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R.I.P. Elmore Leonard: 1925-2013

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood August 20, 2013 at 2:04PM

When the late Elmore Leonard began writing fiction in the early Nineteen-Fifties, Westerns ruled the roost, so most of his early heroes wore cowboy hats. When this great American writer, who died today at 87, went with the flow in 1969, and switched to writing urban thrillers (with the twice-filmed "The Big Bounce"), the change wasn't a wrenching one. He didn't ask his characteristically watchful and laconic heroes to change much more than their hats when they relocated from the deserts of the Southwest to the mean streets of Detroit and Miami.
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Elmore Leonard on stage in 2012 with "Justified" stars Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins.
Elmore Leonard on stage in 2012 with "Justified" stars Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins.

When the late Elmore Leonard began writing fiction in the early Nineteen-Fifties, Westerns ruled the roost, so most of his early heroes wore cowboy hats.

When this great American writer, who died Tuesday at 87, went with the flow in 1969, and switched to writing urban thrillers (with the twice-filmed "The Big Bounce"), the change wasn't a wrenching one. He didn't ask his characteristically watchful and laconic heroes to change much more than their hats when they relocated from the deserts of the Southwest to the mean streets of Detroit and Miami.

The best-known current incarnation of the Leonard hero, Timothy Olyphant's Marshall Raylan Givens on the FX series "Justified," brings the iconography full circle. He is a contemporary lawman who has traded in his six shooter for a Glock but still favors the hat and the boots and remains calm even when engineering a shoot out.

Both Olyphant's portrayal and "Justified" itself were among Leonard's avowed favorites among adaptations of his work -- a large statement for a writer whose protagonists have been portrayed over the years by Glenn Ford, Randolph Scott, Paul Newman, Charles Bronson, Burt Lancaster, Clint Eastwood, Robert Forster, George Clooney, John Travolta, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.

From the beginning, Leonard's work was catnip to Hollywood. Both of the 1957 Westerns based on his stories, Budd Boetticher's "The Tall T" and Delmer Daves' "3:10 to Yuma," are considered genre classics. Martin Ritt's "Hombre" (1967), with Newman, Edwin Sherin's "Valdez Is Coming" (1971), with Lancaster, and John Sturges' "Joe Kidd" (1972), with Eastward, all have their moments.

This article is related to: Elmore Leonard, Obit, Justified, Quentin Tarantino, Quentin Tarantino, Quentin Tarantino, TV


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.