15 Jan 1998 20:37:53 -0500
re: Milburn Stone material....
Dear Gunsmoke Fan: My father called my
attention to your website which memorializes the Gunsmoke series which I
have to agree with you, is, the "Great American Western" (on TV at least).
My attention instantly turned to the material you have on my uncle and
namesake Milburn Stone who, as you know, played the Doc character from the
very first the very last episode. You have most of the story right, but
there are a few points that need to be corrected.
First of all, with regard to Milburn Stone
turning down an appointment to the Naval Academy in order to stay in
acting with Stone and Strain, Songs, Dances and Snappy Chatter. This is
not quite correct. Milburn Stone did become an actor at 17 years of age
immediately after graduating from Burrton High School in Burrton, Kansas.
He was an actor in the Art Names Players and traveling repertory company
which toured Western Kansas, Eastern Colorado and Southwestern Nebraska.
He eventually became one of three principal actors in the company and when
Art Names gave up the show for a very brief time he owned the company.
However the company died as movies became popular in rural areas of the
country. Mil liked to tell what excellent training this was: The players
stayed in each town for a week and performed 6 plays, all of which were
written by Art Names. Mil sang between acts and learned to play whatever
role was required. He liked to boast that in one play he played the lead,
the lead's father, and the lead's grandfather. However, Mil did not give
up the academy for his act with Jay Strain. After the Art Names players
folded, he had a vaudeville-type act with three partners. Strain was the
last of these and this was well after his decision about the Naval
Academy. His first partner was Forest Markel, of Sylvia, Kansas who played
the Ukulele. His next was Jack Campbell, another uke player. Finally, he
teamed with Strain. They played together across the country until they
reached LA and split up. Neither Mil nor Strain danced. Mil tried dancing
with Jack Campbell but he wasn't good at it. According to Mil's mother ---
my Grandmother --- the reason Mil did not accept the Naval Academy
appointment had to do with the medical requirements of the academy of the
time. As a young teen, Mil had broken his arm playing football. The arm
was not set perfectly, though it was in no way a handicap or
disfigurement. Naval Academy regulations made it necessary for Mil to have
the arm rebroken and reset. He resisted this and, of course, he also had
the opportunity to become a professional actor right out of high
school---which I think is remarkable. Indeed, Mil may be one of the few
adult American actors who began working in the field out of high school
and never did another job his entire life ---- except for those moments in
the depression when it was necessary for him to take a temporary job
between acting jobs in Hollywood.
Another error has to do with Mil's
retirement. He did not retire to Santa Fe New Mexico. He retired in RANCHO
SANTA FE, California, a few miles north of San Diego. He did not raise
livestock in Rancho Santa Fe or any other place. He always had a cat or
two around. Mil was always a cat lover and had a wonderful way of
communicating with and about his cats.
You are correct that Mil did not play a
slave in Gone With The Wind, but he did play Admiral David Farragut in
"Reap the Wild Wind" with John Wayne and Ray Milland. He also played
Stephen A. Douglas in "Young Mr. Lincoln" with Henry Fonda in the title
role. He was in more than 100 movies.
I hope this has been of interest. Mil's
brother --- my father -- is a retired journalist and lives in Borrego
Springs, California. He is the author of several television scripts
including one Gunsmoke script "The Triplets" which was the episode
submitted by the network in support of Mil's successful Emmy nomination.
Mil's daughter---his only child --- lives in Costa Mesa, California. Mil's
wife, Jane, remains in Rancho Santa Fe, and I am a professor living in
I hope this has been of interest. Thank
you for preserving the memory of Gunsmoke, which was a remarkable piece of
television. One reason for the shows success---which I can personally
testify to--- is the fact that the show attracted for its principle cast a
group of actors who were not only skilled professionals. They were also
decent and generous human beings who watched after the quality of the show
and took care of each other through good times and bad.
Dear Bob, It was very good of you to reply
to my email so promptly and so enthusiastically. Yes, I think your website
is an honorable reflection of my uncle's career during the period of the
show. As for your requests: You are certainly welcome to post my email on
your website and you may do the same with any other communication I send
to you which you think is interesting. I am going to send your email to my
father --- Joseph Stone --- who was the source of some of the material I
sent you. He brought your website to my attention in the first place and
asked me to contact you. I am quite certain you will be hearing from him
by regular mail --- my Dad hasn't acquired the email habit but he is an
interesting and indefatigable letter writer. I don't have very much in the
way of pictures of my uncle in the Gunsmoke role with the exception of a
print by the Kansas artist, Gary Hawk which is one of my prized
possessions and hangs in my office at home. I am sure that there are much
better collections available with my California family---My father, my
cousin Shirley (Mil's daughter) and my Aunt Jane (Mil's wife.) I know my
father sent printed-outs of your website to Shirely and Jane about the
same time he sent them to me. You may hear from them, too, though my Aunt
Jane is now quite elderly and has recently been in poor health.
I think I mentioned in my earlier email
that my father (who is eight years younger than his brother Milburn) was
the author of the "Triplets" episode which offered a pretty good showcase
for Mil's skill. My father is a journalist out of the Wichita Eagle and
the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune. Television writing and freelance
writing in general were sidelines under taken to provide extra income for
a family of five children. He is very active in his hometown of Borrego
Springs, CA. He describes himself as "The Award-winning Columnist for the
influential Borrego Sun>" All this is true. He won the Associated Press
Award for Best Regular Column in a Weekly Newspaper. Also, he is currently
the Honorary Co-Mayor of Borrego Springs---the other Honorary Co-Mayor, is
my mother, Catherine.
As far as making a personal statement for
the website is concerned, there is one thing I would like to do which
might be of interest, but I need to check on a few facts before I do, so I
will send you this later in the week.
By the way, I am in awe of a fellow
professor who has the time to maintain both an obviously productive
scholarly, teaching, administrative career AND the Gunsmoke Website.