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Creator: Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark

Collection #: 106

Biographical Note: 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: Please note that these online materials constitute only a small part of the Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection. For a full finding aid and folder list, visit

Series IV: Audio Material contains 28 tapes of varying audio quality. 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. Please note that some of the recordings contain content that is offensive; this content does not represent the Wittliff Collections or Texas State University.

Processing Information: Processed by Katie Salzmann

Preferred Citation: The Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection, The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University.

Use Restrictions: These materials are protected under copyright. For use and publication please visit

Online Collection Inventory

"Sam and John," circa 1970s-1980s. Tape 1, Side a. No summary available.

"Jazz," circa 1970s-1980s. Tape 1, Side b. No summary available.

“John and Sam," 1979. Tape 2, Side a. Sam Shepard discusses various developments in the process of writing a play, such as names, clothing, lifestyle.

“Darin and Mercer,” 1979. Tape 2, Side b. Johnny talks about an old girlfriend named Evelyn and the first time they met. He gives a description of her physical appearance and how they “made out” in a car. There are also various other things that are hard to hear or understand because of the low volume.

“Sam and Johnny, May 7 1983.” Tape 3, Side a. Sam and Johnny play guitar and sing songs and discuss various things, much of which is hard to understand because of the low volume.

“Sam and John,” 1979. Tape 4, Side a. Sam and Johnny play guitar and sing songs. They discuss different places they have lived, how Los Angeles started out as a hacienda, how to become a “man with a mission”, how Sam’s first play had old men in it and how his plays have young men who turn old. They also discuss the racial tensions with Jazz music in the 1940s and how they should make movies about it. Click here for digital file.

“Women Swing,” 1979. Tape 4, Side b. Johnny discusses the contents of a letter he received from a girlfriend about how she is not in love with him. Johnny goes on to talk about the break up and some of his past relationships.

“Johnny and Sam, Santa Fe July 1983,” July 1, 1983. Tape 5, Side a. Sam and Johnny talk about rugged individualism, luck and circumstances as factors of success and achievement. They try to define rugged and come to the conclusion that it is a false concept. They also briefly talk about the movie The Right Stuff and various things about it.

Unlabeled, 1983. Tape 5, Side b. Sam and Johnny continue their discussion on rugged individualism, what the rugged individual would posses as far as material things, knowing whether you have ruggedness or not and having the “right stuff”. They also make a list of people throughout history who have had the “right stuff”. Sam also discusses filming The Right Stuff and how hard it was to film yet everyone worked as a team and how writing letters are a more personal way of communication.

“Johnny and Sam, Santa Fe July 1983.” Tape 6, Side a. This is a continuation from the previous tape. They continue to make of list of people in history who have and did not have the “right stuff”. Sam also talks more about filming The Right Stuff.

Unlabeled, 1983. Tape 6, Side b. Sam and Johnny discuss writing the epilogue, Chuck Yeager’s abilities, how Sam is receiving scripts and conditioning for polo.

“Sam and John 5/5/94 Drinking and Drugs,” May 5, 1994. Tape 7, Side a. A phone conversation between Sam and Johnny about several adventures in drinking and getting “smashed”. Their conversation eventually turns to drug experiences, addictions and what affects smoking grass had on them. They also discuss what books they are currently reading at the moment. Johnny also talks about his time living in Tangiers and Valencia and moving back to Connecticut. He relates the story about how he met Scarlett.

”Me [Dark] and Scarlett talking about self remembering 5/13,” May 13, 1994(?). Tape 7, Side b. Johnny and Scarlett discuss between themselves about the difference between self-observation and self-remembering and what it means.

“Scarlett,” circa 1980. Tape 8, Side a. Scarlett discusses with Johnny some of her favorite things such as her favorite dish, animal, weather, locale and winter sports. Johnny reads Scarlett some stories, using voices as he reads. (Note: Tape has some speed variation issues.)

“Lisa Vale fan club,” circa 1980. Tape 8, Side b. Sam and Johnny jokingly discuss creating The Lisa Vale Fan Club and have fun writing a drunken letter to her.

“Sam and John reminiscing 4/12/94,” Tape 9, Side a. Sam and Johnny have a phone conversation and talk about a friend they both had conversations with who is writing a book. They discuss previous and current relationships problems, past experiences and memories. The conversation eventually focuses on Sam’s efforts to learn to play the piano.

Unlabeled, April 12, 1994. Tape 9, Side b. A continuation of the conversation from side a. Johnny talks about past relationships, breaking into one of his ex girlfriends apartments and getting arrested, and having remorse about messing up his last serious relationships. After his conversation is over with Sam, the recording switches to a conversation between Johnny and Scarlett on various subjects. They talk about the question of what it is to be an adult and talk it out between each other.

“Iowa,” circa 1979. Tape 10, Side a. No summary available.

"Sam and Dark O-Lan Scarlett,” circa 1979. Tape 10, Side b. No summary available.

“Phone 2002 Sam-Gene-Geenie,” 2002. Tape 11, Side a. Johnny has a conversation about a live show that is friend on the other end of the line played. Johnny also talks about a book that he is writing and how he wrote the ending first and is writing backwards. Later on, Johnny talks to Sam about the various guns they own.

Unlabeled, 2002. Tape 11, Side b. Johnny talks with an unknown woman about writing his biography and the various things he has done with it, such as writing his own death at the end. The woman also talks to Johnny about writing her biography as well. The conversation eventually turns to talk about how Johnny went around and interviewed the people that he knows for his biography so that they could write their own story for it. Johnny tells a story of a former girlfriend who was forced by her father to drop out of college and forbade her from seeing him again and how they finally met up 30 years later.

“Sam 92,” 1992. Tape 12, Side a. During this conversation, Sam tells Johnny about reading Great River and how the writer Paul Horgan has a way with writing. They also discuss continuity in life and with people and relationships. Sam talks with Johnny about moving himself to Texas. (Sound missing due to technical difficulties during digital transfer, beginning at 21:27 and ending at 22:00.)

Unlabeled. Tape 12, Side b. This side of the tape contains music; no file was recorded.

“8/22/95 Sam and John,” August 22, 1995. Tape 13, Side a. Johnny talks to Sam about finally understanding Sam’s love of driving. Sam tells Johnny a story about a guy he knew who taught his kid how to shoot a .22 by having the kid shoot a cigarette out of his mouth. They also talk about Charles Manson and his magnetism with women, Wang Bo and Buddhism, mind substance and Robin Williams. After the conversation with Sam, the recording picks up mid conversation between Johnny and an unknown woman.

Unlabeled. Tape 13, Side b. Sam talks to Johnny about being flexible and being able to move and relocate. Sam also talks about trying to sell a horse that had bad tendons and using magnets for inflammation. During a second discussion, Sam and Johnny talk about a mutual acquaintance’s trip to Spain to meet up with her ex-husband and the author Juan Rulfo.

“10/2001 Sam and John (Typed),” October 1, 2001. Tape 14, Side a. Sam and Johnny talk about a New York Times article about Afghanistan and the Taliban. They also talk about the story of Muhammad and Islam. During their conversation, Sam tells Johnny of the Bohemian Sausage Festival and Johnny reminisces about going to a gun show after meeting up with Sam in Iowa. They also talk about the reactions of people after September 11, 2001 and what to expect in the coming days and the crusades during the middle ages. Sam also talks about writing about his father throughout his life.

Unlabeled. Tape 14, Side b. This side of the tape contains music; no file was recorded.

“Sam and John 1/3/93,” January 3, 1991. Tape 15, Side a. Johnny tells Sam a story about working outside, playing racquetball and feeling alone at the Y. Johnny elaborates on loneliness and how people surround themselves with people to not be alone. Their conversation then moves to the Bible and matters that are of a spiritual nature.

"Johnny ‘93,” 1993. Tape 15, Side b. Johnny talks about feeling like a “sleazy lecher” while telling a story about his last date with a girl and how inappropriate it was. The conversations then changes to the topic of first dates and what to do on them. Johnny reads passages from the book he was writing at the time.

“Side A 8/28/94 Me and Sam (Both Sides),” August 28, 1994. Tape 16, Side a. The first parts of this recording are voice messages left for Johnny. After the messages, Sam tells a story about his son meeting a girl that he was fixated on at a restaurant. Sam talks about his family, burying his mom and growing up. Johnny talks about having reoccurring dreams about certain people in his life.

Unlabeled, 1994. Tape 16, Side b. This is a continuation of Side a. They talk about memories and the difference between American and British actors.

“Sam 3/15/95.” Tape 17, Side a. Audio quality is poor due to the quality of the tape it was recorded on. It is hard to hear what is being discussed during parts of the recording.

Click here for digital file.“RAMDAS.” Tape 17, Side b. The audio quality is poor due to the quality of the tape. Sound fluctuates between soft and loud. It is difficult to understand what is being discussed.

"Huck Finn Ed Begley.” Tape 18, Side a. This side contains an audio book excerpt of Huckleberry Finn. No digital file is available.

"Jesse-Sam-John-’79 Aug Jessie Tells Stories (Rasberries),” August, 1979. Tape 18, Side b. Sam’s young son Jesse talks about a teacher he doesn’t like and tells Sam and Johnny a story entitled “Raspberries”.

“Love Mary 87.” Tape 19, Side a. Johnny discusses various points in his life when he felt he didn’t realize his potential, Mary talks about family troubles and turning 50, they talk about Sam and his relationship troubles. Johnny and Mary eventually move on to talk about love. The recording switches to a conversation about Johnny and an unknown woman. The recording switches again to part of a conversation between Sam and Johnny.

“John and Sam Phone Aug 91.” Tape 19, Side b. This recording starts with Johnny having a conversation with an unknown woman, discussing the filming of a movie, taking a trip to Texas, anxiety and relationship problems.

“Sam and Me 5/10/95 Phone.” Tape 20, Side a. Johnny and Sam talk about Sam’s book that he is finishing, going to the Kentucky Derby and getting an autograph from Eddie Arcaro. The conversation shifts to a discussion about the book Johnny is working on, watching The Pelican Brief with Scarlett and Sam’s acting in it. Johnny talks about troubles with drugs, a visit from an old friend, and Sam reads a passage of his book.

Unlabeled, 1995. Tape 20, Side b. This side is a continuation of the discussion on the previous side. Johnny candidly talks with an unknown man about beds. The unknown man tells a story about working at a feed and pet store. Johnny talks about certain aspects of the way he was raised, what he likes about the character of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and why it is the book of choice amongst drug users. Johnny also talks about advice his mother gave him when he was younger.

"Best of the Ranch 1976, 1977 Mill Valley Calif.” Tape 21, Side a. No summary available.

Unlabeled. Tape 21, Side b. This side of tape is blank.

“81, Sam and John Sept 82.” Tape 22, Side a. No summary available.

“82,” circa 1982. Tape 22, Side b. No summary available.

"Sam 3/28/94, Mother’s death, meditation, Mr. Tilly.” Tape 23, Side a. No summary available.

Unlabeled. Tape 23, Side b. This side of tape is blank.

“Scarlett’s Stories.” Tape 24, Side a. No summary available.

“John and Sam, 84.” Tape 24, Side b. No summary available.

“Feb 1984 New Mexico Sam and Johnny.” Tape 25, Side a. No summary available.

Unlabeled. Tape 25, Side b. No summary available.

“Sam 11/22/94.” Tape 26, Side a. No summary available.

Unlabeled. Tape 26, Side b. No summary available.

Unlabeled. Tape 27, side a. No summary available.

"Sam 1, 1983.” Tape 27, Side b. No summary available.

"Avant- garde wacko.” Tape 28, Side a. This audiotape contains a conversation with Johnny, Sam and a friend about various and random topic such as their views on college and joining the military. They eventually bring out a guitar and write a song about an “avant- garde wacko.”

Unlabeled. Tape 28, Side b. This recording begins with Johnny, Sam and an unknown friend playing music on a piano, guitar and harmonica.

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