, film, ageing, and friendship.
Series III: Photographs is comprised of photographs collected by Dark. Many are mounted onto notebook pages with annotations in Dark’s hand. These photographs provide a glimpse into the private lives of the men. The bulk of the photos are of Shepard and Dark, but there are also images of Scarlett Dark, O-Lan Jones, Jesse Shepard, Sam Rogers (Shepard’s father) and Jessica Lange. The photographs are in the order in which Dark arranged them, and each has a unique identifying number (001-178) assigned by the archivist. In addition to the numbered photographs, there are over 250 snapshots taken by Dark. Many of these are duplicates of the numbered photographs, but there are several unique ones including shots of Shepard on the set of All the Pretty Horses with Matt Damon, photos from Jesse Shepard’s wedding, and more photos of Shepard and of Dark.
Series IV: Audio Material contains 28 tapes of varying audio quality. Most of the tapes feature conversations between Shepard and Dark - some recorded in person, some over the telephone. The tapes from the 1970s and 1980s form the basis of Dark’s typescript, Dialogues, in Series II. All of the cassettes have been digitized, and there are listening copies available. Archives staff have provided summaries of many, but not all, of the digitized tapes.
Series V: Video Material consists of two items. The first is a VHS tape of home movies shot by Dark. The video quality is relatively poor, but the tape has been digitized and a viewing copy is available. The second item is a DVD of the documentary, Shepard and Dark, directed by Treva Wurmfeld. Access to this DVD is by special permission only.