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John Wexley; Playwright, Screenwriter : His Prison Drama for Broadway, 'The Last Mile,' Inspired 2 Films

February 14, 1985

John Wexley, an author, screenwriter and playwright, whose "The Last Mile" made a Broadway star of Spencer Tracy in 1930, is dead at age 77.

He was a New York native who had retired to Doyleston, Pa., and died in a hospital there on Feb. 4 of a heart attack.

"The Last Mile" was one of the more famous of the prison dramas that occupied stage and screen during the 1930s and Wexley followed it in 1934 with "They Shall Not Die," a dramatization of the Scottsboro case and trial.

Clark Gable had succeeded Tracy on Broadway as Killer Mears, whose pending execution triggers prison hysteria. Preston Foster and Mickey Rooney appeared in 1932 and 1959 film adaptations of Wexley's play.

For the next two decades Wexley also wrote several screenplays for films starring James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. Among them were "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse," "Angels With Dirty Faces," "Confessions of a Nazi Spy," "Hangmen Also Die" and "The Long Night."

He also wrote "Judgment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg," a book about the man and wife electrocuted in 1953 after they were convicted of leaking atomic secrets to the Soviets.

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