February 21, 2018
Elmore Leonard, Bad GuysOn this day in 1925 Elmore Leonard was born in New Orleans. Leonard spent most of his first decade in the South, moving from city to city as his father scouted dealership sites for GM. By the time he was ten, Leonard's family had settled in Detroit, and his David Copperfield-Pip years -- a review in 1984 labeled Leonard the "Dickens of Detroit" and this has stuck -- were spent in an All-American way: quarterback of the football team, pitcher for the baseball team, a casual approach to school, and a career path begun in the advertising department of Chevrolet. Leonard's advertising niche was trucks -- he says he had great difficulty with convertibles -- and in one of his rejected ads, an endorsement sent in by one trucker, we perhaps see the future novelist: "You don't wear that sonofabitch out, you just get tired of looking at it and buy a new one.
Leonard first applied his aptitude for writing to Westerns, having the idea that the genre was achievable and well paying. The collapse of this market and his success in it -- most notably, Hombre (1961) -- brought him to crime-writing and fame, not only of the best-seller and Newsweek-cover variety but the sort that comes from higher up the literary criticism ladder. This praise of Leonard's "literary genius" is from Martin Amis in an essay in his recent anthology, The War Against Cliché:
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