Happy Trails, Dutch

The man with the crime and mystery plan, Elmore himself (Rob Kozloff/AP)

The man with the crime and mystery plan, Elmore himself (Rob Kozloff/AP)

It is with a heavy heart that I report the passing of arguably one of the greatest American writers of all time—and one of my personal favorites—the great Elmore Leonard… otherwise known as Dutch.

The talented novelist and screenwriter so famous for his sharp dialogue and dark sense of humor suffered a stroke several weeks ago, but many (including me) were hoping he would somehow bounce back. Sadly, that didn’t happen and his agent reported earlier that one of my literary heroes had died.

He was 87 years old.

I have always idolized writers whose lives mirrored the excitement and verve I felt from their stories. At the top of my list has always been Ernest Hemingway, but I can say with absolute certainty that Elmore Leonard was never far behind. In fact, he often cited Hemingway as one of his strongest literary influences, despite criticizing him in the same breath for lacking humor.

Travolta and Russo in "Get Shorty" (MGM)

Travolta and Russo in “Get Shorty” (MGM)

It’s possible he had a point.

In terms of sheer volume, I would pit Leonard against any over-productive wordsmith of nearly any generation—at the time of his death, he was working on his 46th novel. And in terms of his writing career, few come close to living the life of which so many struggling writers dream.

Leonard’s first success came in 1951 when his short story “Trail of the Apaches” was published in Argosy, an American pulp magazine popular at the time, albeit a little seedy. Publication of The Bounty Hunters, his first novel, came two years later. And for the next decade, Leonard produced and published more than 30 short stories, primarily Westerns. Two of them were even adapted into films: 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T.

This in itself would be a writing career anyone could be proud of, but Leonard didn’t stop there. For the next half century, he pumped out novels—many of which became films and television shows—and quite a few screenplays. Maybe you’ve heard of some of his work: Hombre, The Big Bounce, Mr. Majestyk, 52 Pick-Up, The Hunted, The Switch—which incidentally will be released as the film Life of Crime next month—Bandits, Touch, Get Shorty, Rum Punch—also known as Jackie BrownOut of Sight and many, many more.

The unshakeable, unmistakable Jackie Brown (Miramax/A Band Apart)

The unshakeable, unmistakable Jackie Brown (Miramax/A Band Apart)

No doubt this man kept busy.

So to use a phrase this former writer of Westerns undoubtedly knew well—and may have despised, now that I think about it—I bid you “happy trails,” Elmore Leonard. In the immortal words of Leonardo da Vinci, remember that “as a day well spent brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”

Stay happy, Dutch. You earned it.

Posted on August 20, 2013, in Perspectives, Screenwriting, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I admit I’m a newcomer to Leonard. Of course I enjoyed Get Shorty, Out of Sight and especially 3:10 to Yuma (both versions). I never followed his writings but my newfound obsession (over the last year) has been FX’s Justified … based on the books Pronto and Riding the Rap and his short story “Fire in the Hole”. It’s the quick wit against a dark drama that keeps me so hooked to it.

    Interestingly enough – you can binge-watch Justified, but not on Netflix or Hulu. If you are an Amazon Prime customer you can stream the first 3 seasons for free.

    Thanks for the acknowledgement of Dutch, Scott. Also – have a great new year at NCWC!

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