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 (granddaughter)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1943–1946
Rank  Petty officer third class
Unit  Seabees
Battles/warsWorld War II

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. Among his best-known works are Hombre, Swag, City Primeval, LaBrava, Glitz, Freaky Deaky, Get Shorty, Rum Punch, Out of Sight and Tishomingo Blues.

Leonard's short story "Three-Ten to Yuma" was adapted as 3:10 to Yuma, which was was remade in 2007. Rum Punch was adapted as the Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown (1997). His writings were also the basis for The Tall T, as well as the FX television series Justified and Justified: City Primeval. Among other honors, he won the 2009 Pen Lifetime Award[1] and the 2012 Medal For Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.[2][3]

Anthony Lane wrote that Leonard

"was hailed as one of the best crime writers in the land. High praise, but not quite high enough, and some way off the mark. He was one of the best writers, and he happened to write about crime. Even that is not entirely accurate. It's true that his novels (more than forty of them, with another left unfinished at his death) enjoyed the company of criminals and of those who tried to stop them in their tracks. This was seldom hard, since, as Leonard delighted in showing us, crime—more than anything, even politics—allows men of all ages to disport themselves across the full range of human ineptitude. Boy, do they screw up."[4]

Early life and education

Leonard was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Flora Amelia (née Rive) and Elmore John Leonard.[5] 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. In the 1930s, there were two news items that would influence many of Leonard's works.[citation needed] From 1931, until they were killed in May 1934, gangsters Bonnie and Clyde were on a rampage. In 1934, the baseball team the Detroit Tigers made it to the World Series, winning the Series in 1935. Leonard developed lifelong fascinations with sports and crime. 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, where he earned the nickname "Dutch", after Tigers pitcher Dutch Leonard.[6] Enrolling at the University of Detroit in 1946, he pursued writing more seriously, entering short stories in contests and submitting then to magazines for publication. He graduated in 1950[7] 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.[7]


Leonard had his first success in 1951 when Argosy published his short story "Trail of the Apaches."[8]: 29  During the 1950s and early 1960s, he continued writing Westerns, publishing more than 30 short stories. His debut, The Bounty Hunters, was published in 1953 and was followed by four more Westerns. His early work already showed his affection for outsiders and underdogs. He developed his characters through dialogue, each defined by their speech. For many of his stories he favored Arizona and New Mexico as settings.[9] Five of his westerns were adapted as movies before 1972: The Tall T (1957), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Hombre (1967), Valdez Is Coming (1971), and Joe Kidd (1972).

In 1969, his first crime story, The Big Bounce, was published by Gold Medal Books. Leonard differed from well-known names writing in this genre– he was less interested in melodrama than in his characters and in realistic dialogue. He wrote the screenplay for, and the novelization of, Mr. Majestyk (both 1974); Lane called the latter "the best novel ever written about a melon grower."[10] The stories were often located in Detroit but he also liked to use South Florida as a setting. LaBrava, a 1983 novel set in the latter locale, was praised in a New York Times review, which said Leonard moved from mystery suspense short story writer to novelist.[11] His next novel, Glitz (1985), an Atlantic City gambling story, was his breakout in the crime genre. It spent 16 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, and his subsequent crime novels were all bestsellers.[12][13] In his review of Glitz, Stephen King placed Leonard in the company of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and John D. MacDonald.[14] Leonard believed that his books during the 1980s were becoming funnier and that he was developing a style that was more free and easy. His own favorites were Freaky Deaky (1988), about ex-hippie criminals and the Dixie Mafia story Tishomingo Blues (2002).[15] Some of Leonard's characters appear in several novels, including mobster Chili Palmer, bank robber Jack Foley and the U. S. Marshals Carl Webster and Raylan Givens.[16][17]

At the time of his death his novels had sold tens of millions of copies.[18] Among film adaptations of his work are Jackie Brown, (1997), based on Rum Punch and described as an "homage to the author's trademark rhythm and pace";[18] Get Shorty (1995); Out of Sight (1998) and the TV series Justified (2010—2015) and Justified: City Primeval (2023—).[19] Nearly thirty movies were made from Leonard's novels, but for some critics his special style worked best in print.[10]

Personal life

He married Beverly Clare Cline in 1949, and they had five children together—two daughters and three sons[20]—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.[21][22] 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,[23] but on August 20, 2013, Leonard passed away at his home in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills of stroke complications.[24] He was 87 years old.[21][22] One of Leonard's grandchildren is Alex Leonard, the drummer in the Detroit band Protomartyr.[25]

Style and influence

Commended by critics for his gritty realism and strong dialogue, Leonard sometimes took liberties with grammar in the interest of speeding the story along.[26] 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 said: "I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."[26]

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."[8]: 90  His favorite epithet was given to him by Britain's New Musical Express: "the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers".[27] His ear for dialogue has been praised by writers such as Saul Bellow and Martin Amis. "Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy," Amis told Leonard at a Writers Guild event in Beverly Hills in 1998.[28] Stephen King called Leonard "the great American writer."[29] 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."[30]

Leonard often cited Hemingway as his most important influence, but also criticized his lack of humor.[31] Still, it was Leonard's affection for Hemingway, and for 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.[32][33][34] John Steinbeck was another influence.

Leonard in turn had a very strong influence on a generation of crime writers that followed him, among them George Pelecanos, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and Laura Lippman.[35]

Lane praises Leonard's ear for dialogue, comparing him to Dickens and Evelyn Waugh:

"Leonard can make do with a single letter, or a blank where a letter is meant to be. 'What in the hell's a Albanian?,' a guy named Clement asks in Chapter 4 of City Primeval (1980). Typesetters may have pounced upon what they took to be a typo, but Leonard never misheard. In that respect, as in others, he was less like Hemingway—of whom he was a fan, and to whom he was often compared—than like Dickens, another city kid with his nose and ear to the ground... One proof of literary genius, we might say, is a democratic generosity toward your mother tongue—the conviction that every part or particle of speech, be it e’er so humble, can be put to fruitful use... He is gone now, but he left us a fine consolation: if you've never read him, or if you'd never heard of him until yesterday, or if you merely need a fitting way to mourn, pick up 52 Pick-Up, LaBrava, Swag, or Glitz, and tune into the voices of America—calling loud and clear, and largely ungrammatical, from Atlantic City, Miami, Hollywood, and his home turf of Detroit. Elmore Leonard got them right, and did them proud. As Clement would say, he was a author."[10]

Awards and honors

Leonard has been anthologized by the Library of America in four volumes: Westerns (Last Stand at Saber River, Hombre, Valdez is Coming, Forty Lashes Less One and eight short stories); Four Novels of the 1970s (52 Pick-Up, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89, The Switch); Four Novels of the 1980s (City Primeval, LaBrava, Glitz, Freaky Deaky) and Four Later Novels (Get Shorty, Rum Punch, Out of Sight, Tishomingo Blues and the short story "Karen Makes Out".)[40]



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 2023 – TV Series Justified: 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).


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (April 2018)
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 stories

This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (April 2018)
Year Story First appearance Film adaptation
1951-12 "Trail of the Apache" Argosy
1952-05 "Apache Medicine" Dime Western Magazine
1952-09 "You Never See Apaches..." Dime Western Magazine
1952-10 "Red Hell Hits Diablo Canyon" 10 Story Western Magazine
1952-11 "The Colonel's Lady" Zane Grey's Western
1952-12 "Law of the Hunted Ones" Western Story Magazine
1952-12 "Cavalry Boots" Zane Grey's Western
1953-01 "Under the Friar's Ledge" Dime Western Magazine
1953-02 "The Rustlers" Zane Grey's Western
1953-03 "Three-Ten to Yuma" Dime Western Magazine 1957 – 3:10 to Yuma
2007 – 3:10 to Yuma
1953-04 "The Big Hunt" Western Story Magazine
1953-05 "Long Night" Zane Grey's Western
1953-06 "The Boy Who Smiled" Gunsmoke
1953-08 "The Hard Way" Zane Grey's Western
1953-09 "The Last Shot" Fifteen Western Tales
1953-10 "Blood Money" Western Story Magazine
1953-10 "Trouble at Rindo's Station" Argosy
1954-10 "Saint with a Six-Gun" Argosy
1955-02 "The Captives" Argosy 1957 – The Tall T
1955-08 "No Man's Guns" Western Story Roundup
1955-09 "The Rancher's Lady" Western Magazine
1955-12 "Jugged" Western Magazine
1956-04-21 "Moment of Vengeance" Saturday Evening Post
1956-09 "Man with the Iron Arm" Complete Western Book
1956-10 "The Longest Day of His Life" Western Novel and Short Stories
1956-11 "The Nagual" 2-Gun Western
1956-12 "The Kid" Western Short Stories
1958-06 "The Treasure of Mungo's Landing" True Adventures
1961 "Only Good Ones" Western Roundup Later expanded to the novel and adapted as Valdez is Coming
1982 "The Tonto Woman" Roundup 2007 – Academy Awards nominated Live Action Short
1994 "Hurrah for Captain Early!" New Trails
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[41]
2005 "Louly and Pretty Boy" Dangerous Women - Mysterious Press 1996
2012 "Chick Killer" McSweeney's - Issue 39


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 {Escape from Five Shadows audiobook published by Harper Audio 2017}, 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).[42]



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 eponymous novel. 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).[43]



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