The Swarthouts

Glendon Swarthout

One of the first families of American letters, Glendon, Kathryn, and their son Miles have all distinguished themselves writing in various fields in the latter half of the 20th century.

Novelist father Glendon wrote 16 novels, some of which became bestsellers made into motion pictures. Among them were Seventh Cavalry (Columbia Pictures, 1956) starring Randolph Scott and Barbara Hale; They Came To Cordura (Columbia, 1959) starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth; Where The Boys Are (MGM, 1960) starring George Hamilton and Paula Prentiss; Bless The Beasts & Children (Columbia, 1972) starring Billy Mumy; The Shootist (Paramount Pictures, 1976) starring John Wayne and Lauren Bacall; and A Christmas To Remember (CBS TV, 1978) starring Joanne Woodward and Jason Robards.

Book reviewers and critics of "serious" literature occasionally accused Glendon of writing for Hollywood, since he had sold or optioned so many of his stories for films, but in an interview he gave later in his life to the Los Angeles Times, he answered this high-brow slur. "I do not write for the movies. I've been accused of it and I deny it. I do plead guilty to writing stories with a beginning, middle and end. I write a linear story, without a lot of flashbacks or interior monologues, what a character is thinking or feeling, and I suppose these plot-strong tales of mine convert more readily into images than a more 'literary' novel."

His long-time British publisher, Tom Rosenthal, once called Glendon the writer "with the widest range of any American novelist he knew of," and just studying the brief list of titles above bears that description out. From Westerns about dying gunfighters to Christmas stories to contemporary comedies to a college-set drama which became the first and most famous of all the "beach pictures," there is just no classifying the creative works of Glendon Swarthout, no one pigeon-hole to put him into. He once said that he wanted to try all the genres (except science fiction), to experiment with all forms of fiction, for with a B.A., a Master's degree, and a Ph.D. in English literature, he knew almost too much about literary history and was constantly trying to match himself against the best writers of all time.

Glendon Swarthout's Biography (click on for more information)

Born near Pinckney, Michigan, on the 8th of April, 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', 99 lbs., 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 "hops" and three summers in a row at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids, the largest hotel in Michigan outside of Detroit. He majored in English at the U. of M., pledged Chi Phi, and dated Kathryn Vaughn, who he had met when he was thirteen and she twelve, at her folks' 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 Chemicals at MacManus, John & Adams 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 twenty-two 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 OCS due to still being lightweight at 117 lbs, 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-24's, Glendon wrote his first novel at night in six months. Willow Run, about people working in a bomber factory, was published after a rewrite to okay reviews, but Glendon realized it was a lousy 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 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, 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 spinal discs.

In his post-war years, Glendon returned to the University of Michigan, earning a Master's and began to teach college. His son 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 Congressmen's speeches and wrote more unpublished fiction. A six months' sabbatical in Mexico produced yet another novel which he also didn't find up to his rising standards, so he burned that manuscript 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 2nd grade.

Glendon began to sell short stories to national publications like Cosmopolitan and Saturday Evening Post. He was paid $2000 in 1955 for one of these stories, "A Horse For Mrs. Custer," which became a Randolph Scott low-budget Western for Columbia Pictures the following year (see 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 (see film listings). This bestseller and the movie money enabled Glendon to become a professional writer at last. He was thirty-nine 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 that famous 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, They Came To Cordura, at Columbia Pictures 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 in 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 Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in June of 1991.

After a long, distinguished writing career, world travel, and fifty-one 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.


Anyone born during the first quarter of the 20th century was inevitably marked by the great economic depression of the 1930's; then WW II, 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) and 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 Ft. Lauderdale over spring break, and his hit Where The Boys Are (1960) definitely presaged the anti-war protests which 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 WW II. 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 (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.

Glendon Swarthout's novels  (click on these titles for more information)

Glendon's Plays  (click on for more information)

Further Sources about Glendon Swarthout

  • Contemporary Novelists, 4th edition, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1986, pgs. 795-797.

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 35, pgs. 398-404.

  • Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol.1 Detroit, Gale Research, 1981, p.647.

  • Who's Who In America, 46th edition, 1990-91, vol.2 MacMillan, 1990, p.3205.

  • Contemporary Authors, First Revision, Volumes 41-44. (reference for Kathryn Swarthout)

  • "What Price Hollywood," by Edwin McDowell, New York Times News Service.

  • "A World Where Heroes Still Exist," by Don Dedera, Calendar, Los Angeles Sunday Times, August 14, 1988.

  • "The Westerns of Glendon Swarthout," by Miles Hood Swarthout, Persimmon Hill, Spring, 1996, vol.24, number 1, pgs. 68-75.

Kathryn Swarthout

With his former grade school teacher wife Kathryn, they wrote 6 "juveniles," among which currently Whichaway is out in a new, revised edition from Northland Publishing. Another novella, The Button Boat, was chosen by the New York Times Review of Books as one of the 20 Best Books for Children published in 1969. In 1972 the National Society of Arts and Letters awarded Glendon a Gold Medal and Kathryn a Certificate of Merit for their accomplishments in American literature.

Glendon and Kathryn Swarthouts' books for young adults 

(click on these titles for more information)

Kathryn Swarthout's Biography  (click on for more information)

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. Fifty years old now, these six prizes in both poetry and fiction (with a current top prize of $2300 in each category), have grown until they now rank among the top five cash prizes financially for undergraduate and graduate writing programs at all the colleges and universities in America.

Lifesavors, a collection of Kathryn Swarthout's favorite free-form illustrated poems from a dozen years worth of columns running in Woman's Day Magazine.

Doubleday ISBN 0-385-17275-3

Miles Swarthout

Son Miles was a screenwriter working in Hollywood until his death in 2016. He received a Writers Guild nomination for Best Adaptation for The Shootist in 1976. Miles adapted a number of his father's novels into films, among them A Christmas To Remember for CBS in 1978, some of them owned by actors or studios but unmade, others are still available, including a number of original screenplays and teleplays for possible TV series. As a journalist, Miles wrote a Hollywood Western column 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 also wrote 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 spring 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' interview with novelist Ron Hansen discussing the making of that author's novel-to-film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, ran in the Winter, 2006 issue of Persimmon Hill.

Miles edited a 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 this book is still in print and available. The first few pages of Miles' Spur Award-winning novel, The Sergeant's Lady, are also reprinted here. This 2003 Spur-winning Western novel is available in hard cover and paperback from on-line used booksellers like,, and Barnes and Noble's used books website.

Opening pages of Miles' new novel  

(click on for more information)

Miles' original screenplays 

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Miles' adaptations of Glendon Swarthout's stories 

(click on for more information)

Miles Swarthout's Biography  (click on for more information)

Miles was the only child of Glendon and Kathryn, and a writer himself. At the age of six in East Lansing, Michigan, he was composing rhymes and a few years later illustrating (badly) his own comic books. Perhaps it was inevitable after being force-fed the classics of English literature while still in short pants that he became a writer in this little family nest of authors. English was his best subject in high school in Arizona and he subsequently received his B.A. in English literature from Claremont McKenna College in California. Thereafter, a year spent as a VISTA Volunteer at Acoma Pueblo (the fabled "City In the Sky") outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, was followed by six months as commercial copywriter and part-time DJ at a rock radio station in Phoenix. After a lengthy cruise with his parents to Australia and New Zealand, he went back to grad school, getting an M.A. in Telecommunications at the University of Southern California and minoring in film studies at USC's famed film school.

Back in his hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, Miles began writing scripts while teaching film history and screenwriting at Scottsdale Community College. At the same time he was fashion modeling and starring in local TV commercials (Hi Health Stores, real estate developments) and driving General Motors test cars for their sales videos. His head wasn't into acting, though, and he moved behind the camera permanently after his author father allowed him to adapt his latest novel, a Western entitled The Shootist, on spec. The book and screenplay sold in a package to Frankovich Productions and Dino de Laurentiis, and the subsequent film starring John Wayne launched Miles into Hollywood's orbit. By then he had founded the first screenwriting course in Arizona State University's Creative Writing Program, while adapting his second assignment, his dad's family Christmas story, The Melodeon, for Joanne Woodward and CBS. This became A Christmas To Remember on the Eye network in 1978, which still appears occasionally in holiday TV reruns.

Finishing his first original screenplay, Hard Travelin', Miles moved back to Los Angeles in the early 80's, spending several early years there teaching a screenwriting class he also founded at his alma mater, Claremont McKenna College, in southern California. In the years following, Miles wrote over a dozen screenplays, both originals and adaptations of his late father's novels, optioning several and selling others, which unfortunately now languish with movie star owners and at defunct production companies and studios (see a list of his screenplays below).

Miles wrote a bi-monthly Western movie review column for The Roundup, the official magazine of the Western Writers of America, and occasionally free-lanced articles for The Arizona Republic, The Los Angeles Times, and Persimmon Hill, the quarterly magazine of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. One of these articles, "The Duke's Last Ride, the Making of The Shootist," won a Stirrup Award from the WWA as the Best Article to appear in The Roundup in 1994, and was later expanded into a lengthier piece on "The Westerns of Glendon Swarthout," for a 1996 special issue of Persimmon Hill about "Hollywood and the West." Miles wrote another lengthy article on "America's First Cinema Cowboy -- William S. Hart." Miles' interview with novelist Ron Hansen discussing the making of that author's novel-to-film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, ran in the Winter, 2006 issue of Persimmon Hill. The latest paperback reprints of two of his father's classic novels, Bless The Beasts & Children and The Shootist, also include Miles' introductions to these special anniversary editions.

He also edited the first collection of his late father's short stories, some never in print before, Easterns and Westerns, which was published by Michigan State University Press in the summer of 2001 and is still available in print. In 1997, Miles got further involved in film by writing and directing a short 35mm comedy, Mulligans!, based upon an unpublished short story by his late father, Glendon. Mulligans! became a hit on the international circuit, playing in 42 film festivals while winning 8 prizes for its wacky humor. Mulligans! also aired nearly 50 times on the Women's Entertainment channel, a short film record for this female-oriented national cable TV channel.

Miles was a member of the Western Writers of America, the Writers Guild, and the University Film and Video Association. He passed away in March of 2016.