RIP to this Alpha-Talent
August 20, 2013, Elmore Leonard Dead at 87
Wilson Mizner described Tinsel Town as “a trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat”, a dream factory where crass commercialism regularly trumps art. Even so, literary heavyweights like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh labored in the lucrative Hollywood trenches as screenwriters. Beneath the glitz and glamour, grim reality served up plenty of juicy material. Swimming with the showbiz sharks paid off.
I loved the movie Get Shorty. So did Elmore Leonard. The author of the book-into-movie is the éminence gris of crime fiction. If I want to read a good story about bad guys, well, Leonard is ’nuff said brilliant.
Hollywood is full of Leonard fans. Studios have been making movies out of his western stories and crime novels since the 1950s. He might be called a genre writer but he’s taken seriously, very seriously, by the literary crowd. So, how does he do it?
Well, I started this post intending to write about Hollywood novels like The Last Tycoon (Fitzgerald) and The Loved One (Waugh). But I’m both chronically distracted and thoroughly smitten by Elmore.
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
Nobody writes openings like Elmore Leonard.
When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.
You need to know about this because you need to know why there’s bad blood between Chili Palmer and Ray Bones, the guy who stole his coat and is now his boss—and has ordered him to collect $4,200 from a dead guy. Except the guy didn’t die; he went to Las Vegas with $300,000. So Chili goes to Las Vegas, one thing leads to another, and pretty soon he’s in Los Angeles, hanging out with a movie producer named Harry Zimm and learning what it takes to be a player in Hollywood.
Leonard hits the comic bulls-eye with this laugh-out-loud page turner full of zingy one-liners about a small time loan shark chin-deep in colorful lowlifes.
Be Cool by Elmore Leonard
In the sequel to Get Shorty, Leonard pokes fun at the Hollywood scene and the task of a sequel writer. He takes readers on a back-side tour of Tinseltown’s other big business—the music industry.
Leonard needed lyrics and inspiration for a fictional band, so he did some schmoozing with singers. Hanging out at a lounge in L.A., he heard a Stone Coyotes performance and it was love at first sight for this book/band couple.
The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard
Slick cars, speakeasies, bank robbers and shoot-outs in Oklahoma during the 20s and 30s ~ another joy ride with crackling dialogue and characters that jump off the page. Leonard says of his characters, “I like ’em all, but if one doesn’t work, I’ll have him shot.”
A campy cast, snappy talk, and all the twists and turns I expect, Mr. Paradise is Elmore Leonard at home in Detroit and Master of the Cooliverse.
And then there’s Swag, where you root for the crooks. Killshot has Leonard’s best-ever opening chapter. Freaky Deaky is full of articulate profane dudes involved in a slippery scheme. Raylan is about a drily witty cop who shoots villains without blinking an eye.
In Elmore Leonard capers, you always know very soon who killed whom, who is in charge of the scam, what the criminal’s plan is. What fills the novels – joyously, incomparably – is talk.
Do you like characters who stand outside the normal run of things?
Ones that discuss diction? investigate dialogue? tell stories?
Are you an Elmore Leonard fan yet?
Meet you here next Sunday.
- Tributes: Elmore Leonard (wnyc.org)
- Novelist, screenwriter Elmore Leonard dies at 87 (today.com)
- Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and Out of Sight, dies (theguardian.com)
- Best-selling author Elmore Leonard dies at 87 (goerie.com)
- Elmore Leonard’s Cinematic Impact – Writing Himself into Modern Movie History (twcc.com)