R.I.P. Elmore Leonard, The ‘Dickens Of Detroit’

Elmore Leonard death
Paul Sancya, AP

Elmore Leonard, the “Dickens of Detroit,” died this morning at 87. A prolific novelist and screenwriter, Leonard may have captured and defined the soul of his home city better than any travel writer.

When he began writing westerns in the 1950s, he could have relocated to Los Angeles. When his films began to attract major stars, he could have given up the hard-scrabble city for cushier surroundings. Yet Leonard stayed put.

He was born in New Orleans, but his family relocated to Detroit by the time he was nine. He attended school in the Motor City, later graduated from the University of Detroit, and started his writing career there in a spartan basement workspace. Many of his 46 novels were set there. When his character Jack Ryan (of Highland Park) served papers to a rock band live onstage, it was at the Masonic Temple of Detroit – 500 Temple St. When a scene in the film “Out of Sight” called for a boxing gym, Leonard took us to the Kronk Gym at 5555 McGraw St.

While he’d paint images of dusty western towns quite removed from Detroit, the city was never far from those saloons and open plains of 1950s Hollywood. It informed the snappy dialogue of his seedy characters and the urban feel of his tightly written work. The balance of black humor and danger he found in Detroit became a trademark of his work. It was evident in his films (“Get Shorty,” “Jackie Brown,” “3:10 to Yuma,”) and even his most recent work, the FX series, “Justified.”

Just last year he said that despite the poverty of the area, he couldn’t leave -– and he never did. He had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke earlier this month, but returned to his Bloomfield Village home where he died.

To see the scope of Leonard’s Detroit, check out the map below.
View Elmore Leonard’s Detroit in a larger map