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Dale Eunson, 97; Prolific Writer of Stories, Scripts Focused on Frontier

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dale Eunson, who for seven decades successfully wrote nearly anything that fit on paper--short stories, novels, plays, motion picture scripts and teleplays--has died. He was 97.

Eunson died Feb. 20 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills of causes associated with aging.

A child of the frontier, Eunson mined his rich background for many of his best-loved works. They included the true story of his father, Robbie, who as a 12-year-old newly orphaned son of Scottish immigrants trudged through the Wisconsin snows on Christmas Eve of 1868 to find good homes for his five younger siblings. The tale became a Christmas magazine story, a children’s novel, a motion picture, a television movie and a radio narrative.

That charming novel, “The Day They Gave Babies Away,” was not Eunson’s first but certainly became one of his most popular efforts. Published in 1946, it was reprinted in 1970 and was still popular in 1991, when one reviewer suggested a paperback version as a last-minute Christmas stocking stuffer, calling it “no-frills prose perfect for reading aloud.”

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In 1957, Eunson co-scripted the movie made from the book, “All Mine to Give,” starring Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns.

Eunson told of his Montana sheep ranch childhood in two other books, the novel “Homestead” in 1934, and a children’s book of reminiscences, “Up On the Rim” in 1970. A Times reviewer commented on the latter: “It is a tribute to Eunson’s skill and loving memory of those bygone years that his work achieves such a pleasing, entertaining quality. To read this book is to return, however briefly, to a vanished America of emotion and events recollected in tranquillity and to values and certainties that made those pioneer years so critical in our history.”

In 1989, Eunson turned a longtime friendship into another popular novel about two boyhood pals from Montana and their intertwined lives, “Philip’s Chair,” with one boy clearly his alter ego. A Times reviewer wrote, “Eunson writes fluently, highly literately, with delightful and often sly humor, and with painstaking insight.... Trust me, ‘Philip’s Chair’ will enthrall you.”

Moving to Los Angeles with his father and stepmother in the early 1920s, Eunson attended USC for one year but dropped out for lack of money. He worked as a publicist for movie studios and then became secretary to novelist and George Washington biographer Rupert Hughes. Some might question who worked for whom, because Hughes became a nurturing mentor, encouraging Eunson to rewrite his short stories and helping him sell them to New York magazines.

Hughes also recommended the young man in 1930 as secretary to Ray Long, editor of the Cosmopolitan magazine. Eunson rose quickly, becoming associate editor in 1933 and then fiction editor as well as freelance contributor.

“I guess I never was a really good secretary,” Eunson said to The Times in 1933. “So my bosses were always encouraging me, helping me to do something else.”

In 1931, Eunson married writer Katherine Albert and, until her death in 1970, collaborated with her on Broadway plays, including “Loco,” and 1950s movie scripts, including “On the Loose,” starring their daughter, Joan Evans. Other films were “Sabre Jet,” starring Robert Stack, and “The Star,” featuring Bette Davis.

The couple also penned several dozen television scripts for such shows as “Leave It to Beaver” and “Little House on the Prairie.”

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With Hagar Wilde, Eunson also co-wrote the Broadway play “Guest in the House” in 1942, which was made into the movie of the same title two years later starring Ralph Bellamy and Anne Baxter; and the play “Public Relations” starring Broadway actress Elaine Stritch.

Eunson’s solo writing included not only his books but some 50 short stories published in various magazines.

Widowed again in 1993 by the death of his second wife, artist Berenice Tolins Dratler, Eunson is survived by his daughter; two stepchildren, Lynne Finney and Jay Dratler Jr.; two grandchildren; and one great-grandson.


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