Elmore Leonard: Next Hollywood collaboration to play at Toronto

Author Elmore Leonard, 86, who died Tuesday, stands in his Bloomfield Township, Mich., home last year.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press )

Elmore Leonard, whose work has fueled Hollywood films for decades, will have an impact on the business even after his death.

Leonard, who died Tuesday, recently had his 1978 crime novel “The Switch” adapted into a movie titled “Life of Crime.” It is scheduled to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.

The picture centers around two criminals (John Hawkes and Yassin “Mos Def” Bey) who kidnap the wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a wealthy real estate developer for ransom. Unfortunately, the rich man (Tim Robbins) doesn’t want to pony up for his wife because he’s in love with his mistress (Isla Fisher). The movie, on which Leonard served as an executive producer, is set to close the 11-day festival on Sept. 14.

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If “Life of Crime” finds a distributor at the festival, it will become one of a library shelf of projects based on Leonard’s books and short stories to hit theaters. The biggest box office hit was 1995’s “Get Shorty,” based on his 1990 book of the same name, about a mobster who travels to Hollywood to collect a gambling debt and ends up getting sucked into show business. The picture, which starred John Travolta and Gene Hackman, grossed $72 million domestically. Its sequel, 2005’s “Be Cool” -- adapted from Leonard’s 1999 novel of that name -- didn’t fare as well, with only $56 million in ticket sales.


Leonard had mixed feelings about some of the movies made from his work. He detested both versions of “The Big Bounce,” the most recent one in 2004 with Owen Wilson and Charlie Sheen, and the early version of “3:10 to Yuma,” which was first made with Glenn Ford in the lead role and later remade in 2007 with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.

Other titles include the little-seen 2008 film “Killshot,” which featured Mickey Rourke, and the 1997 movie “Touch,” with LL Cool J.

He seemed happier with the film treatments of “Rum Punch,” which became the Quentin Tarantinto-directed “Jackie Brown,” and “Out of Sight.”

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Following a check he received for the latter picture -- a 1998 film starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez inspired by his 1996 book -- Leonard moved to Pasadena. He told The Times in 1998 that he called his new home “the house that Jack built,” referring to the character Clooney played in the movie. “The only Hollywood [jerk] in my neighborhood is me,” he joked.

Indeed, Leonard’s attitude toward the industry was often refreshingly mellow. Though he complained about some of the movies that got made from his books, he understood the adaptations were up to the screenwriters and directors -- whom he applauded when they came up with worthy end-products.

“I’m not concerned with how closely it’s adapted. I just hope it’s a good movie,” he said in a 1998 conversation with author Martin Amis, published in The Times. “Quentin Tarantino, just before he started to shoot, said, ‘I’ve been afraid to call you for the last year.’ I said, ‘Why? Because you changed the title of my book? And you’re casting a black woman in the lead’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘You’re a filmmaker. You can do whatever you want.’ I said, ‘I think Pam Grier is a terrific idea. Go ahead.’ I was very pleased with the results, too.”


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Elmore Leonard dies at 87; master of the hard-boiled crime novel