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John Wexley wrote plays, screenplays, and nonfiction, often dealing with themes that included a social message, such as prison reform, the criminal mind, and Nazi war crimes. His best known play, The Last Mile (1930), is a prison drama focusing upon the final hours of a condemned man's life and the prison uprising that follows his execution. The play was made into a film twice. Wexley wrote several well known screenplays while working in Hollywood, including Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse (1939), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) and Hangmen Also Die (1943) As a screenwriter, Wexley was known as "the King Maker" because his brilliant scripts launched unknown actors, such as Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, and Claude Rains, on the road to stardom, while casting James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart in some of their best performances. As a result of his position on the executive board of the Screen Writers' Guild and his alleged involvement in "revolutionary theater," Wexley was named as a communist before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Wexley's later work focused on on the trial, conviction, and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (1953), who were accused of selling atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Wexley's work on this book caused him to be "gray-listed" by the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice.
Education and Training
Trained in theater as a member of Eva Gallienes' Civic Repertory Company
Teachers and Influences
Maurice Shwartz, his uncle, who was important in the theater world
John Huston, with whom he collaborated on The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
Connection to Bucks County
John Wexley lived in a restored farmhouse, built around 1802, on Sheeps Hole Road near Tinicum Creek in Ottsville. He resided there from 1934 to 1985. He first came to the Bucks County area with Stockton resident Claude Rains and became heavily involved with life in the Tinicum community. From 1937 to 1940, he was under contract with Warner Brothers and spent his summers at his Bucks County home. He died in Doylestown in 1985.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Charles Rudy, Claude Rains, Moss Hart, George Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, S.J. and Laura Perelman, Pearl S. Buck
The Judgment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, 1955
The City That Stopped Hitler: Stalingrad, documentary, 1942
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, starring Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, 1938
Angels With Dirty Faces, starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, 1939
Confessions of a Nazi Spy, starring Edward G. Robinson, 1939
Hangmen Also Die, 1943
The Long Night, n.d.
City of Conquest, starring James Cagney and Anthony Quinn, 1941
Steel, Broadway, 1931
The Last Mile, 1930, starring Spencer Tracy in the New York production and Clark Gable in the Los Angeles production; made into a motion picture, 1932 and 1959
They Shall Not Die, about the Scottsboro trial, starring Claude Rains, 1934
Running Dogs, 1938
Carrot and Club, Walnut Street Theater, Philadelphia, 1947
Wrote articles about his life and about living in Bucks County for the Tinicum Bulletin, 1974
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Wexley frequently lectured on the Rosenberg case. He defended the Rosenbergs and tried to prove their innocence.
One of Wexley's short stories was included in a book of award winning fiction in 1934.
Book cover for "The Judgment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg"
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