Elmore Leonard was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, October 11, 1925. His father worked as an executive for General Motors Corporation, and from 1927 to 1934, Leonard, his parents and older sister, Margaret, moved several times to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Memphis before finally settling in Detroit in 1934.
In the fifth grade, in 1935, Leonard showed the first sign of wanting to write fiction. He wrote a play inspired by the book, All Quiet on the Western Front, recently serialized in a Detroit newspaper; though it was the 1930 film version he recalls more vividly. He staged the play in the classroom, using desks as the barbed wire of no man’s land.
Throughout grade school and high school Leonard spent much of his free time playing baseball and football, giving little thought to writing other than for schoolwork. In high school a classmate gave him his nickname, “Dutch” after the Washington Senators “knuckleballer”, Emil “Dutch” Leonard.
In 1943, at the age of 17, Leonard graduated from The University of Detroit High School, and tried to join the Marines, but was rejected because of poor vision. He was subsequently drafted and assigned to the Seabees, the fighting construction battalion of the United States Navy. He served for a little more than a year and a half in the Admiralty Islands and the Philippines before returning home in January of 1946. He was assigned to a ship for six and a half months and was discharged from the Navy in June of that year.
Leonard enrolled in the University of Detroit and majored in English and Philosophy.
In 1947, Elmore Leonard’s father left General Motors and bought an auto dealership in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Upon graduation, Leonard planned to work for him, but his father died of a heart attack six months after the move to New Mexico, ending any thoughts he might have had of selling automobiles.
He married Beverly Cline in 1949 and went to work for the Campbell Ewald advertising agency. He soon became an ad writer but wrote Western stories on the side, selling mostly to pulp magazines, and to men’s maga zines like Argosy, and one story to the Saturday Evening Post.
He chose westerns because he liked western movies and wanted to sell to Hollywood. Influenced by Ernest Hemingway, he applied Hemingway’s spare style of writing to his stories. For source material, Leonard focused on the Cavalry and Apaches of Southern Arizona in the 1880s. He wrote five western novels and thirty short stories in the 1950s, two of which sold to the movies: 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T.
In 1961, Leonard quit his job at the ad agency to write full time. The western fiction market had dried up because of a plethora of westerns on television and he wanted to write contemporary stories. But the demands of a growing family required him to take freelance advertising jobs instead.
After five years away from writing fiction, Leonard finished his first non-Western novel, The Big Bounce, buoyed by the sale of film rights to his novel Hombre. His Hollywood agent, the legendary H. N. Swanson read it and told him, “Kiddo, I’m going to make you rich.”
It would be a long, but clearly marked, road to success. Leonard began selling his work to Hollywood on a regular basis. When his next novel, The Moonshine War sold, he wrote the screenplay. Screenwriting would give him the income to pursue his real goal: writing novels full time. 52 Pickup was published in 1974, the first of several novels set in his hometown, Detroit. He read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins and credits Higgins with showing him how to “loosen up” his writing and “get into scenes quicker.”
Leonard’s books were now getting glowing reviews. In 1984, LaBrava was voted the best novel by the Mystery Writers of America. The following year, Glitz appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and Leonard was touted as “the greatest living crime writer.”
He grew in stature and turned out well-received novels such as Freaky Deaky, Killshot, Maximum Bob and his “Hollywood” book, Get Shorty, which in 1995 was made into a hit movie by Barry Sonnenfeld and catapulted him to even greater fame.
Two more successful film adaptations followed: Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, based on Rum Punch in 1997, and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight in 1998.
In 2001, The New York Times published Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing” now famous among writers and critics featuring his axiom, “I try to leave out the parts that people tend to skip.” In 2007, the rules were made into a little book called Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, illustrated by Joe Ciardiello.
In 2005, at the age of 80, he wrote his fortieth novel, The Hot Kid, featuring his iconic marshal, Carl Webster, receiving some of the best reviews of his long career. That same year, he followed up with a 14 part serial novel for the New York Times Magazine entitled “Comfort to the Enemy.” In 2006, he completed the Carl Webster saga with Up in Honey’s Room. He also went full circle, as the book was set in the Detroit of his youth.
That same year, he received the prestigious Cartier’s Diamond Dagger Award in England and The Raymond Chandler Award at the Noir in Festival in Courmayeur, Italy.
More awards followed: The F. Scott Fitzgerald award in 2008; the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
Still a master of his craft, Elmore received some of the best reviews of his career for his 43rd novel, Road Dogs (2009), – a sequel of sorts to Out of Sight. Stephen King wrote in the New York Times:
“The dialogue crackles; the supporting characters are crisply drawn; and the story achieves almost instant escape velocity.”
In 2008, Elmore’s son, Peter Leonard, published his first novel, Quiver, and father and son began doing bookstore appearances and book festivals together. It has been a satisfying experience for Elmore to share the stage with his son. He’s happy that writing has turned into a family business.
Late in 2009, Elmore finished his latest novel, Djibouti, a fun romp through the world of Somali pirates and home grown Al Qaeda terrorists, seen through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker. Djibouti will be published in late 2010.
Today, inspired by the FX series, Justified, based on his novella, Fire in the Hole (2000), Elmore is writing a fresh Raylan Givens story. “I can pick up Raylan’s story anywhere,” he said. It’s like visiting with an old friend.”
Elmore Leonard lives in Bloomfield Village, Michigan with his wife, Christine. He has five children, twelve grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Text by Gregg Sutter
Photos (unless otherwise noted) courtesy of elmoreleonard.com
1950 Bachelor of Philosophy, (English Major, Philosophy Minor), University of Detroit.
1996 Doctor of Humane Letters, Florida Atlantic University.
1998 Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Detroit Mercy.
2000 Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Michigan.
The Bounty Hunters. 1953.
The Law at Randado. 1954.
Escape from Five Shadows. 1956.
Last Stand at Saber River. 1959.
The Big Bounce. 1969.
The Moonshine War. 1969.
Valdez is Coming. 1970.
Forty Las hes Less One. 1972.
Mr. Majestyk. 1974.
Fifty-Two Pickup. 1974.
Unknown Man No. 89. 1977.
The Hunted. 1977.
The Switch. 1978.
City Primeval. 1980.
Gold Coast. 1980.
Split Images. 1981.
Cat Chaser. 1982.
Freaky Deaky. 1988.
Get Shorty. 1990.
Maximum Bob. 1991.
Rum Punch. 1992.
Riding the Rap. 1995.
Out of Sight. 1996.
Cuba Libre. 1998.
Be Cool. 1999.
Pagan Babies. 2000.
Tishomingo Blues. 2002.
Mr. Paradise. 2004.
A Coyote’s In the House. 2004.
The Hot Kid. 2005.
Up in Honey’s Room. 2007.
Comfort to the Enemy. 2009.
Road Dogs. 2009.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. 2007.
The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories. 1998.
When the Women Come Out to Dance. 2002.
The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard. 2004.
Comfort to the Enemy (in 14 installments.) New York Times Magazine.
“The Hanging of Willi Martz.” September 18, 2005.
“Shemane’s Lincoln Zephyr.” September 25, 2005.
“Is Carl Still the Hot Kid?” October 2, 2005.
“Jurgen Schrenk, Escape Artist.” October 9, 2005.
“Carl and Louly in Love.” October 16, 2005.
“Gary Marion, Ex-Bull Rider.” October 23, 2005.
“Joe Tanzi, Fugitive.” October 30, 2005.
“Tutti and Frankie Bones.” November 6, 2005.
“Teddy Ritz, White Slaver.” November 13, 2005.
“Gunnery Sgt. Louly Webster.” November 20, 2005.
“It’s Up to You, Carl.” November 27, 2005.
“Jurgen and Otto on the Lam.” December 4, 2005.
“Shootout at Shemane’s.” December 11, 2005.
“You Going After Jurgen?” December 18, 2005.
“Trail of the Apache.” Argosy, December, 1951.
“Apache Medicine.” Dime Western Magazine, May, 1952.
“You Never See Apaches….” Dime Western Magazine, September, 1952.
“Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo.” 10 Story Western Magazine, October 1952.
“The Colonel’s Lady.” Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, November, 1952.
“Law of the Hunted One.” Western Story Magazine, December, 1952.
“Cavalry Boots.” Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, December 1952.
“Under the Friar’s Ledge.” Dime Western Magazine, January, 1953.
“The Rustlers.” Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, February 1953.
“Three-Ten to Yuma.” Dime Western Magazine, March, 1953.
“The Big Hunt.” Western Story Magazine, April 1953.
“Long Night.” Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, May, 1953.
“The Boy Who Smiled.” Gunsmoke, June, 1953.
“The Hard Way.” Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, August, 1953.
“The Last Shot.” Fifteen Western Tales, September, 1953.
“Blood Money.” Western Story Magazine, October 1953.
“Trouble at Rindo’s Station.” Argosy, October 1953.
“Saint with a Six-Gun.” Argosy, October, 1954.
“The Captives.” Argosy, February, 1955.
“No Man’s Guns.” Western Story Roundup, August 1955.
“The Rancher’s Lady.” Western Magazine, September 1955.
“Jugged.” Western Magazine, December 1955.
“Moment of Vengeance.” Saturday Evening Post, April 21, 1956.
“Man with the Iron Arm.” Complete Western Book, September, 1956.
“The Longest Day of his Life.” Western Novel and Short Stories, October, 1956.
“The Nagual.” 2-Gun Western, November, 1956.
“The Kid.” Western Short Stories, December 1956.
“The Treasure of Mungo’s Landing.” True Adventures, June, 1958.
“The Bull Ring at Blisston.” Short Stories For Men Magazine, August, 1959.
“Only Good Ones.” Western Roundup 1961.
“The Tonto Woman.” Roundup 1982.
“Hurrah for Captain Early.” New Trails 1994.
“Karen Makes Out.” Murder for Love
“The Odyssey.” Chapter in Naked Came the Manatee 1996.
“Sparks.” Murder and Obsession 1999.
“Hanging Out at the Buena Vista.” USA Weekend June 13, 1999.
“Fire in the Hole.” Contentville Press 2001.
“Chickasaw Charlie Hoke.” Murderer’s Row 2001.
“When the Women Come Out to Dance.” In the short story collection,
When the Women Come Out to Dance 2002.
“Tenkiller.” In the short story collection When the Women Come Out to Dance 2002.
“Showdown at Checotah.” McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales 2003.
“Louly and Pretty Boy.” Dangerous Women 2005.
The Moonshine War. Filmway Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1970.
Joe Kidd. The Malpaso Company and Universal Pictures. 1972.
Mr. Majestyk. The Mirisch Company, 1974.
High Noon, Part II. (TV) Charles Fries Productions, 1980.
Stick. Universal Pictures, 1985.
52 Pickup. (Elmore Leonard and John Steppling. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel.) Cannon Group, 1986.
Desperados. (TV) Universal TV, 1987.
The Rosary Murders. First Take, Rosary Take One, 1987.
Cat Chaser. Vestron1989.
3:10 to Yuma. Based on a story by Elmore Leonard. Columbia Pictures, 1957.
The Tall T. Based on the story, “The Captives,” by Elmore Leonard. Columbia Pictures, 1957.
Hombre. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. 20th Century Fox, 1967.
The Big Bounce. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Warner Bros., 1969.
The Moonshine War. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Filmway Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1970.
Valdez is Coming. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. United Artists, 1971.
Joe Kidd. Original screenplay by Elmore Leonard. The Malpaso Company and Universal Pictures. 1972.
Mr. Majestyk. Original screenplay by Elmore Leonard. The Mirisch Company, 1974.
Stick. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Screenplay by Elmore Leonard. Universal Pictures, 1985.
52 Pickup. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Screenplay by Elmore Leonard. Cannon Group, 1986.
The Rosary Murders. Screenplay by Elmore Leonard. First Take, Rosary Take One, 1987.
Cat Chaser. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Vestron Pictures, 1989.
Border Shootout. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel, The Law at Randado. Turner Pictures, 1990.
Get Shorty. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. MGM / Jersey Films, 1995.
Touch. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Lumiere International/United Artists, 1997.
Jackie Brown. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel, Rum Punch. Miramax Films, 1997.
Out of Sight. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Universal Pictures and Jersey Films, 1998.
The Big Bounce. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Warner Bros, 2004.
Be Cool. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. MGM, Jersey Films, Double Feature, 2005.
3:10 to Yuma. Dir. James Mangold. Based on a story by Elmore Leonard. Perf. Russell Crowe. Lionsgate, 2007.
Killshot. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. The Weinstein Company, 2009.
Moment of Vengeance. (TV) Based on the short story by Elmore Leonard.
Meridian Productions / CBS – Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars 1956.
High Noon, Part II. (TV) Original screenplay by Elmore Leonard. Charles Fries Productions, 1980.
Desperados. (TV) Original screenplay by Elmore Leonard Universal TV, 1987.
Split Images. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Zev Braun, 1992.
Last Stand at Saber River. (TV) Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Turner Network Television, 1997.
Pronto. (TV) Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Showtime Pictures, 1997.
Elmore Leonard’s Gold Coast. (TV) Based on the Elmore Leonard novel,
Gold Coast. Studio Showtime Pictures, 1997.
Maximum Bob. (TV) Based on characters from the Elmore Leonard novel. Warner Bros. Television, 1998.
Karen Sisco. (TV) Bas ed on characters from the Elmore Leonard novel, Out of Sight and the short story, “Karen Makes Out.” ABC Television, Universal Network Television, 2003.
Justified. (TV) Based on the Elmore Leonard novella, “Fire in the Hole.” Sony TV, FX Network, 2010.
The Tonto Woman. Based on the Elmore Leonard story. Knucklehead Productions, 2007.
Sparks. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Produced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 2008.
Text by Gregg Sutter
Courtesy of elmoreleonard.com