John Kneubuhl

American Samoa The Wild Wild West Hawaii Five-O (1968 TV series)

John Alexander Kneubuhl
Born(1920-07-02)2 July 1920
Fagatogo, Pago Pago, American Samoa[a]
Died20 February 1992(1992-02-20) (aged 71)
Pago Pago, American Samoa
OccupationWriter and dramatist

John Alexander Kneubuhl (July 2, 1920 – February 20, 1992) was an American Samoan screenwriter, playwright and Polynesian historian. He wrote for American television series such as The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, The Wild Wild West, Star Trek, The Invaders and Hawaii Five-O. The son of a Samoan mother and an American father, Kneubuhl's multicultural heritage produced a distinctive artistic vision that formed the basis of his most powerful dramatic work.[1]

An accomplished playwright, Kneubuhl "was a bicultural Polynesian who used the medium of theater to explore identity, loneliness and the craft required to bring them to the stage".[2]


John Alexander Kneubuhl[3][4] was born in Fagatogo, Pago Pago or the village of Leone, in American Samoa.[a]

John Kneubuhl is the uncle of Samoan Hawaiian writer Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl[7] and Lemanatele Mark Kneubuhl[8] who lives in American Samoa.

Childhood to war

Raised in Leone until his early teens,[6][9] Kneubuhl was known as 'Sione Nupo' to his countrymen.[10] His mother, Atalina Pritchard from Apia, was educated in New Zealand, and was a talented pianist, singer and painter. His father Benjamin F. Kneubuhl was a navy surveyor from Iowa who settled in Samoa, and later became a successful businessman.[6][3][10]

At the age of 13, John Kneubuhl was sent off to enter Punahou School, Hawaii. He later studied under Thornton Wilder at Yale.[10]

He married "Dotsy" (Dorothy Schenk) in 1942,[6][10] and soon after entered the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado, Boulder.[11] When George H. Kerr was tasked to organize the second research unit of intelligence officers in 1944, aimed to gather information for compiling the Civil Affairs Handbook for Taiwan (Formosa),[12] Kneubuhl was one of the officers recruited into this unit.[11][13]


Returning to Hawaii in the mid-1940s, Kneubuhl won acclaim as a playwright with the Honolulu Community Theater, staging a play spoken in Hawaiian Pidgin English (The City is Haunted, 1947).[13] Kneubuhl was also part of the theater's 1948 version of Harry Brown's A Sound of Hunting adapted to include the heroic role played by the 442nd Infantry Regiment of enlisted nisei, received with great fervor by the Japanese-American community.[14][15] He was both screenwriter and director of the film Damien (1959), a biography of Father Damien that was based on his own play.[16][17][3]

He then moved on to Los Angeles to write for television. In 1965, inspired by a magazine article on Michael Dunn, Kneubuhl created the arch-villain Dr. Miguelito Loveless for the series The Wild Wild West.[3][18] The character became an immediate hit and Dunn appeared in ten episodes over four seasons. Kneubuhl wrote five of them.

Twenty years later he was back in Samoa, lecturing on Polynesian history and culture and writing plays, including the trilogy Think of a Garden: and other plays published by University of Hawaii Press. The other plays in the published trilogy were Mele Kanikau: A Pageant and the comedy A Play: A Play.

Kneubuhl died in Pago Pago, American Samoa, on February 20, 1992, the day before the first Samoan reading of his play "Think of a Garden" by his drama and writing group.


Kneubuhl's plays explore his Samoan heritage, culture and identity. In 1946, Kneubuhl wrote the play The Harp in the Willows based on the life of Lorenzo Lyons and This City Is Haunted (1947). He also wrote Mele Kanikau: A Pageant and the comedy A Play: A Play.

Think of a Garden, the last play Kneubuhl wrote before his death in 1992, has been called the most Samoan of Kneubuhl's plays-a candid look at the writer's bicultural upbringing that artfully weaves together family memory, history, and mysticism.[19]

Think of a Garden notes

Think of a Garden opens in American Samoa in 1929 during the tumultuous colonial era of Samoa's struggle for political independence during the non-violent Mau movement. The play centres around the Kreber family; a matriarchal Samoan wife Luisa, her American husband Frank, and their only son David. Events unfold to a dramatic climax with the shooting in Apia of Samoa's leader, Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III, a distant relative of Luisa, by the New Zealand constabulary. The play is partly autobiographical. Kneubuhl's play is a devastating critique of the New Zealand administration's mismanagement of Samoa during these events.[20]

The Samoan view of family, deference for the dead, behavior in times of mourning, even concepts of time - all are deftly etched beside the story of Samoa's early move toward independence. The effect is a story as textured as a fine mat.[20]

Think of a Garden premiered at Auckland's Watershed Theatre in February 1993. John had died a year earlier, the day before the play's first reading in Pago Pago by his writing and drama group. The Auckland premier was directed by Nathaniel Lees and produced by Ann Andrews. The cast included Lani Tupu as The Writer~, Jay Laga'aia as Lilo, Martyn Sanderson as the Brother Patrick and John Callen as Frank. It was staged in Taki Rua Theatre, Wellington in 1995. At the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards 1995 in Wellington, the 'Oscars' of New Zealand theatre, Think of a Garden won Production of the Year, Director of the Year, Taki Rua Production of the Year and Female in a Supporting Role award to Sima Urale[21] who played the role of Luisa. The cast included acclaimed New Zealand actor Martyn Sanderson, the director of the film Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree based on the novel by Samoan writer Albert Wendt.

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ a b Born in Fagatogo according to his own declaration:[5][6] other sources say born and raised in Leone.[3]



Year Film Credit Notes
1956 Hart of Honolulu Screenplay By Based on a Story by "Louis L'Amour"
1958 The Screaming Skull Screenplay By, Produced By Based on the short story by "Francis Marion Crawford"
The True Story of Lynn Stuart Written By
1959 Doctor Mike Written By
1965 Two on a Guillotine Screenplay By Co-Wrote screenplay with "Henry Slesar"
1968 The Sunshine Patriot Screenplay By Television Movie, Co-Wrote screenplay with "Gustave Field" and "Joel Rogosin"


Year TV Series Credit Notes
1953 Your Favorite Story Writer 1 Episode
1954 Rheingold Theater Writer 1 Episode
1955 TV Reader's Digest Writer 1 Episode
Fireside Theatre Writer 2 Episodes
Waterfront Writer 5 Episodes
1955-56 Climax! Writer 3 Episodes
Medic Writer 10 Episodes
1956 Front Row Center Writer 2 Episodes
General Electric Theater Writer 1 Episode
1956-57 West Point Writer 4 Episodes
1957 Harbor Command Writer 1 Episode
1957-58 Suspicion Writer 2 Episodes
1958 Studio 57 Writer 2 Episodes
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Writer 2 Episodes
Target Writer 1 Episode
Flight Writer 1 Episode
Lux Playhouse Writer 1 Episode
1958-62 Have Gun – Will Travel Writer 2 Episodes
1959 Behind Closed Doors Writer 1 Episode
1959-60 Markham Writer 5 Episodes
1959-61 Adventures In Paradise Writer 6 Episodes
1960 Checkmate Writer 1 Episode
1960-62 Thriller Writer 5 Episodes
1961 Dr. Kildare Writer 1 Episode
1961-62 Alcoa Premiere Writer 2 Episodes
1962 The Beachcomber Writer 1 Episode
1962-63 Kraft Mystery Theater Writer 2 Episodes
1962-65 Wagon Train Writer 5 Episodes
1963 GE True Writer 5 Episodes
1963-64 Gunsmoke Writer 2 Episodes
1964 Ben Casey Writer 1 Episode
1965-67 The Wild Wild West Writer 8 Episodes
1966 Felony Squad Writer 1 Episode
The Fugitive Writer 5 Episodes
1967 The Invaders Writer 2 Episodes
Iron Horse Writer 1 Episode
1968 Hawaii Five-O Writer 1 Episode
Star Trek Writer 1 Episode (Uncredited)
1969 The Virginian Writer 1 Episode
1970 Ironside Writer 1 Episode
Mannix Writer 1 Episode


  1. ^ "Trout3: John Kneubuhl". Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Johnson (1997), "Portrait", in: Think of a Garden and Other Plays, p. 251
  3. ^ a b c d e Orr, Stanley (2017), "Welcome to the Fabled South: John Kneubuhl's Global Southern Gothic, 1959–1966", Small-Screen Souths: Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television, LSU Press, pp. 290–, ISBN 0-80716-716-9
  4. ^ Kneubuhl (2002) Oral History Interview, pp. 1, 54
  5. ^ Kneubuhl (2002) Oral History Interview, p. 54
  6. ^ a b c d Sutter, Frederic Koehler (1989). "John Kneubuhl". The Samoans: A Global Family. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 211. ISBN 0-82481-238-7.
  7. ^ "Ka Wai Ola Newspaper | Office of Hawaiian Affairs". Archived from the original on October 5, 2013. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  8. ^ "Huia Publishers - Maori, Pacific, New Zealand books". June 24, 2013. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  9. ^ Kam, Nadine (November 3, 1998). "MELE: Hawaiian language takes center stage". Honolulu Star-Bulletin Features. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d Johnson (1997), "Portrait", in: Think of a Garden and Other Plays, pp. 251–253
  11. ^ a b Sensui, Hidekazu 泉水英計 (2013), "米海軍軍政学校における台湾研究 : 台北二二八紀念館所蔵カー文書による再構成" [Taiwan Studies in the United States Naval School for Military Government : A Reconstruction from Collection of George H. Kerr Papers in Taipei 228 Peace Memorial Museum] (PDF), Annual report - International Center for Folk Culture Studies Kanagawa University (in Japanese) (5): 83–100
  12. ^ Cowan, Laing Gray (1954). A History of the School of International Affairs and Associated Area Institutes, Columbia University. Columbia University Press. p. 15.
  13. ^ a b Johnson (1997), p. 254.
  14. ^ Johnson (1997), p. 255.
  15. ^ Kneubuhl, John (1948). "Theater in the Pacific". Paradise of the Pacific. 60 (12): 4–5.
  16. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third series: Motion Pictures and Filmstrips. 4: parts 12–13. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. 1950. p. 10.
  17. ^ Gevinson, Alan, ed. (1997). America Film Institute Catalog:Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960. University of California Press. pp. 248–249.
  18. ^ Kneubuhl (2002) Oral History Interview, p. 121
  19. ^ "University of Hawaii Press". Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  20. ^ a b Johnson (1997), "Portrait", in: Think of a Garden and Other Plays, p. 258
  21. ^ Owen Baxter (October 20, 2005). "Theatre Aotearoa". Retrieved October 4, 2013.