Novelist Elmore Leonard was born on this day in New Orleans in 1925. His father worked for General Motors, and the family moved frequently during Leonard’s childhood, finally settling in Detroit.
During World War II, Leonard served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, then graduated from the University of Detroit with a degree in English in 1950. He decided to write either westerns or detective novels, whichever would generate the most income. After he sold a western for $1,000, he quickly churned out eight more. One of his books, Hombre (1961), was voted one of the best 25 westerns of all time by the Western Writers of America. It was made into a film in 1967.
Leonard married and had five children. To support the family, he worked as a copywriter at an advertising agency full time and on his novels every morning between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Westerns peaked in popularity in the late 1960s, so he turned to detective fiction. His first mystery, The Big Bounce (1969), was rejected by 84 publishers before it was published as an original paperback. Meanwhile, Leonard began writing educational films for Encyclopedia Britannica.
In the 1980s and 90s, the quality of his writing and originality of his plots finally began to gain serious recognition among critics, who had previously dismissed his work as typical western or mystery-suspense fare. By 1983, he had written 23 novels, including Fifty-Two Pickup (1974), Swag (1976), and Stick (1983), which became a bestseller. His 1992 novel, Rum Punch, was made into the movie Jackie Brown, directed by Quentin Tarantino. His 1990 novel, Get Shorty, was made into a movie starring John Travolta in 1995. Leonard lives in Detroit.