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Elmore Leonard Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: New Orleans, Louisiana, 1925. Education: The University of Detroit, 1946-50, Ph.B. in English 1950. Military Service: Served in the United States Naval Reserve, 1943-46. Career: Copywriter, Campbell Ewald advertising agency, Detroit, 1950-61; writer of industrial and educational films, 1961-63; director, Elmore Leonard Advertising Company, 1963-66. Since 1967 full-time writer. Awards: Western Writers of America award, 1977; Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award, 1984; Michigan Foundation for the Arts award, 1985; Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award, 1992. Agent: Michael Siegel and Associates, 502 Tenth St., Santa Monica, California 90402, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Bounty Hunters. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1953; London, Hale, 1956.

The Law at Randado. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1955; London, Hale, 1957.

Escape from Five Shadows. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1956; London, Hale, 1957.

Last Stand at Saber River. New York, Dell, 1959; as Lawless River, London, Hale, 1959; as Stand on the Saber, London, Corgi, 1960.

Hombre. New York, Ballantine, and London, Hale, 1961.

Valdez Is Coming. London, Hale, 1969; New York, Fawcett, 1970.

The Big Bounce. New York, Fawcett, and London, Hale, 1969.

The Moonshine War. New York, Doubleday, 1969; London, Hale, 1970.

Forty Lashes Less One. New York, Bantam, 1972.

Mr. Majestyk (novelization of screenplay). New York, Dell, 1974; London, Penguin, 1986.

Fifty-Two Pickup. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1974.

Swag. New York, Delacorte Press, 1976; London, Penguin, 1986; as Ryan's Rules, New York, Dell, 1976.

The Hunted. New York, Delacorte Press, 1977; London, Secker and Warburg, 1978.

Unknown Man No. 89. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1977.

The Switch. New York, Bantam, 1978; London, Secker and Warburg, 1979.

Gunsights. New York, Bantam, 1979.

City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. New York, Arbor House, 1980; London, W.H. Allen, 1981.

Gold Coast. New York, Bantam, 1980; London, W.H. Allen, 1982. Split Images. New York, Arbor House, 1982; London, W.H. Allen, 1983.

Cat Chaser. New York, Arbor House, 1982; London, Viking, 1986.

Stick. New York, Arbor House, 1983; London, Allen Lane, 1984.

LaBrava. New York, Arbor House, 1983; London, Viking Press, 1984.

Glitz. New York, Arbor House, and London, Viking, 1985.

Bandits. New York, Arbor House, and London, Viking, 1987.

Touch. New York, Arbor House, 1987; London, Viking, 1988.

Freaky Deaky. New York, Arbor House, and London, Viking, 1988.

Killshot. New York, Arbor House, and London, Viking, 1989.

Get Shorty. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Viking, 1990.

Maximum Bob. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Viking, 1991.

Rum Punch. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Viking, 1992.

Pronto. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Viking, 1993.

Riding the Rap. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Viking, 1995.

Out of Sight. New York, Delacorte Press, 1996.

Cuba Libre. New York, Delacorte Press, 1998.

Be Cool. New York, Delacorte Press, 1999.

Pagan Babies. New York, Delacorte Press, 2000.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Trail of the Apache," in Argosy (New York), December 1951.

"Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo," in Ten Story Western, 1952.

"Apache Medicine," in Dime Western, May 1952.

"You Never See Apaches," in Dime Western, September 1952.

"Cavalry Boots," in Zane Grey's Western (New York), December 1952.

"Long Night," in Zane Grey's Western 18 (London).

"The Rustlers," in Zane Grey's Western 29 (London), 1953.

"Under the Friar's Ledge," in Dime Western, January 1953.

"The Last Shot," in Fifteen Western Tales, September 1953.

"Trouble at Rindo's Station," in Argosy (New York), October 1953.

"Blood Money" in Western Story (London), February 1954.

"Saint with a Six-Gun," in Frontier, edited by Luke Short. New York, Bantam, 1955.

"3:10 to Yuma," in The Killers, edited by Peter Dawson. New York, Bantam, 1955.

"The Hard Way," in Branded West, edited by Don Ward. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1956.

"No Man's Gun," in Western Story (London), May 1956.

"Moment of Vengeance," in Colt's Law, edited by Luke Short. New York, Bantam, 1957.

"The Tall T," in The Tall T and Other Western Adventures. New York, Avon, 1957.

"The Rancher's Lady," in Wild Streets, edited by Don Ward. New York, Doubleday, 1958.

"Only Good Ones," in Western Roundup, edited by Nelson Nye. New York, Macmillan, 1961.

"The Boy Who Smiled," in The Arbor House Treasury of Great Western Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg. New York, Arbor House, 1982.

"The Nagual," in The Cowboys, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg. New York, Fawcett, 1985.

"The Captive," in The Second Reel West, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg. New York, Doubleday, 1985.

"Law of the Hunted Ones," in Wild Westerns, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg. New York, Walker, 1986.

"The Colonel's Lady," in The Horse Soldiers, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg. New York, Fawcett, 1987.

"Jugged" in The Gunfighters, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg. New York, Fawcett, 1987.

"The Big Hunt," in More Wild Westerns, edited by Bill Pronzini. New York, Walker, 1989.

Plays

Screenplays:

The Moonshine War, 1970; Joe Kidd, 1972; Mr. Majestyk (with Joseph Stinson), 1974; Stick (with John Steppling), 1985.

Television Plays:

High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane, 1980.

*

Film Adaptations:

Get Shorty, 1995; Jackie Brown, 1997; Last Stand at Saber River, 1997; Out of Sight, 1998.

Manuscript Collections:

University of Detroit Library.

Critical Studies:

Elmore Leonard by David Geherin, New York, Ungar-Continuum, 1989; Elmore Leonard by James E. Devlin, New York, Twayne Publishers, 1999.

* * *

Elmore Leonard is one of those rare authors who began as a pulp writer and ended top of the bestseller lists. More impressive, however, is his feat of moving from being considered a mere genre novelist to being credited with elevating the crime novel to new levels of artistic achievement.

Leonard began as a writer of Westerns, turning out stories for the pulps that still flourished in the 1950s. One of his early novels, Hombre, the story of a white man raised by Indians whose bravery saves the lives of his fellow stagecoach passengers, was selected by the Western Writers of America as one of the twenty-five best Westerns of all time.

With The Big Bounce in 1969, Leonard switched to writing about the contemporary scene. Set in the author's home state of Michigan, the novel describes the dangerous encounter between Jack Ryan, an ex-convict, and Nancy Hayes, a restless 19-year-old with a thirst for thrills. The Big Bounce highlights the two kinds of characters that would become trademarks of Leonard's fiction: those who run afoul of the law, and those who become involved with those who do.

In 1972, after reading George V. Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a comic novel about the activities of a small-time Boston hoodlum narrated through colorful dialogue and extended monologues, Leonard began to experiment with new ways of telling his stories. He found that by relying more on dialogue he could effectively shift the burden of storytelling to his characters. The result was Fifty-Two Pickup, his first major success as a crime novelist.

Fifty-Two Pickup is the story of a Michigan businessman named Harry Mitchell who is being framed by a trio of low-life characters for the murder of his mistress. Like many of Leonard's protagonists, Mitchell is an easygoing guy until pushed. Then he takes control of the situation and single-handedly extricates himself from his predicament.

In 1978, Leonard was commissioned by a local newspaper to write a non-fiction profile of the Detroit police. Though he planned to spend only a few days hanging around police headquarters, he ended up staying for two and a half months, soaking up atmosphere, listening to the cops and criminals, lawyers and witnesses who passed through the squad room. This rich assortment of colorful characters provided a new source for the distinctive sounds and speech rhythms that would heighten the realism of his fiction.

The first novel that resulted from this experience was City Primeval, also his first book to feature a policeman as protagonist. Raymond Cruz, a Detroit Police Homicide Lieutenant, crosses paths with Clement Mansell, a killer known (with ample reason) as the "Oklahoma Wildman." Their final showdown reads like the climax to one of Leonard's early Westerns. (Appropriately, the novel is subtitled High Noon in Detroit.) Besides exciting action, the novel also owes its success to its authentic characters and unflinching realism.

Convinced of the benefits of research on his fiction, Leonard now began employing a part-time researcher to assist him in his efforts. No amount of background research can guarantee a novel's success. However, combined with Leonard's gift for creating fresh and believable characters and dialogue that unerringly rings true, research provides a factual grounding that enhances an already solid core of believability. Such a combination resulted in some of the most notable crime novels in recent American fiction.

Glitz is a good example. Vincent Mora is an off-duty Miami policeman who is recuperating from a bullet wound in sunny Puerto Rico. There he meets and takes a liking to a young woman named Iris Ruiz. When she plunges to her death from a hotel room in Atlantic City, where she has gone to work as a hostess, Mora heads north to investigate. Soon he is engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Teddy Magyk, a sociopathic ex-convict who seeks revenge on Mora for having sent him to prison.

Thanks to Leonard's extensive research, the reader enjoys an insider's peek behind the scenes at the Atlantic City casinos and gets to meet the distinctive inhabitants of that world. Vincent Mora and Teddy Magyk give life to Glitz, while the setting and colorful supporting cast flesh it out in vivid detail.

Leonard employs a similar recipe with equal success in novels like Stick, LaBrava, Bandits, Freaky Deaky, Get Shorty, Rum Punch, and Be Cool. However, he is careful never to repeat a stale formula. The settings vary from Miami Beach to New Orleans to Hollywood and back to Detroit, and each novel introduces a fresh cast of memorable characters and plots filled with unpredictable twists.

Though his novels are about serious—often deadly—matters, they also reveal Leonard's gift for comedy, especially comic dialogue. Leonard has a talent for mimicking voices that capture the distinctive personality of the speaker. Once these characters open their mouths, they open their minds, and the result is fiction filled with amusingly offbeat points of view.

In several of his recent novels, Leonard has introduced a fresh new element—smart, independent women—to his usual colorful mix of offbeat characters. Rum Punch, for example, centers around Jackie Burke (re-named Jackie Brown in the Quentin Tarentino film version of the novel), a forty-four-year old flight attendant who is arrested when the police find cocaine someone has hidden in the money she has been hired to transport from the Bahamas to the U.S. on her flights. Taking matters into her own hands, she concocts an elaborate shell game that outfoxes both the feds and the killer whose money she was carrying. Out of Sight features Karen Sisco, a deputy U.S. marshal who deftly manages to balance her attraction to an escaped convict into whose path she stumbles with her sworn duties as a law enforcement officer.

Leonard is sometimes mistakenly categorized as a mystery writer. Though suspenseful, his novels contain little mystery. Instead, they are novels about character and, because many of those characters are either criminals or policemen, novels about crime. The best of them are rich in texture, authentic in detail, and colorful in the richness and variety of character and voice. Over the past three decades, Leonard has produced an impressive body of fiction that sets the standard for what the crime novel in the hands of a talented artist is capable of achieving.

—David Geherin

Elmore (John Jr.) Leonard (1925-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights [next] [back] Jay Leno (1950-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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