The first script Beth Schwartz ever penned was an episode of the 1990s-hit show Beverly Hills 90210. Schwartz was in sixth grade at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills.
Although it was nothing more than a drama assignment, it arguably marked the start of a successful career in television writing. Schwartz is now a co-executive producer and writer for the popular CW superhero series Arrow. The show follows Oliver Queen, a secret vigilante crime fighter whose weapon of choice is a bow and arrow — based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow, created by Mortimer Weisinger.
Schwartz likes to tell others (including 90210 star Luke Perry, whom she met this summer at the comic-book convention Comic-Con) that this middle-school writing assignment was her first script.
A Bloomfield Hills native, Schwartz graduated from Hillel in 1994 and Birmingham Groves High School four years later. At the University of Michigan, she majored in screenwriting and Judaic studies. One year after her college graduation, she headed to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.
Schwartz says she got lucky, landing her first job as an assistant for television producer and screenwriter Dan Fogelman, whose work includes Tangled, Crazy Stupid Love, the Pixar movie Cars and current TV hit This is Us.
Three years after moving to California, while Schwartz was working on a show called What About Brian, she was asked to take a walk with her boss, who told her she was going to be given her own episode.
“I was never so excited in my life,” Schwartz recalls.
One week later, she finished writing her first television script. It was the first of many to be authored by this Michigan girl who spent many of her summers at Camp Tamarack. She went on to write scripts for shows including Legends of Tomorrow, Hart of Dixie, Brothers & Sisters and now Arrow, where she has been since the show began in 2012. By the end of this season she will have penned 24 episodes.
“I was drawn to [television] writing without realizing I could have a career in it; especially being from Michigan because at the time it seemed like there were no writers from Michigan,” says Schwartz, who also says she didn’t originally have an intimate knowledge of many superhero characters.
Her lack of familiarity with superheroes was hardly a deterrent. One of the producers, familiar with her work, knew she had a knack as a character writer and brought her on board.
“Beth is one of those rare people who is both a great person and a tremendous talent,” says Wendy Mericle, one of the showrunners (head writers) of Arrow. “She has fantastic story sense, a big heart and,most important, a great sense of humor. One day, we’re all going to be working for her.”
Schwartz is one of seven writers on the show, but her role is unique because she is the writer who facilitates the brainstorming sessions for story lines and then presents the best ideas to the show’s producers.
In her five seasons with Arrow, Schwartz has become the go-to person for any Jewish content on the series. The last episode to air before the mid-season break incorporated the idea of Gematria into the story line. Gematria is a kabbalistic practice where each Hebrew letter has a numerical value. Although she didn’t write that particular episode, she has had a hand in incorporating other Jewish references into the show.
“I’m the super-Jew in the room. Probably from my Hillel education,” says Schwartz, who spends time teaching actress Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity, one of two Jewish characters on Arrow) about Judaism. Around Rosh Hashanah, the two enjoyed apples and honey on the set. Rickards posted a picture of it on her Instagram account.
Although Schwartz cannot discuss upcoming episodes, she did say that she had to make a recording of a Hebrew prayer for one of the actors to learn. Even the name of the prayer or the particular character couldn’t be revealed.
Schwartz comes from a family of writers. Her mom, Sharon, was her English and drama teacher at Hillel when she wrote her 90210 episode. Her brother, Adam, works in Los Angeles as a writer as well. She also has a sister, Nancie, who is a former fashion designer and an interior decorator in Dallas.
“Being successful as a writer is so difficult,” says Sharon Schwartz, who taught at Hillel for 22 years. “Being a woman in a genre that’s male-dominated is also very difficult. Writing for Arrow was unfamiliar territory for her, but she is able to do it so well. She’s always worked hard, and my husband [Larry] and I are extremely proud of her.”
Schwartz returns to Michigan often to visit family and friends and occasionally speaks to students at U-M, an opportunity she enjoys because it reminds her of when she, as a college student, struggled with writing. In March, she will return to her alma mater for another speaking engagement.
Jennifer Lovy Contributing Writer