Famous Like Me > Writer > S > Glendon Swarthout
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Profile of Glendon Swarthout
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||8th April 1918
|Place of Birth:
||Pinckney, Michigan, USA
Glendon Fred Swarthout (1918–1992) was an American author and novelist who wrote a great variety of books.
Glendon Swarthout was born near Pinckney, Michigan, on April 8, 1918. Glendon was the only child of Fred and Lila Swarthout, a banker and a homemaker. Swarthout is a Dutch name from the area around Groningen, in the Netherlands, and his mother’s maiden name was Chubb, from English farmers out of Yorkshire. Glendon’s academic career was stellar, especially in English, and his writing aspirations were encouraged, for he was a high school debate champ. In math, however, he floundered, and only a kindly lady geometry teacher passed him with a D so that he could graduate from Lowell High School. He took accordion lessons and occupied his free time with books, for at 6 feet, 99 pounds, sports weren’t his forte. 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 a week.
Graduating in 1935, he moved down to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan and got into music more seriously, forming and singing lead for a four-piece band who played for the hops and three summers in a row at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids, the largest hotel in Michigan outside of Detroit. (The hotel was renamed the Grand Plaza Hotel in 1981 and still stands today.) He 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 Glendon was writing ad copy for Cadillac and Dow Chemical at the MacManus, John & Adams advertising agency in Detroit. After a year of that, Glendon decided the way to become a writer was to see the world as a journalist. So he signed up as a stringer for 22 small newspapers and headed off with his bride on a small freighter for South America, sending home a weekly column of their adventures. While in Barbados, they heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and tried immediately to get home, but it took them five roundabout months avoiding German U-boats to get up the East Coast to Manhattan.
Glendon was turned down for the Army’s Officer Candidate School due to being 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, Glendon 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, but Glendon realized it was a poor book, unworthy of his budding talents. He always acknowledged it as his training novel, though—a rite of passage all professional writers must go through.
He was fit enough for an infantry company, however, as the war wore on, and he enlisted in the Army and shipped out 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 ID labeled him a “writer” and division headquarters was looking for one. It was probably the luckiest break of his entire life. The 3rd Division exploded out of Anzio and took Rome, and Glendon later landed in the second wave at St. Tropez and saw his only combat for six days with the battle patrol, the advance, probing 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 famed 3rd was about to invade Germany, Glendon ruptured a disc in his spine while unloading a truck. He was shipped home a sergeant and eventually discharged without surgery and suffered back pain for the rest of his life. He eventually underwent back surgery on two imploded discs.
In his post-war years, Glendon returned to the University of Michigan, earning a Master’s degree and began to teach 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 ghosted speeches for Congressmen and wrote more unpublished fiction. A six-month sabbatical in Mexico produced yet another novel which he also didn’t find up to his rising standards, so he burned it to take a hot shower. That autumn, he began teaching at Michigan State University and over eight years earned his Ph.D. in Victorian literature in 1955, while Kathryn got her Master’s degree and a teaching certificate and commenced teaching children in the second grade.
Glendon 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, by the name of Seventh Cavalry. The day after he finished his last doctoral exam he started writing a novel called They Came To Cordura. Its setting was Mexico in 1916 during the Pershing Expedition to capture Pancho Villa, and some of its fictional cavalry troopers had been put up 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 bestseller and the movie money enabled Glendon to become a professional writer at last. He was 39 years old.
Back at the typewriter, he completed another novel while still teaching Honors English at Michigan State. Where The Boys Are 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 kids with beers in hand and hormones raging. MGM bought it immediately and that best-selling novel became the biggest grossing low-budget movie in the studio’s history. Glendon went on to write many more novels, some of which were made into films. He worked on the screenplay of only one, Cordura, at the studio in Los Angeles for six months, before moving the family out of freezing Michigan winters to the warmer climes of 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, too.
Besides the films actually made from his novels, several others have also been sold for filming but never made, among them: The Eagle And The Iron Cross (Sam Spiegel, 1968), The Tin Lizzie Troop (Paul Newman, 1977), and The Homesman (Paul Newman, 1988), as well as a number of film options, now lapsed, on his many stories. Besides a Hopwood Award and a Theatre Guild Award for his one play, Glendon 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), 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 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 of 1991.
After a long, distinguished writing career, world travel, and 51 happy years of marriage in a loving family, Glendon Swarthout died at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, on September 23, 1992, from emphysema due to his life-long smoking. His great storytelling legacy will live on through late-night television and in libraries around the world.
Still photos from Glendon's eight films and plot descriptions of all of his family's stories can be found on their more extensive literary website at www.glendonswarthout.com
Anyone born during the first quarter of the 20th century was inevitably marked by the great economic depression of the 1930s. Then WWII, like all wars, profoundly and permanently changed society. Both of these major influences color 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 roots of courage clearly grew out of 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 over spring break, and his hit Where The Boys Are (1960) definitely presaged the anti-war protests that erupted 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 biggest bestseller, Bless the Beasts & Children is a good example of this distinguishing literary trait. Another common theme running through his writings is his study of courage, the extraordinary heroism otherwise common, ordinary men are sometimes capable of, given the right circumstances. In setting free a doomed herd of buffalo, the group of mentally disturbed teenagers in Beasts echo the valor under harrowing conditions Glendon learned about first-hand, writing and researching Medal of Honor citations among his fellow soldiers on the Italian front during WWII. The tone of Swarthout’s writing is fundamentally dispassionate, however, and written in a clear, linear, pictorial style, which is why so many of his stories adapted well to film. Glendon 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, whose influence is clear in 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 juvenile novels with her husband and a number 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. Over forty years old now, 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 top five awards financially for undergraduate and graduate writing programs given annually at any colleges and universities in America.
Miles Hood Swarthout
Miles Swarthout is a screenwriter working in Hollywood, who received a Writers Guild nomination for Best Adaptation for The Shootist in 1976. Miles has adapted a number of his father's novels into films, among them A Christmas To Remember for CBS in 1978. As a journalist, Miles currently reviews Western films for the Western Writers of America’s bi-monthly magazine, The Roundup. He also 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 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 also 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 and it is still in print. Miles 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 of America as the Best First Western Novel of 2004 (TOR/Forge Books, still in print). He is currently at work on a sequel novel to his dad's famous Western, The Shootist.
Still photos from all the films Miles has been involved with as well as an excerpt from his Western novel and a plot description of The Sergeant's Lady can be found on the family's more complete literary website, www.milesswarthout.com
- 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 & Children (1970)
- The Tin Lizzie Troop (1972)
- Luck and Pluck (1973)
- The Shootist (1975)
- A Christmas Gift (a.k.a. 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, 1971 • 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
- Where the Boys Are '84 — Tri-Star, 1984 • Where the Boys Are '84 at the Internet Movie Database
- 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
- Glendon Swarthout official website — used by permission
- Michigan State University Press
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