Elmore John Leonard, Jr., was born in New Orleans on October 11, 1925, to Elmore John and Flora Rivé Leonard. His father traveled widely for his job, and the family moved several times before finally settling in Detroit in 1934. Leonard attended the University of Detroit High School, where he earned the nickname “Dutch” as a baseball player (after the Washington Senators pitcher Dutch Leonard). After being rejected by the Marines for his poor vision, he was drafted by the Navy in 1943 and served with the Seabees in New Guinea and the Admiralty Islands. After World War II, he enrolled at the University of Michigan, where he majored in English and philosophy. He married Beverly Cline in 1949, graduated in 1950, and took a job with an advertising agency that same year, first as an office boy and then as an advertising copywriter, specializing in advertisements for Chevrolet trucks.
Leonard had always loved literature, and he began to train himself to be a writer, deciding to begin with Westerns because he enjoyed reading them and believed there was a ready popular market for the genre. He studied Western films, travel magazines, and histories and also the novels of Ernest Hemingway, upon whom he began to model his writing style. He published his first story, “Trail of the Apache,” for which he was paid a thousand dollars, in the December, 1951, issue of Argosy. Within little more than a year, he had published nine more stories and his first novel, The Bounty Hunters (1953). He kept his full-time job during these early years, doing his writing from 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. every morning before work.
By 1961, Leonard had published more than two dozen short stories and four more novels, all Westerns—The Law at Randado (1954), Escape from Five Shadows (1956), Last Stand at Saber River (1959), and Hombre (1961)—and decided to quit his job and become a full-time writer, although he and his wife by then had four children. Ironically, the market for Western writing seemed to have dried up at just that moment; Leonard failed to publish another novel in the following eight years, and he was forced to earn a living as a freelance writer of advertisements and educational films. In 1965, he sold the film rights to Hombre for ten thousand dollars and was again able to devote himself to writing fiction full time.
The resulting novel was completed in 1966 and was rejected by eighty-four publishers within three months....
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Leonard has been called a “Dickens from Detroit” because of his remarkable ability to invent a fresh cast of memorable characters for each new book and to depict with realistic detail every nuance of each character’s distinctive voice. Critics have increasingly come to recognize that the apparent ease and naturalness of his style is deceptive and that the authenticity and precision of his depictions of contemporary people and places make him an accomplished and important American novelist.
Elmore John Leonard, Jr., was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925. His father, Elmore John Leonard, Sr., was an executive at General Motors and his mother, Florence Amelia (Rive) Leonard, was a housewife. The Leonard family moved frequently because of Leonard’s father’s specialty as a manufacturing plant locator, but in the mid-1930’s they settled in Detroit, Michigan, a city that would become the backdrop of many of Elmore’s crime novels.
Elmore, a Catholic, attended Blessed Sacrament Elementary School and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, where he picked up the nickname “Dutch,” borrowed from Emil “Dutch” Leonard, then a knuckleball pitcher for the Washington Senators baseball team. Elmore graduated from high school in 1943 and was immediately afterward drafted into the U.S. Navy. He served in the Admiralty Islands of New Guinea with the Seabees during World War II.
After the war, Elmore attended the University of Detroit on the G.I. Bill, majoring in English and philosophy. In 1949, the same year that he married for the first time, to Beverly Cline, he began working for the Campbell-Ewald Advertising Agency in Detroit. Following his graduation in 1950, he continued to work as a copywriter, a job he hated, for the advertising agency, eventually becoming assigned primarily to the prestigious Chevrolet account. His growing family (he would eventually father five children by Beverly) made it difficult for him to pursue his ambition to become a freelance writer, but he began writing Western short stories between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. each day before going to work. He published his first fiction in 1951: the novelette “Trail of the Apache,” in Argosy magazine. During the ensuing decade, he sold twenty-seven more such stories to pulp magazines and published four Western novels.
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