1960 : Where the Boys Are Premieres

December 28, 2018 all-day

Where the Boys Are Book Cover from Amazon

As spring breakers hit the beaches and slopes in exotic locales today, few if any have any clue that they form part of a cultural phenomenon that was fueled a half century ago by the active imagination of an MSU professor.

Glendon Swarthout, PhD ’55, was an associate professor of English at MSU for eight years. He was teaching an honors class in 1958 when he overheard one of his students talking about spring break. In particular, recalls his spouse Kathryn Swarthout, MA ’56, “Glendon had heard a young man from Jackson with a red sports car talking about spring break. He is the one responsible for the novel.”

When Swarthout asked his students for more specifics, he was invited to join them in Fort Lauderdale and see for himself. It was no surprise that the young English professor took up the offer, says David Anderson, MSU English professor emeritus and a colleague and friend of Swarthout’s. “Almost from the beginning Glendon believed he was a reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway, right down to his moustache and his demeanor,” Anderson recalls.

Interestingly, it was Time magazine that helped inspire the title for his project about spring break, recalls Miles. In a 1959 article, Time asked a coed why she went to Fort Lauderdale. Her reply was, “That’s where the boys are.”

In a 1985 interview with Larry King, Swarthout explained how his book came to be: “(My students) were fun, they were kicks, and they kept talking about spring vacation in Fort Lauderdale. It occurred to me I’d like to see what they did. So I asked . . . if I came down if they’d show me around. They told me where to stay, they met me at the airport and I had a week with them. It occurred to me as the week progressed that this would make a very fine novel. I could at the same time write a kind of profile of that particular generation—their aspirations, their hopes, their fears and so on.”

Just emerging from the somnolent 1950s, Swarthout’s novel would create quite a stir with its frank portrayal of sexuality and its depiction of a social consciousness that would foreshadow the rise of protest movement in the late 1960s. But the movie, less salacious and often corny, would create even a bigger stir and fuel the migratory numbers that characterize the modern spring break. Joseph Pasternak, who directed the movie, admitted to the Miami Herald (June 1960), “When the book came out we thought it was a little too risqué, (so) it was cleaned up to suit the family trade.”

Glendon had a penchant for writing books that could become movies. In fact, eight of his 16 books and short stories were sold to the movies, including They Came to Cordura, Seventh Cavalry and Bless the Beasts and the Children. Many film buffs will remember The Shootist (1976), John Wayne’s last movie, which is considered one of the best adaptations of Swarthout’s writings.

Like Paula Prentiss, Connie Francis and several others, Swarthout is still remembered mainly for Where the Boys Are—despite having enjoyed many other successes. Swarthout also became an acclaimed writer of westerns, winning the Spur Award for Best Western Novel twice—for The Shootist in 1975 and The Homesman in 1988. In 1991, he received the Western Writers’ Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (previously known as National Cowboy Hall of Fame). He and Kathryn would also co-write six western adventure novels for juveniles.

For the full article, see Bill Castanier, “How an MSU Professor Helped Popularize Spring Break into a National Rite of Passage”, MSU Alumni Association Magazine, July 11, 2011.

And if you enjoy the way Bill Castanier writes, visit the Lansing City Pulse for more of his stories.

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