Never a noted playwright, for it wasn't an art form he avidly pursued, Glendon nevertheless did write one play early in his career, a collaboration with his good Army buddy, John K. Savacool, called O'Daniel. It did win these two young writers some serious critical attention when it was produced off-Broadway for one week at the Experimental Theatre in late February of 1947, and went on to win the Theatre Guild Award that same year.
"Thanks to the industrious Experimental Theatre, an interesting drama has appeared on the cozy stage of the Princess Theatre. It is O'Daniel by Glendon Swarthout and John Savacool. It represents the Theatre Guild's share in the Experimental Theatre's first season. Although anyone can see that O'Daniel is not skillful enough for a Broadway commercial production, anyone can understand why the Guild thinks Mr. Swarthout and Mr. Savacool deserve the practical experience of a production. For they have written a dramatic character study of an opportunistic American, named Dan, who rises on the discontent of war veterans to a position of political importance in the year of 1952, which the authors seem to have picked as a disastrous one.
During his years in the Army from 143-45 Dan maneuvers himself into soft jobs that are safe and comfortable. By 1947, which is right now, he is publishing a rabble-rousing GI pulp magazine that organizes veterans against the country. In 1948 he consolidates all the veterans' organizations from both wars into a mammoth block of fifteen million men and women who propose to take over the country. Four years later he wins the Republican nomination for President; and presumably the United States will become a replica of Nazi Germany in 1953.
As told in the theatre this is a plausible idea that is likely to scare the pants off any harmless Sunday-night theatergoer. In the last third of the evening it produces some powerful theatrical scenes like the explosive scene in the veterans' convention where Dan becomes the fighting commander of the combined veterans' organizations and the cumulative scenes leading up to his nomination for President.
The authors are quite as much interested in analyzing Dan's character as they are in recording his career. From the dramatic point of view, this aspect of O'Daniel is the weaker part of their play. In the first two-thirds of the evening they show him vacillating between modesty, obsequiousness and egotistic ambition; and they have invented the character of an idealistic rich girl who represents a kind of moral standard against which they can measure Dan's vaulting career. The character analysis of Dan is not wholly clear in either idea or form. Certainly it is garrulous. And the character of the virtuous little rich girl is hardly more than a convention.
Despite the meager resources of the Experimental Theatre, Paul Crabtree has directed a lively and resourceful performance with serviceable scenery by Herbert Brodkin and a movie score by Alex North. Possibly Mr. Crabtree has confused physical excitement with dramatic excitement, and this is a fault also apparent in Walter Coy's portrayal of Dan. In an extraordinarily long part that keeps him hopping all over the stage, Mr. Coy has a very busy evening indeed and has mastered the externals of the part without giving much insight into the privacy of Dan's mind.
In the likable part of Dan's closest friend, Jack Manning is giving the most accomplished performance of the evening. Ann Burr does well by the rich girl, managing to make virtue tolerable. There is an excellent scene by Royal Raymond as a cold-minded labor leader, and there are good small scenes by William Munroe as a reporter, Billy M. Greene as a barfly and Robert P. Lieb as a Colonel.
As an exercise in serious playwriting, O'Daniel amply justifies the hard work that has gone into this vigorous production, to say nothing of the Experimental Theatre. Many better plays are less interesting than Mr. Swarthout's and Mr. Savacool's apprentice work." Brooks Atkinson, the New York Times.
Glendon's famous Western novel The Shootist was also adapted for the theatre in 1984 and produced on the London stage for a short run, disappearing since.
"The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout. Adapted for the stage by John Dunne and directed by Daniel Foley. The Shootist (better known as John Wayne's last film) about an aging gunslinger dying of cancer is an ambitious piece to stage but Elephant Theatre's production, although labored at times, is competent enough. Norman Chancer as the dying Books achieves the right blend of fear and calm, pathos and dignity of a brave man facing the painful reality of his imminent mortality. Good supporting performances, notably from Rachel Herbert as the prim but sensitive Mrs. Rogers and Arthur Nightingale as the Doctor, combined with some excellent costumes and a good set, make this an enjoyable evening's entertainment. Helen Rose, Time Out, London
"The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout, adapted by John Dunne (Elephant Theatre). John Wayne created the part of Books, killer of 49 men, but now unable to lick the Big C. As this legendary "shootist" lies dying in an El Paso lodging room, so an ear dies with him; a fact the townspeople are not slow to cash in on. Only the widow woman who runs the lodging house can see the man behind the myth, and understanding him, she helps him prepare for his final shootout. John Wayne's ghost hovers uneasily throughout, and though it's difficult to see the purpose in adapting this for the stage, the cast act convincingly and tell their tale the way a tale's gotta be told." Christine Eccles, City Limits, London