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Glendon Fred Swarthout (April 8, 1918, near Pinckney, Michigan – September 23, 1992, Scottsdale, Arizona) was an American writer. One of his best known novels was made into a film of the same title, Where the Boys Are, along with The Shootist which was made into the 1976 John Wayne film of the same name, Wayne's last cinematic appearance.
Glendon Swarthout was the only child of Fred and Lila Swarthout, a banker and a homemaker. Swarthout is a Dutch name and his mother’s maiden name was Chubb, from English farmers of Yorkshire. Swarthout’s academic career was excellent, especially in English, and his writing aspirations were encouraged, for he was a Michigan high school debate champion.
In math, however, he floundered, and only a kindly lady geometry teacher passed him with a D so that he could graduate from Lowell, Michigan High School. He took accordion lessons and occupied his free time with books, for at 6 feet, 99 pounds, he was not good at sports. The summer of his junior year he got a job playing his instrument in the resort town of Charlevoix, on Lake Michigan, with Jerry Schroeder and his Michigan State College Orchestra, for ten dollars per week.
Graduating in 1935, he relocated to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. He became more seriously involved in music, forming and singing lead for a four-piece band that played for hops and for three consecutive summers at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids, the largest hotel in Michigan outside of Detroit.
Glendon majored in English at the U. of M., pledged Chi Phi, and dated Kathryn Vaughn, whom he had met when he was thirteen and she twelve, at her family’s cottage on Duck Lake, outside of Albion, Michigan. They were married on December 28, 1940, after both had graduated from the U. of M. and Swarthout was writing ad copy for Cadillac and Dow Chemical at the MacManus, John & Adams advertising agency in Detroit.
After a year in the advertising business, Swarthout decided the way to become a writer was to see the world as a journalist. So he signed as a stringer for 22 small newspapers and travelled with his bride on a small freighter to South America, sending home a weekly column of their adventures. While in Barbados, they heard Pearl Harbor had been bombed and tried immediately to get to the States, but it took them five roundabout months avoiding German U-boats to cruise the East Coast to Manhattan.
Swarthout was refused for the Army’s Officer Candidate School because he was underweight at 117 pounds, so the couple both went to work at Willow Run, the new bomber plant outside of Ann Arbor. Working long days as a riveter on B-24s, he wrote his first novel at night in six months. Willow Run, a story about people working in a bomber factory, was published after a rewrite to mediocre reviews. He always acknowledged his first fiction as his training novel.
He was fit enough for an infantry company, however, as the war wore on, and he enlisted in the Army and shipped for Naples as a replacement for the 3rd Division, Audie Murphy’s already war-weary outfit. Awaiting the Anzio breakout on the beach in Italy, he was called out of the line, for his Army identification labeled him a “writer” and division headquarters was looking for one. The 3rd Division moved out of Anzio and captured Rome, and Swarthout later landed in the second wave at St. Tropez and saw his only combat for six days with the battle patrol, the advance, probing scout troops of the division, getting eyewitness statements for a couple of posthumous Medals of Honor as the unit moved rapidly north into France. When the 3rd Division was about to invade Germany, Swarthout ruptured a disc in his spine while unloading a truck. He was shipped home a Sergeant and eventually discharged without surgery. Glendon suffered back pain for the rest of his life and received military disability. He eventually had back surgery in Arizona in his fifties on two imploded spinal discs.
In his post-war years, Swarthout returned to the University of Michigan, earned a Master’s degree, and began teaching college. During that time his son Miles was born and he won a Hopwood Award for $800 for another novel, promoting him to the University of Maryland for a couple of years where he ghost-wrote speeches for Congressmen and wrote more unpublished fiction. That autumn, he began teaching at Michigan State University and during eight years in East Lansing earned his Ph.D. in Victorian literature in 1955, while his wife got her Master’s degree and a teaching certificate and commenced teaching children in the second grade.
Swarthout also began to sell short stories to national publications like Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post. He was paid $2500 in 1955 for one of these stories, “A Horse for Mrs. Custer,” which became a Randolph Scott low-budget Western for Columbia Pictures in 1956, under the title 7th Cavalry. The day after he finished his last doctoral examination he started writing a novel called They Came To Cordura. Its setting was Mexico of 1916 during the Pershing Expedition to capture Pancho Villa, and some of its fictional cavalry troopers had been nominated for Medals of Honor for their valor during the actual last mounted cavalry charge the U. S. Army ever conducted. The book was quickly sold to Random House and then to Columbia Pictures in 1958, becoming one of their major motion pictures starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth a year later. This NY Times bestseller and the movie money enabled Swarthout to become a professional writer at last. He was 39 years old.
He completed another novel while teaching Honors English at Michigan State. Where The Boys Are (1960) was set on the Michigan State campus and was the first comic novel about the annual "spring break" invasion of the beaches of southern Florida by America’s college students. MGM's movie version became the highest grossing low-budget movie in the studio’s history.
Swarthout went on to write many more novels, some of which were made into movies. He worked on the screenplay of only one, Cordura, at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles for six months, before moving from Michigan to Arizona, where he continued to teach English at Arizona State University for four years before retiring to write full-time. Many of his novels were set in either Michigan or Arizona, and some utilized his war experiences.
Besides the movies actually made from his novels, several others have also been sold for filming but never made; these include The Eagle And The Iron Cross (Sam Spiegel, 1968) and The Tin Lizzie Troop (Paul Newman, 1977), as well as a number of movie options, now lapsed, on his many stories. Besides a Hopwood Award and a Theatre Guild Award for his one play, Swarthout was twice nominated by his publishers for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (for They Came To Cordura by Random House and Bless The Beasts & Children by Doubleday), he received an O. Henry Prize Short Story nomination (in 1960 for “A Glass of Blessings”), a Gold Medal from the National Society of Arts and Letters in 1972, won Spur Awards for Best Western Novel of the Year from the Western Writers of America for The Shootist (1976) and The Homesman, a Wrangler Award for Best Western Novel of 1988 for The Homesman from the Western Heritage Association, and finally the Western Writers’ Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (previously known as National Cowboy Hall of Fame) in Oklahoma City in June 1991. The Shootist was the basis of John Wayne's final film in 1976 and has since come to be recognized as a classic Western film and one of the Duke's very best. His British publisher (Secker & Warburg) once characterized Glendon as having "the widest writing range" of any American novelist he could think of. From gunfighting Westerns The Shootist to the first of "the beach pictures," Where The Boys Are, from satires like The Cadillac Cowboys, to tragedies like Welcome To Thebes, or the first historical adventure about the American Pershing Expedition into Mexico, They Came To Cordura, or a mystery/thriller like Skeletons, even a period romance like Loveland, or an animal rights/environmental tale such as Bless the Beasts & Children, science fiction was about the only literary genre he didn't attempt. Plus Hollywood surely did love his plot-heavy tales.
Glendon was inducted into the Western Writers Hall of Fame at their convention in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2008. The WWA's Hall of Fame is in the library of the famous Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming.
Anyone born during the first quarter of the 20th century was inevitably marked by the great economic depression of the 1930s. Then World War II profoundly and permanently changed society. Both of these major influences affect Glendon Swarthout’s 16 novels, particularly those set in the Midwest. Welcome to Thebes (1962), Loveland (1968) and Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming (1994) depict how the problems of adults affect their children, especially youth trying to adapt to an adult world. Although They Came to Cordura (1958) is set in Mexico at the time of the 1916 border dispute with Pancho Villa, its analysis of the nature of courage was influenced by Swarthout’s wartime experiences. Teaching freshman honors English classes gave Swarthout insight into the mating rituals of college students on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale during spring break, and his hit Where The Boys Are (1960) definitely presaged the anti-war protests that occurred on American college campuses later in the decade. A Christmas Gift (1977, also known as The Melodeon) is an exception to Glendon’s other work in several respects. It suggests a farewell tribute to his Michigan ancestors and his awareness of their tradition of understanding and concern for others.
With the conspicuous exception of A Christmas Gift, all of Swarthout’s novels are infused with a sardonic spirit, usually in respect to examples of the cruelty and viciousness of which man is capable. His greatest bestseller, Bless the Beasts and Children is a good example of this distinguishing literary trait. Another common theme of his writings is his study of courage, the extraordinary heroism of which otherwise common, ordinary men are sometimes capable, given the right circumstances. In setting free a doomed herd of buffalo, the group of mentally disturbed teenagers in Beasts demonstrate valor during harrowing conditions. The style of Swarthout’s writing is fundamentally dispassionate, however, and written in a clear, linear, pictorial style, which is why so many of his stories were adapted well to film. Swarthout was a great admirer of Somerset Maugham (whom he studied along with Ernest Hemingway and Joyce Cary as part of his doctoral thesis in Literature) and humorist Charles Portis, who influenced his writing.
Kathryn Vaughn Swarthout
Kathryn Swarthout, the widow of Glendon and mother of Miles, was a former elementary school teacher for five years at Red Cedar School in East Lansing, Michigan, after earning her Master’s in Education at Michigan State University, and B.A. in English from the University of Michigan.
She co-wrote six young adult novels with her husband and several of them have been published overseas. Kathryn was also a columnist for Woman's Day magazine with her free-form poetry, Lifesavors, which ran in the magazine for over twenty years. Some of these columns were published in a book of the same title by Doubleday in 1982.
In 1962, Glendon and Kathryn established the Swarthout Writing Prizes at Arizona State University, administered by the English Department in Tempe. These six prizes in both poetry and fiction (with a current top prize of $2700 in each category), have grown until they now rank among the five highest awards financially for undergraduate and graduate writing programs given annually at any college or university in America. Kathryn Swarthout still lives in their longtime home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Miles Swarthout is a screenwriter living in Playa Del Rey, California, near the beach and LAX. He received a Writers Guild nomination for Best Adaptation for The Shootist in 1976 (the film starred John Wayne and Lauren Bacall). He has adapted a number of his father's novels into films, among them A Christmas to Remember for CBS in 1978, which starred Joanne Woodward, Jason Robards, and Eva Marie Saint. As a journalist, Miles writes a Hollywood Western film column for the Western Writers of America’s bi-monthly magazine, The Roundup. He won a Stirrup Award from that organization for “The Duke’s Last Ride, the Making of The Shootist,” the best article to appear in that publication in 1994.
Miles Swarthout has also written several articles for Persimmon Hill, the quarterly magazine of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, among them “The Westerns of Glendon Swarthout” in the special summer issue from 1996, "Hollywood and the West", as well as in the sequel to this best-selling issue for spring 2000, “America’s First Cinema Cowboy: William S. Hart”.
Miles edited the only volume of his late father's 14 short stories, Easterns and Westerns, which included an extensive overview of Glendon’s literary career. Michigan State University Press published Easterns and Westerns in hard cover in the summer of 2001. Miles Swarthout also wrote The Sergeant's Lady, based upon one of his late father's old short stories, and this new novel won the Spur Award from the Western Writers as the Best First Western Novel of 2004.
- Willow Run (1943)
- They Came to Cordura (1958)
- Where the Boys Are (1960)
- Welcome to Thebes (1962)
- The Cadillac Cowboys (1964)
- The Eagle and the Iron Cross (1966)
- Loveland (1968)
- Bless the Beasts and Children (1970)
- The Tin Lizzie Troop (1972)
- Luck and Pluck (1973)
- The Shootist (1975)
- A Christmas Gift (also known as The Melodeon) (1977)
- Skeletons (1979)
- The Old Colts (1985)
- The Homesman (1988)
- Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming (1994, posthumous)
- Easterns and Westerns (2001) (short story collection), edited by Miles Hood Swarthout
Films from Swarthout’s books
- 7th Cavalry — Columbia Pictures, 1956 • 7th Cavalry at the Internet Movie Database
- They Came to Cordura — Columbia Pictures, 1959 • They Came to Cordura at the Internet Movie Database
- Where the Boys Are — MGM, 1960 • Where the Boys Are at the Internet Movie Database
- Bless the Beasts & Children — Columbia Pictures, 1972 • Bless the Beasts & Children at the Internet Movie Database
- The Shootist — Paramount, 1976 • The Shootist at the Internet Movie Database
- A Christmas to Remember — CBS, 1978 • A Christmas to Remember at the Internet Movie Database
- The Homesman, 2014.
- O. Henry Prize short story (nomination), 1960
- National Society of Arts and Letters gold medal, 1972
- Spur Award, Best Western Novel of 1975, The Shootist, Western Writers of America
- Spur Award, Best Western Novel of 1988, The Homesman, Western Writers of America
- Wrangler Award, Best Western Novel of 1988, The Homesman, Western Heritage Association
- Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement, Western Writers of America, 1991
- Induction into the Western Writers Hall of Fame in the library of the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, 2008