The younger brother of Charles Chaplin cinematographer Roland Totheroh, Dan Totheroh was a California-born author, playwright, and screenwriter who enjoyed success in print and on-stage, and wrote the screenplay to an unabashed film classic. Born in San Francisco and raised largely in Marin County, CA, he began writing plays in high school; his first effort was so well received that it was presented in nearby towns. He later became an actor and had a promising future ahead of him until he was drafted at the outbreak of World War I (by which time his brother was already working with Chaplin). The younger Totheroh's war service removed any ambition he previously had as an actor, later noting that he "had little youth left after serving in France." It was only in the '20s that he turned to writing as a way to earn a living. His life as a playwright was one of dire hardship at first, and one winter he often found himself spending days at the New York Public Library just to keep warm, only occasionally selling an article or story. Totheroh finally wrote a play worthy of the stage with The Breaking of the Calm, based upon his own grandmother's journey from England to California. A later play entitled The Wild Birds won a prize in a writing competition, was subsequently produced at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York, and brought to the screen as Two Alone in 1934.
Totheroh had contributed to screenplays intermittently from 1929, including the original 1930 version of The Dawn Patrol and The Count Of Monte Cristo in 1934, but his biggest impact during the '30s was on-stage and in print. His play Distant Drums was adapted for the screen and his 1936 novel Searching for the Sun anticipated John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath with its story of young Midwesterners seeking an escape from poverty in California. Another play, Deep Valley, about wine-growing families, was later filmed under that title in 1947. Totheroh's most important contribution to movies, however, was the screenplay for William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Although the movie's basic plot came from Stephen Vincent Benet's original short story, Totheroh was responsible for many of the most cinematic elements in the script, as well as most of the character embellishments and relationships. His activities tapered off in the late '40s, although Totheroh did contribute scripts to an early television series entitled Academy Theatre in 1949. A highly regarded literary figure in his native Marin County, he died in 1976 at the age of 82.