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Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection

Identifier: SWWC-106

Scope and Contents

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. Terminology Notes for the correspondence: ALS Autograph [handwritten] Letter Signed (AL = Autograph Letter)

TLS Typed Letter Signed (TL = Typed Letter)


  • 1972-2011


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical Notes

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).


3.5 Linear Feet

8 boxes

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.


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.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 2011.

Related Materials

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.

Guide to the Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark Collection
Processed by Katie Salzmann
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Susannah Broyles.

Repository Details

Part of the The Wittliff Collections Repository

601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA