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Juanita Bartlett

Many writers have influenced how I write. Vonnegut taught me about perspective, Hesse taught me character development. M�rquez taught me the importance of painting the reader into the moment. Dialogue is trickier, because my sense of it came from someone I don’t know all that well. What I can say is that it came from “The Rockford Files”.

Recently, my life partner thought it might be fun to rent some episodes on CD, which are available now. I winced. Could anything from the early 70s really hold up? Wouldn’t this be a blur of bad fashion and strange lingo?

Thankfully, I was wrong. “The Rockford Files” is television for the ages, something that transcends the troubled times melting into a quiet desperation hidden under a big party that was America in 1974. James Garner plays a character who does the right thing even in wrong circumstances, and is tough, loyal, and resourceful. The dialogue is snappy, pointed, and witty without being distracting. I could tell immediately that this had a big influence on my young self.

Who wrote this dialogue? Who made these characters come alive? The scripts were written by many people, so it was hard to say who my teacher was. After some consideration and reading on the ‘net, I decided that the Senior Story Consultant and later Executive Producer Juanita Bartlett had to be the one responsible.

Who is Juanita Bartlett? Search after search proved fruitless. There is no bio and no picture of her anywhere on the internet. Her IMDb credits start with the 1971 Garner vehicle “Nichols”, and end rather abruptly in 1991 with “In the Heat of the Night”, save several “Rockford” movies stretching to 1999. She arrived on the scene, wrote some great stuff, and left. That was that.

It’s not unusual for writers to go uncredited, so I can imagine there is more out there. What surprises me is that there is not a single mention of any other writing career, such as being a reporter or novelist, which comes up in the searches. She is a ghost, a player who comes and goes very quickly. Did she merely value her time away from Hollywood, living somewhat reclusively to stay protect her private life? Was “Juanita Bartlett” merely a pseudonym?

I have two main theories.

The first is that she was a relatively obscure friend of James Garner who he insisted work on his shows. After all, her first break was his first comeback attempt after “Maverick”. James Garner, the man, is remarkably like James Rockford, the character, in his deep sense of loyalty and corresponding need to surround himself with people he trusts.

The second is more complicated, and does not preclude the first. The fandango database confuses Juanita Bartlett with Martine Bartlett, an actress who is probably best known today as the mother of Sybil, the schizophrenic, in the 1976 TV movie. Her career was definitely taking a nosedive by 1971, when she was 46 years old. Is it possible that she went into writing under a different name, possibly her real one? An older woman writing these scripts would explain the tender but trying relationship Rockford had with his father, Rocky, and it also gives us a connection to the Dashiell Hammett era of potboiler detective stories and the style of dialogue they employed. More interestingly, Martine’s father was a lawyer, which explains the number of episodes that turned on an obscure point of law. Sadly, it falls apart on one point: if Martine and Juanita are the same, she was one busy woman around 1974. It seems unlikely.

There are a few more tidbits to consider. Juanita Bartlett appears in an ESPN documentary on Bart Starr, probably because Bryan Bartlett Starr was a cousin. Two obits are listed under Juanita Bartlett: one on 3 March 2007 as a 91 year old in Oklahoma City with no mention of any writing work, and a sketchier 2006 one in Roanoke, Virginia.

Who was this person who had a major influence on my life and my writing? It’s hard to say. I want to respect her privacy, if that’s why she is hard to find, but if it was the nature of teevee production that thrust her into obscurity she deserves better.

What I can say is that in order to find her, I’ll have to use all the skills portrayed by Jim Rockford. This blog entry is my way of hitting the street. Have you seen this woman? Tell her if you do that I want to thank her, and if there’s more to the story I’d like to hear it. Thanks.

11 thoughts on “Juanita Bartlett

  1. Dude,

    Theory #1 seems closest. JB was brought in and mentored by Meta Rosenberg (now deceased) who was James Garner’s agent and a Rockford Files principal. When you research Meta you will find that James Garner really respected Meta and by connection JB as well.

    Good Luck in your quest.

  2. Theory #1 is true to the extent that James Garner’s best work was an ensemble effort. The same people…not just actors, but writers directors, and producers…come up again and again.

    Juanita Bartlett (I’m sure this is a pen name) started out as a secretary to Meta Rosenberg. There was a profile of her in TV Guide sometime during Rockford Files long run, which describes how she came to be a screenwriter.

    I share your enthusiasm. Back in the day, I’d watch the opening credits of Rockford Files (later other shows) to see who the screewriter was. If it was Juanita, I’d watch.

  3. I don’t know if this will help but an autograph site is auctioning off a check endorsed by her and her middle initial is ‘L’.

  4. Pingback: Character Development « Barataria – the work of Erik Hare

  5. Juanita Bartlett is obviously a pseudonym for another writer, without a doubt a male writer. There is NO WAY a woman wrote the narrative and dialogue in the Bartlett-identified scripts. I’ve read a bunch of them closely. They are obviously written by a man. The tone is unmistakably male. Cannell knows who “she” is — if he’s listening, how about filling us in?

  6. Although the late Mr. Cannell’s office has denied it, I still stand on my conviction that Juanita Bartlett is a pseudonym for another writer who, for contractual reasons, did not disclose his true identity. Roy Huggins, after all, used John Thomas James as a pseudonym many times throughout his TV writing career. Why at this late hour someone would not step forward and reveal Bartlett’s true identity is a mystery to me, but perhaps residual payments are still involved. My guess is that “Juanita” was then under contract to another studio and was perhaps moonlighting on Cannell’s projects. How else can you explain the complete absence of the Bartlett presence on the Internet.

    • I worked for Juanita Bartlett as a personal assistant for four years while she lived on Martha’s Vineyard and she was indeed very real. A very intelligent, creative and fun person to have gotten to know. I loved the Hollywood stories that she shared.

  7. Ron, I haven’t revisited this in a long time. All I can say is that whoever she is (and I’m going with “she” for a lot of reasons, mostly the touching roles for Rocky) she clearly wants her privacy for some reason that has held up a very long time. I have to respect that and let the mystery be.

    However, I would like nothing more than a chance to meet her and say “Thank you” for putting a fire under me when I was a kid. I know I would not care about dialogue as much as I do if it hadn’t been for my chance to learn from the master, every Friday night!

  8. Juanita Bartlett was my high school English teacher in the 60s in Colorado. As I understand it, she went to Arizona to teach and then on to Hollywood, where she started writing and later producing. She was an excellent teacher, who was able to get us into character studies and writing for those characters.

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