Elmore Leonard on Film: Three Great Scenes

The best-selling author—who has died at age 87—was also a Hollywood juggernaut

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The writer Elmore Leonard, who died this morning at 87 of complications from a stroke, worked in many genres—including Westerns and suspense thrillers—but he’s best known for his crime novels. But even those who never picked up his books might be familiar with his work through the movies: of the more than 40 book he wrote over a six-decade career, 19 were adapted for the big screen.

Get Shorty, above, is the prime example. The 1995 film, based on a 1990 book, stars John Travolta as a mobster who gets caught up in the movie business; Danny DeVito plays an actor who hopes to play Travolta’s character in a film. The movie was a success among critics and at the box office.

(MORE: 10 Questions for Elmore Leonard, 2005)

But, though Get Shorty is probably the title that garnered Leonard the movie cinematic attention, it was not the beginning. The author’s first Hollywood credit came all the way back in 1956, when he wrote the story for an episode of Schlitz Playhouse. One year later, his Western story 3:10 to Yuma, about a rancher attempting to help bring an outlaw to justice (and to a specific train), received its first on-screen treatment; it was adapted again in 2007.

(VIDEO: 10 Questions for Elmore Leonard, 2010)

More recently, Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch provided the source material for Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 thriller Jackie Brown, about a flight attendant caught up in an arms-smuggling operation. (Note: clip below slightly NSFW.)

Leonard’s cinematic legacy will continue after his death. His story Fire in the Hole is the basis for the the TV show Justified; his story When the Women Come Out to Dance will become the TV movie The Arrangement, currently in post-production; and the upcoming Jackie Brown prequel Life of Crime—premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival this September—is based on his novel The Switch. And there’s no reason to believe his story will stop there:  more than a dozen of his books are still waiting to be adapted.