Written By Summer 2010 : Page 41

“I always had that in mind: to write for money. You could make money, instead of trying to be literate about it.” T here’s a full moon in the winter sky above the Four Sea- sons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Parked below at the South Doheny Drive curb, gleaming in the West Coast lunar- light, is a sharp Ferrari with the vanity-plate showbiz 6. Just the sort of detail that catches the amused eye of the man with close-cropped silver hair gazing down from a suite on the Four Seasons’ 15th floor. A skinny gent known as Dutch, his probing gaze doesn’t seem to miss much despite round horn- rimmed spectacles. “I really like this hotel,” says Elmore Leonard, returning his attention to the visitor. He’s wearing blue jeans, dark-brown loafers, and a gray T-shirt displaying a boxer in gloves-up stance bearing the legend motor city gym—established 1955. Elmore Leonard’s influential work has been praised in the highest terms by literary luminaries and he’s won all sorts of honors—from the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master bust of Edgar Allan Poe, to the Western Writers of America’s Bronze Buffalo, to Pen USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. And much of his work—including Westerns such as Hombre and Valdez Is Coming, crime capers like Mr. Majestyk, Jackie Brown (from Rum Punch), Out of Sight—and even the L.A. satires Get Shorty and Be Cool—prove irresistible to filmmak- ers. It was 57 years ago that he made his first Hollywood sale. “I’ve sold probably 20 [works] to themovies,” says the author of 44 books and several short stories, beginning when Harry S Truman was in the White House. In addition, Leonard man- aged to write half-a-dozen screenplays—or “somethin’ like that.” He remembers how the Hollywood connection evolved. “I had written a couple [fiction] stories where cops were in- volved,” the 84-year-old Leonard explains. “But then the Detroit News asked me to do a [fact] piece on the homicide section, and especially Squad Seven [see accompanying story], which was the elite homicide group then; they did homicides that were committed during a felony: a robbery or somethin’ like that, you know—not just a mom-and-pop shooting, or the usual, a drunk shooting. So I researched, then I was intro- duced to Squad 7; and I sat with them for three weeks before I wrote a word. Lookin’ at all this stuff: lookin’ through their files, and it was unbe-lievable. And all these guys were funny. In that homicidal way, you know.” He laughs at the memories. “So I wrote it: ‘Impressions of Murder.’ And there was a Walther P-38 on the [Sunday magazine] cover, with a tag on it, that had been used in a triple homicide—which I covered in the story. Because, with Squad Seven, I would sit with whoever was interrogating someone ac- cused of a crime or witnesses. I would sit and listen to a confes- sion. And I’d be called. Two or three times, I was called: ‘We’re on our way to so-and-so where a homicide went down; come along, if you want.’ So I’d go. And watch them investigate a murder. And uh—it was, uh—it was—” It was so intense and intriguing and meaningful, it seems, that Elmore Leonard can’t complete the sentence. A rarity for a word master. Finally, he moves on: “So right after that, I wrote City Pri- meval [published in 1980]. And that was my first real cop story, about… about real cops: the way they talk and so on.” Elmore Leonard, at age 55, had begun what was destined to become the true heart of his oeuvre, the crime tale: “Swiftly paced, accurately reported, pungently flavored stories of armed robbery and murder, stock swindles and drug deals, of cops and crooks and courts of law,” writes literary critic George Grella. “In short, of authentic crime committed by and against credible people.” Lately, Leonard’s prose has found special favor with TV series-makers. FX recently ordered the second season of Jus- tified, with Timothy Olyphant starring as Leonard’s federal- marshal character Raylan Givens (from the short story “Fire in the Hole”). Another series involving Detroit cops, based on the novel Mr. Paradise, is in development. What makes Elmore Leonard’s fiction so compelling to big- and small-screen picture-makers are his realistic characters: the good and the bad, the honest and the crooked. Let critic Grella describe the Leonard line-up: “His thugs and pimps, convicts and con men, stockbrokers and coke dealers, his ex-Marines, retired cops, and reformed rummies act and, especially, speak as we know (or think we know) they should.” And they look and sound great on film. No surprise. Books and movies have been fused together in Elmore Leonard’s imagination since childhood. A Hollywood Branding Leonard says the first thing he ever wrote was a fifth-grade play s u m m e r 2 0 1 0 W G AW W r i t t e n B y • 41

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