This past August 20th, the world experienced the loss of distinguished author, Elmore Leonard. He passed away at the age of 87, of complications from a stroke he had suffered recently.
Elmore began writing Western stories in the 1950’s, coming into his familiar style in the late seventies and early eighties. He wrote over fifty books throughout his career and practically worked until the very end. Nevertheless, he accomplished so without ever losing one bit of his flair; maintaining a remarkably solid level of creativity that could only be attributed to a genius.
Even though success came late, many of his books have become bestsellers and deservedly so. Yet, through most of this flourishing period, he was frequently tagged as a crime novelist primarily. While all of his stories had elements of crime, he covered so much ground that went beyond the limiting constrictions of a sole genre. His style of writing has to be experienced first-hand to be fully understood. His greatest strength was always on the character development, with focus on sharp, witty dialogue and near-perfect use of language. His rhetoric was most impressive, applying different styles ranging from the colloquial to regionalism to jargon; all of it applied with perceptive scrutiny and always leaving out unnecessary decorum. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine that, if not all, at least the majority of his books have a cinematic way about them; for the style and flow are so well represented, that they are easily visualized in the reader’s imagination.
It is why his works have resonated beyond the literary world, with many of them being the ideal cinematic target for the film realm. He also wrote several screenplays in the seventies and eighties, of which most were based on his novels.
His relationship with Hollywood was not a favorable one, having some mixed feelings about the associations at best; for more often than not, he had considered most of his film adaptations to be of inferior quality. Pointing out that Out of Sight, Get Shorty and Jackie Brown (Rum Punch’s adaptation), were some of the few exceptions. And who’s to argue with such strong of a case, considering the quality of the candidates. Other good adaptations produced were, Hombre, 3:10 To Yuma (both versions) and even 52 Pick-up. The rest of the adapted films, and in a way, least satisfying have been: Last Stand at Saber River, The Big Bounce (twice filmed), The Moonshine War, Valdez is Coming, Mr. Majestyk, 52 Pick-Up (twice, though filmed first as The Ambassador) , Cat Chaser, Stick, Touch, Freaky Deaky, Killshot, Be Cool, plus other made-for-television releases. Additionally, there’s a new adaptation of another or his books, it’s the upcoming release of the film“Life of Crime”, based on The Switch, which is the prequel to Rum Punch. This new film will star Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins alongside John Hawkes, Isla Fisher, and Mos Def; with most of them playing younger versions of the original characters in the film Jackie Brown.
On television a short-run miniseries was produced, based on Maximum Bob, with Beau Bridges as the lead character. Then in 2003 the underrated series Karen Sisco premiered on network television; starring Carla Gugino and based on the female lead character from Out of Sight, who also appeared in the short story collection When the Women Come Out and Dance. Unfortunately, this acclaimed series was cancelled after just one season.
More recently, the cable series Justified which has aired for a few years now and been quite successful and subsequently garnered a wide following; it has been running during four seasons now, with a fifth one due to premiere in early 2014. This series is based on the main character from Leonard’s Pronto, Riding the Rap, the short story Fire in the Hole as well as from “Raylan,” which was written after the show’s creation and is now the author’s last completed novel. The series has received high acclaim and several awards, with Elmore himself recognizing it as a great realization; he also went on to praise Timothy Olyphant’s performance as Raylan.
Sadly, along with Mr. Leonard’s passing, we have very recently lost two other great men who were associated to his stories, through film adaptations; ironically, each one just a month apart of each other. First to pass away was James Galdonfini on June 19th, followed by Dennis Farina soon afterwards on July 22nd, and now of course, Elmore Leonard. James Galdonfini played a small but notable role in Get Shorty, in which Dennis Farina was also cast in; he also played Karen Sisco’s Father, Marshall Sisco in Out of Sight.
Elmore Leonard leaves an astonishing wealth of literary works for us all to enjoy, and even if we become familiarized with them through his cinematic adaptations or television series; either way, his words and wisdom will continue to inspire many others, without a doubt. –His pronounced influence can only attest to the legacy he leaves behind.