His Father's Son
"There are probably three internationally famous novelists who lived in Arizona for long periods of time: Zane Grey, Edward Abbey and Glendon Swarthout."
In case the international fame of the last of those three scribes -- rattled off by his son, Miles Hood Swarthout -- has bypassed you, here's the skinny on the late Glendon Swarthout. The Pinckley, Michigan, native was the author of a couple of novels you've heard of because they were made into movies -- Where the Boys Are and The Shootist, which became John Wayne's cinematic swansong. But he's even better known for his critically hailed 1970 bestseller, Bless the Beasts and Children. "It's never been out of print over 25 years," notes Miles Swarthout proudly, by phone from his home in California. "It's still used in classrooms around the country."
Swarthout the Younger, a writer and filmmaker, is commemorating his dad's memory on Saturday, June 16, at Brentano's at Fashion Square, and on Sunday, June 17 -- Father's Day, appropriately enough -- at Changing Hands Bookstore, with a signing of Easterns and Westerns, a collection of Glendon's short writings that the son edited. Along with a variety of stories, says Miles, the volume also contains a memoir. "It's the closest he ever came to autobiography -- 12 pages on his life he wrote for his men's group out in Scottsdale, the Prime-Timers. He suggested that they all write their autobiographies, and of course he was the only one who did." The Michigan State University Press tome also contains Glendon's last poem.
Though Swarthout the Elder, who died in 1992, wrote everything from mysteries to Christmas stories to kid's books (in collaboration with his wife) to the aforementioned campus comedy Where the Boys Are, he remains best known as a writer of tales set in the American West, especially his adopted home of Arizona. His most famous book may even have had some effect on the state's history. "[Glendon] was a terrific guy," Miles recalls, "a scholar, a witty storyteller and a humanitarian. But he was also sort of a loner. He didn't join a lot of groups or get involved in a lot of causes."
There was one exception: In the early'70s, says Miles, the author testified in front of the state Legislature after Bless the Beasts and Children had called the country's attention to the buffalo hunts overseen by the state Department of Game and Fish. In this novel, the characters -- troubled rich teens who've been packed off to a summer camp in Prescott -- are horrified by the ammunition industry-sponsored hunts, in which animals are driven into a pen and shot at close range. Swarthout's depiction helped to change the rules of the Arizona buffalo hunt, to make it a shade more humane.
Does Swarthout have a favorite among his father's canon? His choice is understandable, and so is the reason for it: "The Shootist, I liked a lot," he says, "'cause I wrote the screenplay."
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