Bringing Star Wars to Mariemont: Jim Swearingen



1949: Russia detonated their first atomic bomb the same day that Jim Swearingen’s unsurpassable imagination was born.

Swearingen saw this coincidence as a party invitation toward an explosive passion for art and design. He has explored the creation of the first Star Wars figurines, Strawberry Shortcake, Play-Doh, Care Bears, and is featured on the Netflix series Toys That Made Us.

On November 13th 2018, Jim Swearingen and Emery Schmit visited Mariemont High School to share their stories of Star Wars, life, and imagination. Swearingen told about his development as a designer for Kenner.  

As a child Swearingen spent his Saturday mornings at the Cleveland Art Museum.  As a young adult, he attended University of Cincinnati’s DAAP Program.

Just as he was ready for a professional job, he received his draft number for the Vietnam War. When companies learned that his number was 63, they “dropped me like a hot potato,” said Swearingen. The lower the number, the more likely young men would be drafted into the Armed Services.

His toy career took off in 1972 at Kenner, a Cincinnati-based company owned by General Mills.  Swearingen worked on developing a number of kids’ toys.

1977 hit and George Lucas began developing the story of Star Wars. Numerous toy companies declined the now-famous series. Swearingen had been a fan of Lucas’s early work, THX 1138, and became inspired.

”My job was to convince our management to take a risk and 20th Century Fox to take a chance on this midwest toy company. Turned out to be a pretty good deal because it turned out to be one of the biggest franchises,” said  Swearingen.

Being one of the first creators of the new figurines, he attended the first screening of the Star Wars premiere in California.

Standing in his tan slacks, Swearingen remembers “Everyone stood up and cheered. The first thing I did was race to the pay phone. It was amazing. ‘You can’t believe what I just saw,’” I said.

Swearingen got to meet Star Wars creator, George Lucas. He recalled their conversation as being one of those you would have with a close companion: simple, like-minded, and not one dull moment. “My biggest regret was not asking him for a job,” he said.

Swearingen has a humanitarian streak to his creativity.  Swearingen created the doll Kimmy Cares to help children deal with the mothers going through chemotherapy.  The doll was inspired by a friend who wanted a doll who would help explain cancer therapy to her daughter. 

Swearingen explained that many kids are frightened when their moms lose their hair, so he wanted to combat this fear with comfort. The dolls’ hair comes off.  Each doll comes with a book comes that explains effects of chemotherapy.

In the auditorium during lunch, Swearingen and Schmidt were the guest speakers at a Leadership sponsored by Leadership Council and Pride+.  They spoke of their relationship, their marriage in New York, Matthew Shepard, and answered students’ questions.

When asked what advice he had for high school kids deciding what they want to do in life, he stated simply, “Explore your options. And talk to people about things you’re interested in. It gets you further than you would think.”  

George Lucas is a humbled inspiration of the effects of form and function.

“Things need two pieces to make them make sense, take one out and it loses all its meaning.” This is more than in just toys, but in experience, passion, and the future.

Today, attends comic cons and signs autographs to further fund hypocephalus research.