Jo Swerling


18 Apr 1893


Berdichev, Kiev Governorate, Russian Empire [now Berdychiv, Zhytomyr Oblast, Ukraine]


Oscar-nominated Hollywood screenwriter Jo Swerling, who also was a Tony Award-winning Broadway writer and lyricist, was born in Berdichev, Ukraine in what was then the Russian Empire. His family emigrated from Czarist Russia and he grew up on the Lower East Side in New York City.

From a youthful job peddling newspapers, he worked his way up to becoming a journalist, working on newspapers and magazines in the 1920s, including the prestigious "Vanity Fair". He became a playwright, like other famous journalists of the era (most notably Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur of The Front Page (1931) fame). Swerling wrote the stage show "Street Cinderella" for the The Marx Brothers and the screenplay for their first film, the 1921 comedy short Humor Risk (1921), starring Chico, Groucho, Harpo and Zeppo. Groucho supposedly hated it so much, he burned the negative. The movie was never released.

Swerling's first legitimate production on the Great White Way was the musical-revue "The New Yorkers", which ran for a then-respectable 52 performances in March and April 1927. Swerling wrote the book and the lyrics for the songs. His next foray on Broadway was the more successful "Kibitzer", an original comedy he co-wrote with Edward G. Robinson (who also co-starred in the show). It ran for 120 performances in February through June 1929.

Wall Street famously laid an egg in October 1929, and Swerling would not be back on Broadway for 21 years. Hollywood beckoned.

In 1929, Universal adapted his play "The Understander" into the movie Melody Lane (1929) while Paramount released The Kibitzer (1930) the following year (without the participation of Edward G. Robinson). Columbia Pictures, the premier studio on Hollywood's "Poverty Row", hired Swerling, and his first screen credit was for the screenplay for Frank Capra's Ladies of Leisure (1930). He would received screen credit on Capra's next five films in the period 1930-32, before Capra turned to Robert Riskin as his main collaborator. (Jo would work on the screenplay for Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946), providing additional scenes.)

Swerling worked on scores of films before he received his last screen credit for King of the Roaring 20's: The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961) in 1961. He received his sole Oscar nomination for The Pride of the Yankees (1942) (1941). He was one of the many screenwriters, including Ben Hecht, who worked uncredited on the Oscar-winning Gone with the Wind (1939) screenplay (won by Sidney Howard).

Swerling's greatest professional success came when he returned to Broadway, co-writing the book for the classic musical Guys and Dolls (1955) with Abe Burrows, for which he shared the Tony and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards for Best Musical. The show was a smash, running from November 1950 to November 1953 for a total of 1,200 performances. The screenplay for the 1955 movie adaptation was written by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, whose brother Herman J. Mankiewicz shared an Oscar nod for Best Screenplay in 1943 with Swerling.

Jo Swerling died in Los Angeles, California on October 23, 1964. He was 71 years old.

Writer ( 57 credits )

Markham (1959) (1 episode, 1959)
Guys and Dolls (1955) (based upon the play: "Guys and Dolls" book by) and
Producers' Showcase (1954) (1 episode, 1956)
Thunder in the East (1951) (screenplay)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Leave Her to Heaven (1945) (screenplay)
Wing and a Prayer (1944)
Lifeboat (1944)
A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
Crash Dive (1943) (screenplay)
The Pride of the Yankees (1942) (screenplay) and
Confirm or Deny (1941) (screenplay)
New York Town (1941) (uncredited)
Blood and Sand (1941)
The Westerner (1940) (screenplay) and
Gone with the Wind (1939) (contributing writer) (uncredited)
The Real Glory (1939) (screenplay) and
Made for Each Other (1939) (screenplay)
I Am the Law (1938)
Doctor Rhythm (1938) (writer)
Double Wedding (1937) (screen play)
Pennies from Heaven (1936) (story)
The Music Goes 'Round (1936) (dialogue)
Love Me Forever (1935)
The Whole Town's Talking (1935) (screen play) and
Lady by Choice (1934) (screen play)
The Defense Rests (1934) (story)
East of Fifth Avenue (1933) (writer)
Man's Castle (1933) (writer)
As the Devil Commands (1933) (story)
The Wrecker (1933)
The Woman I Stole (1933) (writer)
The Circus Queen Murder (1933) (writer)
Below the Sea (1933)
Man Against Woman (1932)
Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932) (screenplay)
War Correspondent (1932)
Attorney for the Defense (1932) (adaptation and dialogue)
Shopworn (1932)
Behind the Mask (1932)
Forbidden (1932)
Platinum Blonde (1931) (dialogue)
El pasado acusa (1931)
The Miracle Woman (1931) (screenplay and dialogue)
The Good Bad Girl (1931) (dialogue)
Carne de cabaret (1931)
Dirigible (1931)
Madonna of the Streets (1930) (adaptation)
The Squealer (1930)
Rain or Shine (1930) (dialogue and continuity) and
Ladies Must Play (1930) (dialogue)
Hell's Island (1930) (screenplay)
Sisters (1930)
Around the Corner (1930) (story and scenario)
Ladies of Leisure (1930)
The Kibitzer (1930) (screenplay)
Melody Lane (1929) (play "The Understander")