James Ellroy was born Lee Earle Ellroy on March 4, 1948, in Los Angeles, the son of Armand Ellroy, a part-time accountant and full-time anti-Semite, and Geneva Odelia “Jean” Hilliker Ellroy, a registered nurse. Ellroy’s parents, married in 1940, were divorced in 1954. His mother, reputedly a promiscuous alcoholic, was granted custody and moved with her son to El Monte, then a working-class suburb.
A defining moment of young Ellroy’s life occurred on June 22, 1958, when his mother was found murdered. Afterward, James lived with his father, who inspired the future writer with a birthday gift: a written history of the Los Angeles Police Department, which the boy studied. An obsessive reader, Ellroy fed his habit by frequenting libraries and stealing crime, detective, and mystery fiction from bookstores.
Ellroy attended largely Jewish Fairfax High School but was expelled in 1965 after parroting his father’s Nazi philosophy. He joined the U.S. Army but quickly realized he was not military material. After faking a stutter, he soon received a general discharge. Ellroy’s father died shortly after his son returned home.
For a time, Ellroy lived on the streets, surviving by shoplifting and burglary. He drank, used drugs, and squatted in deserted houses. Between 1965 and 1977, Ellroy was arrested many times for intoxication, theft, and trespassing. Convicted of numerous offenses, he spent eight months in jail. After his release, he held menial jobs, such as passing out...
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