Hardboiled crime fiction writer Elmore Leonard, author of nearly 50 books, died today at the age of 87. His career spanned an astonishing seven decades, from his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, published in 1953, to his last, Raylan, which came out just last year. He was also one of the most-adapted writers by Hollywood, which turned 26 of his books and short stories into films or TV series—and sometimes both.
A few of his stories are so good, Hollywood filmed them twice. The 1953 short story Three-Ten to Yuma led to the 1957 film starring Glenn Ford and the 2007 remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Two of Leonard’s novels, The Big Bounce and 52 Pick-Up, also completed two laps on the big screen.
Even if you haven’t read his modern westerns Pronto and Riding the Rap, surely you’ve heard of the TV series it spawned, FX’s Emmy-winning Justified, starring Timothy Oliphant as the antihero cowboy detective Raylan Givens, who figured in a handful of Leonard’s novels.
Get Shorty starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, and Danny DeVito? That was based on a Leonard novel, too (as was the less-successful sequel, Be Cool, though the book is beloved). 1996’s Out of Sight generated both a fantastic film starring George Clooney (still director Steven Soderbergh’s best work) and Karen Sisco, a fantastic 2003 TV series that failed to attract an audience and was canceled after a handful of episodes (it’s been a decade; I’m over it… mostly).
Even Quentin Tarantino found inspiration in Leonard’s prose—after Pulp Fiction’s smashing success gave him a blank check to produce whatever movie he wanted, he chose to adapt the 1992 novel Rum Punch into Jackie Brown.
Born in New Orleans but a longtime resident of Detroit (he was nicknamed “the Dickens of Detroit”), Leonard was known for the unrelenting pace of his novels, which tended to be Westerns, crime capers or suspense thrillers. In a list of tips aimed at young writers, he advised they “leave out the parts readers tend to skip.”
What’s your favorite Elmore Leonard novel? What about your favorite Leonard film adaptation?