Swicord was born (some sources say 1952) in South Carolina, but raised in Europe and the Florida panhandle, where her naval intelligence father eventually became a contractor. A self-described "nerdy bookworm" growing up, Swicord began writing when she was very young, spending her summer vacations crafting short novels. She went on to attend Florida State University on academic scholarship and studied acting and playwriting in the theater department while also writing for the school's alternative newspaper. Following graduation, she found writing work in TV news and also cut her filmmaking teeth on short subject films for the State of Florida. In the late 1970s, Swicord migrated to New York City where she worked as an advertising copywriter and aspiring playwright. She renewed acquaintances with some college friends in the city and wrote a play to serve as a vehicle for all their talents, "Last Days at the Dixie Girl Café," which was produced off-Broadway in 1979. Her second drama, "Criminal Mind," was also was produced off-Broadway with John Glover and Pamela Reed in the cast. Her love of storytelling led Swicord to Hollywood, where she spent years trapped in a sort of development hell - she was earning a living as a screenwriter, yet frustratingly, none of her work was making it all the way to the screen. During those first few years of script sales, Swicord became increasingly aware of the lack of films with female central characters, and simultaneously aware of the quality actresses in Hollywood who were being relegated to underdeveloped supporting roles as girlfriends and hookers. She deliberately decided to shift her focus by trying to change the status quo; it was then that she saw her first work come to life. In 1987, a comedy about a rambunctious 11-year-old girl who cannot stay out of trouble - "You Ruined My Life" - was produced by Disney and aired as a made-for-TV-movie by ABC. Two years later, she landed her first big screen credit as one of three writers on "Shag" (1989), a sweet and funny coming-of-age story about four young women in South Carolina in the summer of 1963. Swicord jumped at the chance to work on the film, which eventually starred Phoebe Cates, Bridget Fonda and Annabeth Gish, taking it on as a "reaction against" teen male sex comedies like the "Porky's" franchise.While not a box office hit, "Shag" earned a following on home video and more importantly, established Swicord as a talented creator of female characters and female-centered stories. Her first major success, a screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic "Little Women" (1994), certainly fit that description, as well. Swicord had struggled for over a dozen years to bring that project to the big screen, and her efforts were vindicated when the film indeed found an enthusiastic audience and provided an opportunity for actresses like Winona Ryder and Claire Danes to sink their teeth into multi-dimensional characters. It also garnered the screenwriter her first critical notice with a nomination from the Writer's Guild. For her next project, she adapted a screenplay from the novel The Perez Family (1995), by Christine Bell. The seriocomic tale about Cuban immigrants in Florida that examined the concept of a true "family" was hindered by a decidedly non-Cuban cast, but was well-reviewed. With her husband Nicholas Kazan, son of famed director Elia Kazan, Swicord next adapted the Roald Dahl children's book "Matilda" (1996). The Danny DeVito-directed story of an unusually intelligent (and telekinetic) girl (Mara Wilson) seemingly born into the wrong family received kudos for retaining the author's dark sense of humor and for avoiding the saccharine sweetness of the standard family film. From telekinesis to witches, Swicord stayed on the fantasy path with an adaptation of Alice Hoffman's "Practical Magic" (1998) for director Griffin Dunne. The film was a moderate Halloween-timed success starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as modern day witch sisters whose powers wreak havoc on their love lives. In 2005, Swicord was entrusted by director Rob Marshall to adapt the beloved bestseller "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden. The dramatic period romance about a young girl who escapes indentured servitude to become the most famous Geisha in China, though one suffering from unrequited love, became an international blockbuster and earned Swicord a Best Adapted Screenplay from the Satellite Awards.After decades in the business and a number of popular films under her belt, Swicord finally got the chance to direct a feature with the adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler's "The Jane Austen Book Club" (2007), a natural fit for the industry's premiere female storyteller and avid book lover. Reviewers hailed the chronicle of a reading group whose lives reflect the humorous dramatic situations of their beloved 19th century English novelist as a faithful rendition of the bestseller. Again, Swicord was credited with keeping the admittedly formulaic story from veering into sentimentality. Tackling another literary great, Swicord collaborated with Eric Roth on director David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Starring Brad Pitt as a man who is born elderly and ages in reverse, the film was one of the top critical picks of the year and also earned the distinct honor of being a three-hour movie that managed to sell over $100 million dollars in tickets. While Swicord had begun work on the script a decade earlier and waited patiently throughout the film's rocky production period, she was finally recognized for her status as one of the most respected scribes in Hollywood with nominations from the Golden Globe Awards, Academy Awards, The Writers Guild, and the Satellite Awards.
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