Elmore John Leonard, Jr. 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 1946 Leonard enrolled in the University of Detroit and majored in English and Philosophy. 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 magazines 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. 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. 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. 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. Fifty-Two Pickup was published in 1974, the first of several novels set in his adopted hometown, Detroit.
Leonard’s books were now getting glowing reviews. In 1984, LaBrava was voted the best novel of the year by the Mystery Writers of America. The following year, Glitz appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for 18 weeks 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 2005, at the age of 80, he wrote his 40th 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.
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; The Peabody in 2011; and in 2012 he received the National Book Foundation’s Medallion for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
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. Sharing the stage with his son was a satisfying experience for Elmore. He was happy that writing had turned into a family business.
Djibouti, a fun romp through the world of Somali pirates and homegrown Al Qaeda terrorists, seen through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker, was published in late 2010.
Inspired by the FX series, Justified, based on his novella, Fire in the Hole (2000), and encouraged by Graham Yost and Timothy Olyphant, Elmore wrote his 45th novel, Raylan. The Justified writers were shown this novel in progress and used parts in several episodes in the first three seasons.
Elmore passed away on August 20, 2013. He was 80 pages into a new novel called Blue Dreams, set in California. After struggling a bit with the story and the characters, he decided to bring Raylan in. He could always count on Raylan to get things going. He was Elmore’s go-to guy: the greatest of all his good guys and heroes.