Elmore Leonard, Iconic Novelist Whose Work Inspired FX Hit Justified, Many Other Film and Television Projects
Dubbed the "Dickens of Detroit," Leonard, known for his gritty narratives and naturalistic dialogue, was working on his 46th novel at the time of his passing.
Elmore Leonard, a novelist whose prodigious output, gritty narratives and crackling, naturalistic dialogue made him one of the most popular and successful writers of the past 50 years, died August 20, 2013, at his home in Bloomfield, Michigan. He was 87. The cause was complications from a stroke he experienced earlier in the month.
Leonard, who began writing while working in advertising in the 1950s, was reportedly immersed in his 46th novel at the time of his death. The book was said to include Raylan Givens, the laconic U.S. Marshal who is the center of Justified, the Primetime Emmy-winning drama that Leonard co-created and recently completed its fourth season on the FX network.
Argosy magazine printed Leonard's short story "Trail of the Apache" in 1953, and he sold his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, three years later.
Since the mid-‘80s every Leonard novel — Glitz, Bandits, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, Out of Sight, Cuba Libre and Road Dogs, to name a few — was a bestseller and a critical success. Many of them were made into feature films. The best adaptations of his work — the novelist and critics agreed — were Get Shorty, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring John Travolta and Gene Hackman; Out of Sight, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez; and Jackie Brown, the film starring Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson that writer-director Quentin Tarantino based on Leonard’s novel Rum Punch.
The short story “Three-Ten to Yuma” was the first work the author sold to the movies, and it got a double hit: it was released in 1957 starring Glenn Ford, then remade fifty years later with star Russell Crowe.
On television, ABC chose Carla Gugino to star in the 2003 short-lived series Karen Sisco, based on Leonard’s federal marshal from Out of Sight. The critics liked Sisco, but the network canceled it after only seven airings.
Leonard was particularly fond of Justified, based on the novella Fire in the Hole, and enjoyed the collaboration with FX and showrunner Graham Yost. Leonard, who was also an executive producer of the series, was held in such esteem by the crew that they wore bracelets bearing the letters “WWED” (for “What would Elmore do?).
His satisfaction with the series was an impetus to write the 2012 novel, Raylan, about the title character, Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal Raylan reassigned from Miami to his childhood home in rural Eastern Kentucky.
Other TV projects based on his work included the telefilms High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane, Desperado, The Return of Desperado, Desperado: Avalanche at Devil's Ridge, Desperado: The Outlaw Wars and Desperado: Badlands Justice.
Leonard was born in New Orleans and moved with his family to Detroit when he was nine years old. He graduated from the University of Detroit with a degree in English in 1950, after which he began a career in advertising. When he set his mind to pursuing fiction, he would wake in the wee hours to write Western-themed novels from 5-7 a.m. at home before going to work at the Campbell-Ewald agency. Even after he achieved success, he never lost his fervid work ethic.
In November, the National Book Foundation honored Leonard with a lifetime achievement award.
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