Elmore Leonard

Elmore John Leonard Jr. (October 11, 1925 – August 20, 2013) was an American novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. His earliest novels, published in the 1950s, were Westerns, but he went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

Elmore Leonard
Leonard at the 70th Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon, 2011
Leonard at the 70th Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon, 2011
BornElmore John Leonard Jr.
(1925-10-11)October 11, 1925
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedAugust 20, 2013(2013-08-20) (aged 87)
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Detroit
  • Beverly Claire Cline
    (m. 1949; div. 1977)
  • Joan Shepard
    (m. 1979; died 1993)
  • Christine Kent
    (m. 1993; div. 2012)
Children5, including Peter
RelativesMegan Freels Johnston
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1943–1946
RankPO3 NOGC.png  Petty officer third class
UnitUSN-Seabees-Insignia.svg  Seabees
Battles/warsWorld War II

Among his best-known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Swag, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk, and Rum Punch (adapted as the film Jackie Brown). Leonard's writings include short stories that became the films 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T, as well as the FX television series Justified.

Early life and educationEdit

Leonard was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Flora Amelia (née Rive) and Elmore John Leonard, Sr.[1] Because his father worked as a site locator for General Motors, the family moved frequently for several years. In 1934, the family settled in Detroit.

He graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 1943 and, after being rejected for the Marines for weak eyesight, immediately joined the Navy, where he served with the Seabees for three years in the South Pacific (gaining the nickname "Dutch", after pitcher Dutch Leonard).[2] Enrolling at the University of Detroit in 1946, he pursued writing more seriously, entering his work in short story contests and submitting it to magazines for publication. He graduated in 1950[3] with a bachelor's degree in English and philosophy. A year before he graduated, he got a job as a copy writer with Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency, a position he kept for several years, writing on the side.[3]


Leonard received his first break in the fiction market during the 1950s, regularly publishing pulp Western novels. He had his first success in 1951 when Argosy published the short story "Trail of the Apaches."[4]: 29  During the 1950s and early 1960s, he continued writing Westerns, publishing more than 30 short stories. He wrote his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, in 1953 and followed this with four other novels. His western novels had already begun to show his fondness for culturally diverse outsiders and underdogs. He often developed his characters through dialogue, each defined by means of his speech. For many of his stories he favored Arizona and New Mexico settings.[5] Five of his westerns were turned into major movies before 1972: The Tall T (Randolph Scott), 3:10 to Yuma (Glenn Ford), Hombre (Paul Newman), Valdez Is Coming (Burt Lancaster), and Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood).

In 1969, his first crime story titled The Big Bounce was published by Gold Medal Books. 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, but more interested in his characters and in realistic dialogue. The stories were often located in Detroit, but apart from his favorite setting he also liked to use South Florida as a setting. LaBrava, a novel set there published in 1983, was also the occasion for a New York Times review, in which Leonard moved from mystery suspense short story writer to novelist.[6] His next book, an Atlantic City gambling story published in 1985 and titled Glitz, was his breakout in the crime genre. It spent 16 weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list. Other crime novels that followed were all best sellers, as well.[7][8] In his review of Glitz, Stephen King placed him in the same company as John MacDonald, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but Leonard felt more influenced by Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.[9] Leonard believed that his books during the 1980s were becoming more humorous and that he was developing a style that was more free and easy. His own favorites were the Dixie Mafia story Tishomingo Blues from 2002 and Freaky Deaky from 1988 about ex-hippie criminals.[10] There are some of his characters in parts of different novels like Hollywood mobster Chili Palmer, bank robber Jack Foley or the two U. S. Marshals Carl Webster and Raylan Givens.[11][12] His crime books were published amongst others by Fawcett Publications, Bantam Books and Dell Publishing. In the 1980s his publisher was Arbor House, later also William Morrow & Company as an imprint of HarperCollins. There are different reprints from his novels; in the 2000s this included editions from Weidenfeld & Nicolson. At the time of his death his novels had sold tens of millions of copies.[13]

Among film adaptations of his work are Jackie Brown (starring Pam Grier, directed by Quentin Tarantino) which is a "homage to the author's trademark rhythm and pace";[13] Get Shorty (1995, John Travolta and Gene Hackman); Out of Sight (1998, George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, directed by Steven Soderbergh) and the television series Justified.[14] Nearly thirty movies were made from Leonard's novels, but for some critics his special style worked only in print.[15]

Personal lifeEdit

He married Beverly Clare Cline in 1949, and they had five children together—two daughters and three sons[16]—before divorcing in 1977. His second marriage in 1979, to Joan Leanne Lancaster (aka Joan Shepard), ended with her death in 1993. Later that same year, he married Christine Kent and they divorced in 2012.[17][18]

Leonard spent the last years of his life with his family in Oakland County, Michigan. He suffered a stroke on July 29, 2013. Initial reports stated that he was recovering,[19] but on August 20, 2013, Leonard died at his home in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills of stroke complications.[20] He was 87 years old.[17][18]

One of Leonard's grandchildren is Alex Leonard, the drummer in the Detroit band Protomartyr.[21]

Writing styleEdit

Commended by critics for his gritty realism and strong dialogue, Leonard sometimes took liberties with grammar in the interest of speeding the story along.[22] In his essay "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."[22]

Elmore Leonard has been called "the Dickens of Detroit" because of his intimate portraits of people from that city, though he said, "If I lived in Buffalo, I'd write about Buffalo."[4]: 90  His favorite epithet was one given by Britain's New Musical Express: "the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers".[23] His ear for dialogue has been praised by writers such as Saul Bellow, Martin Amis, and Stephen King. "Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy," Amis told Leonard at a Writers Guild event in Beverly Hills in 1998.[24] Stephen King has called him "the great American writer."[25] According to Charles Rzepka of Boston University, Leonard's mastery of free indirect discourse, a third-person narrative technique that gives the illusion of immediate access to a character's thoughts, "is unsurpassed in our time, and among the surest of all time, even if we include Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, and Hemingway in the mix."[26]

Leonard often cited Ernest Hemingway as perhaps his single most important influence, but at the same time criticized Hemingway for his lack of humor and for taking himself too seriously.[27] Still, it was Leonard's affection for Hemingway, as well as George V. Higgins, that led him to will his personal papers to the University of South Carolina, where many of Hemingway's and Higgins' papers are archived. Leonard's papers reside at the university's Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.[28][29][30]

Leonard in turn had a very strong influence on a generation of crime writers that followed him. His obituary in USA Today named George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and Laura Lippman.[31]

Awards and honorsEdit



Year Novel Film adaptation ISBN
1953 The Bounty Hunters ISBN 0-380-82225-3
1954 The Law at Randado 1990 – Border Shootout ISBN 0-062-28950-0
1956 Escape from Five Shadows ISBN 0-060-01348-6
1959 Last Stand at Saber River 1997 – Last Stand at Saber River ISBN 0-062-28948-9
1961 Hombre 1967 – Hombre ISBN 0-062-20611-7
1969 The Big Bounce 1969 – The Big Bounce
2004 – The Big Bounce
ISBN 0-062-18428-8
The Moonshine War 1970 – The Moonshine War ISBN 0-062-20898-5
1970 Valdez Is Coming 1971 – Valdez Is Coming ISBN 0-062-22785-8
1972 Forty Lashes Less One ISBN 0-062-28949-7
1974 Mr. Majestyk 1974 – Mr. Majestyk ISBN 0-062-18840-2
Fifty-Two Pickup 1984 – The Ambassador
1986 – 52 Pick-Up
ISBN 0-753-81962-7
1976 Swag ISBN 0-062-22786-6
1977 Unknown Man No. 89 ISBN 0-062-18928-X
The Hunted ISBN 0-062-18841-0
1978 The Switch 2013 – Life of Crime ISBN 0-062-20613-3
1979 Gunsights ISBN 0-062-26726-4
1980 City Primeval ISBN 0-062-19135-7
Gold Coast 1997 – TV movie ISBN 0-062-20609-5
1981 Split Images 1992 – TV movie ISBN 0-688-16971-6
1982 Cat Chaser 1989 – Cat Chaser ISBN 0-060-51222-9
1983 Stick 1985 – Stick ISBN 0-062-18435-0
Edgar Award, Best Novel (1984)
ISBN 0-062-22788-2
1985 Glitz 1988 – TV movie ISBN 0-062-12158-8
1987 Bandits ISBN 0-062-12032-8
Touch 1997 – Touch ISBN 0-062-26598-9
1988 Freaky Deaky 2012 – Freaky Deaky ISBN 0-062-12035-2
1989 Killshot 2008 – Killshot ISBN 0-688-16638-5
1990 Get Shorty 1995 – Get Shorty
2017 – TV series Get Shorty
ISBN 0-062-12025-5
1991 Maximum Bob 1998 – TV series Maximum Bob ISBN 0-062-00940-0
1992 Rum Punch 1997 – Jackie Brown ISBN 0-062-11982-6
1993 Pronto 1997 – TV movie
2010 – TV series Justified
ISBN 0-062-12033-6
1995 Riding the Rap 2010 – TV series Justified ISBN 0-062-02029-3
1996 Out of Sight 1998 – Out of Sight
2003 – TV series Karen Sisco
ISBN 0-061-74031-4
1998 Cuba Libre ISBN 0-062-18429-6
1999 Be Cool 2005 – Be Cool ISBN 0-060-77706-0
2000 Pagan Babies ISBN 0-062-26601-2
2002 Tishomingo Blues ISBN 0-062-00939-7
2004 Mr. Paradise ISBN 0-060-59807-7
A Coyote's in the House ISBN 0-141-31688-8
2005 The Hot Kid ISBN 0-060-72423-4
2006 Comfort to the Enemy
Published serially in The New York Times
ISBN 0-061-73515-9
2007 Up in Honey's Room ISBN 0-060-72426-9
2009 Road Dogs ISBN 0-061-98570-8
2010 Djibouti ISBN 0-062-00831-5
2012 Raylan 2010 – TV series Justified ISBN 0-062-11947-8

Leonard also contributed one chapter (the twelfth of thirteen) to the 1996 Miami Herald parody serial novel Naked Came the Manatee (ISBN 0-449-00124-5).


Year Collection ISBN
1998 The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories ISBN 0-385-32387-5
2002 When the Women Come Out to Dance
Later reprint retitled Fire in the Hole
ISBN 0-060-58616-8
2004 The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard ISBN 0-060-72425-0
2006 Moment of Vengeance and Other Stories ISBN 0-060-72428-5
2006 Blood Money and Other Stories ISBN 0-06-125487-8
2006 Three Ten To Yuma and Other Stories ISBN 0-06-133677-7
2007 Trail of the Apache and Other Stories ISBN 0-06-112165-7
2009 Comfort to the Enemy and Other Carl Webster Stories ISBN 0-297-85668-5
2014 Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories of Elmore Leonard ISBN 0-297-60979-3

Short storiesEdit

Year Story First appearance Film adaptation
1953-03 "Three-Ten to Yuma" Dime Western Magazine 1957 – 3:10 to Yuma
2007 – 3:10 to Yuma
1955-02 "The Captives" Argosy 1957 – The Tall T
1982 "The Tonto Woman" Roundup 2007 – Academy Awards nominated Live Action Short
1996 "Karen Makes Out" Murder For Love – Delacorte Press 1996 First episode in Karen Sisco TV series
2001 "Fire in the Hole" ebook (ISBN 0-062-12034-4) 2010 – TV series Justified
2001 "Chickasaw Charlie Hoke" Murderers' Row: Original Baseball Mysteries [36]
2005 "Louly and Pretty Boy" Dangerous Women - Mysterious Press 1996


Year Title Director Co-writers
1970 The Moonshine War Richard Quine
1972 Joe Kidd John Sturges
1974 Mr. Majestyk Richard Fleischer
1980 High Noon, Part II (TV) Jerry Jameson
1985 Stick Burt Reynolds Joseph Stinson
1986 52 Pick-Up John Frankenheimer John Steppling
1987 The Rosary Murders Fred Walton William X. Kienzle & Fred Walton
Desperado (TV Movie) Virgil W. Vogel
1989 Cat Chaser Abel Ferrara James Borelli


All but three of Leonard's novels have been performed as audiobooks (the exceptions being Escape From Five Shadows, Hombre, and La Brava).[citation needed] Many Leonard works (including The Big Bounce, Be Cool and The Tonto Woman) have been recorded more than once resulting in more than 70 English-language audiobook versions of Leonard novels.[citation needed] Many of these were abridgements, the last of which was Pagan Babies (2000) read by Steve Buscemi. Certain narrators have dominated the Elmore Leonard oeuvre, notably Frank Muller (11 audiobooks), Grover Gardner aka Alexander Adams (7), George Guidall (5), Mark Hammer (5), and Joe Mantegna (5). Other notable Leonard narrators include Liev Schreiber, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Wopat, Arliss Howard, Joe Morton, Taye Diggs, Brian Dennehy, Bruce Boxleitner, Tom Skerritt, Robert Forster, Dylan Baker, Paul Rudd, Keith Carradine, Ed Asner, Henry Rollins, and Barbara Rosenblatt, the only female narrator of an Leonard work (the story, When the Women Come Out to Dance).[37]


  • 10 Rules of Writing (2007)
  • Foreword to Walter Mirisch's book I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History


Twenty-six of Leonard's novels and short stories have been adapted for the screen (19 as motion pictures and another seven as television programs).


Aside from the short stories already noted, a number of Leonard's novels have been adapted as films, including Get Shorty (1990 novel, 1995 film), Out of Sight (1996 novel, 1998 film), and Rum Punch (1992 novel, 1997 film Jackie Brown). The novel 52 Pick-Up was first adapted very loosely into the 1984 film The Ambassador (1984), starring Robert Mitchum and, two years later, under its original title starring Roy Scheider. Leonard has also written several screenplays based on his novels, plus original screenplays such as Joe Kidd (1972).

The film Hombre (1967), starring Paul Newman, was an adaptation of Leonard's 1961 novel of the same name.

His short story "Three-Ten to Yuma" (March 1953) and novels The Big Bounce (1969) and 52 Pick-Up have each been filmed twice.

Other novels filmed include:

Quentin Tarantino has optioned the right to adapt Leonard's novel Forty Lashes Less One (1972).[38]


  • In 1992, Leonard played himself in a script he wrote and, with actor Paul Lazar dramatizing a scene from the novel Swag, appeared in a humorous television short about his writing process which aired on the Byline Showtime series on Showtime Networks.
  • The 2010–15 FX series Justified was based around the popular Leonard character U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, from the novels Pronto, Riding the Rap, the eponymous Raylan, and the short story "Fire in the Hole".
  • The short-lived 1998 TV series Maximum Bob was based on Leonard's 1991 novel of the same name. It aired on ABC for seven episodes and starred Beau Bridges.
  • The TV series Karen Sisco (2003–04) starring Carla Gugino was based on the U.S. Marshall character from the film Out of Sight (1998) played by Jennifer Lopez.
  • The 2017 Epix series Get Shorty is based on the novel of the same.[39]


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  2. ^ Jesse Thorn (July 3, 2007). "Podcast: TSOYA: Elmore Leonard". Maximum Fun (Podcast). Archived from the original on January 6, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Elmore Leonard > About the Author". Random House. Archived from the original on March 25, 2015. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Challen, Paul C. (2000). Get Dutch! : a biography of Elmore Leonard. Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN 978-1550224221. OCLC 44674355.
  5. ^ Ward, Nathan (May 16, 2018). "Elmore Leonard's gritty westerns". Crimereads. Archived from the original on May 1, 2020. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
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  13. ^ a b "Novelist elevated crime thriller, mastered dialogue"; Julie Hinds; Detroit Free Press; August 21, 2013; page A1
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  16. ^ Leonard, Elmore (2009). Comfort to the enemy and other Carl Webster tales. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0297856689. OCLC 302068307. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
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  20. ^ "Photos: Elmore Leonard dies". Arizona Daily Star. August 20, 2013. Archived from the original on August 22, 2013. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  21. ^ Lipez, Zachary (December 23, 2015). "Second Impressions of Protomartyr". Vice. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  22. ^ a b Leonard, Elmore (July 16, 2001). "Writers on Writing; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle". Arts. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  23. ^ The Telegraph, 20 August 2013 Archived November 15, 2020, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved January 22, 2017
  24. ^ Leonard, Elmore (January 23, 1998). "Martin Amis interviews Elmore Leonard" (PDF) (Interview). Interviewed by Amis, Martin. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 9, 2013. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  25. ^ King, Stephen (February 1, 2007). "The Tao of Steve". Entertainment Weekly (published August 8, 2003). Archived from the original on March 15, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
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  27. ^ Mark Lawson, "Best-selling novelist Elmore Leonard, master of verbal tics and black humour" Archived November 15, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, August 20, 2013.
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  32. ^ "Edgar Award Winners and Nominees Database". Mystery Writers of America. search using surname Leonard. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  33. ^ "Past Honorees". cms.montgomerycollege.edu. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
  34. ^ "2010 Peabody Recipients". Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved August 22, 2013.
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  36. ^ Penzler, Otto (Editor) (2001). Murderers' Row Original Baseball Mysteries (First ed.). CA: New Millennium Entertainment. ISBN 978-1893224254.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
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  38. ^ Kirk (August 17, 2009). "Tarantino's Lost Projects: '40 Lashes Less One'". We Are Movie Geeks. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
  39. ^ Petski, Denise (May 16, 2017). "'Get Shorty' Gets Premiere Date On Epix; Unveils First-Look Photos". Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved May 16, 2017.

External linksEdit