Jo Swerling

Jo Swerling (April 8, 1897 October 23, 1964) was an American theatre writer, lyricist and screenwriter.

Early life and early career

Born Joseph Swerling in Berdichev, Ukraine,[1] Swerling was one of a number of Jewish refugees from the Tsarist regime. He grew up on New York City's Lower East Side, where he sold newspapers to help support his family. He worked as a newspaper and magazine writer in the early 1920s, then launched a playwriting career, including Street Cinderella, an early comedy for the Marx Brothers. He also wrote their first movie, the unreleased silent comedy short film Humor Risk (1921). He scored a major success with the book and lyrics for the musical revue The New Yorkers (1927) and the play The Kibitzer (1929), the latter co-written with actor Edward G. Robinson.

In Hollywood

Swerling was brought to Hollywood by Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn to work on the screenplay for Frank Capra's Ladies of Leisure (1930), the first of several collaborations with the director. His dozens of screenplays in the 1930s and 1940s include Platinum Blonde, Behind the Mask, Once to Every Woman, The Pride of the Yankees (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), Lifeboat, Leave Her to Heaven, and It's a Wonderful Life. He also provided some uncredited writing for Gone with the Wind.

Back to Broadway

Swerling returned to Broadway in 1950 to co-write the book for Guys and Dolls with Abraham "Abe" Burrows, winning the 1951 Tony Award and New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.[2]


Swerling was the father of Peter Swerling, the world's leading radar theoretician of the second half of the 20th century, and Jo Swerling Jr.,[3] producer of such television series as Alias Smith and Jones, The Rockford Files, Baretta, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, and Profit.

Partial filmography

As screenwriter


  1. Bush, Lawrence. "Jo Swerling" Jewish Currents, April 7, 2017
  2. Guys and Dolls Playbill, retrieved November 1, 2017
  3. Golomb, Solomon W. (9 April 2001). "Obituaries: Peter Swerling". Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
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