This profile was originally part of Plotpoints Podcast #156 / July 10, 2019 iTunes
You may not know the name Elmore Leonard. Or you may know him solely from the hit series “Justified” starring Timothy Oliphant which was based on Leonard’s character Marshall Raylan Givens. The short story “Fire In The Hole” became the basis of Justified in which Givens is sent back to Harlan County, the area of his birth, as punishment for basically having a old west duel with a drug assassin in Miami Beach, Florida. At a restaurant. During lunch. Not that Givens cared.
But what you probably don’t know is that you actually do know him from many, many sources because at least 19 movies and 7 TV shows were based on Leonard’s work.
Justified, Get Shorty both the current TV series and movie, 3:10 to Yuma, Karen Sisco (TV,) Out Of Sight (jlo karen sisco), Jackie Brown, Freaky Deaky, and Hombre to name just a few of the many productions that he had either written into screenplays himself, or that were done by others from his novels and short stories.
And actually the movie Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) which was a wholly original screenplay by Leonard.
Leonard’s early life was unremarkable although his father’s job required them to relocate frequently. After military service (he was a SeaBee) in World War II, Leonard began submitting his work while still at the University of Detroit and had some minor success.
In 1951, while still a copy writer, Leonard had his short story “Trail of the Apaches” published. This basically started a run that lasted for decades as he wrote about the old West both in short story and novels.
Five of his westerns found success as films: The Tall T (Randolph Scott), 3:10 to Yuma (Glenn Ford), Hombre (Paul Newman), Valdez Is Coming (Burt Lancaster), and Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood).
His first crime novel, The Big Bounce, marked him as a different type of crime writer.
Wikipedia: “Leonard was different from the well-known names writing in this genre, such as Raymond Chandler or any of the other famous noir writers – no melodrama and pessimism, more interested in his characters and in realistic dialogue.”
His crime novels were fun and funny and you can see his influence on directors like Guy Richie. Movies made from his work like “Jackie Brown” “Get Shorty” “Out of Sight” and the TV series “Justified” featured his trademarked sudden violence and humor. Everything in his work was fair game for a quip or a absurdist situation - right up to the time when the blood started to flow.
Leornard’s style was gritty, real, and always featured strong dialogue.
In his "Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing" he said: "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." He also hinted: "I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."
Leonard won Peabody’s, Edgar Awards, Narional Book Awards, The Grand Master Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Mystery Writers of America and the 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for outstanding achievement in American literature - among many others.
His admirers have been and are legion.
"Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy," Author and screenwriter Martin Amis told Leonard at a Writers Guild event. Stephen King has called him "the great American writer."
But Leonard was perhaps proudest of the tag given to him by Britain's New Musical Express: They called Elmore Leonard: "the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers."
“The Dickens of Detroit” as he was also called, died in 2013 and left a world of unique and amazing work.