Elmore Leonard's Cowboy Economics - Pacific Standard

Elmore Leonard's Cowboy Economics

The famous author, who died today, once earned $100 a week writing cowboy tales.
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Leonard. (PHOTO: MDCARCHIVES/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Leonard. (PHOTO: MDCARCHIVES/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The flood of eulogies for author Elmore Leonard have so far focused principally, and understandably, on the crime fiction for which he was best-known. But Leonard began his long career writing cowboy stories, not crime tales. In the 1950s, he appeared frequently in pulp magazines, pounding out Westerns in the pre-dawn hours before leaving for work as an advertising copywriter. He earned two cents a word. That's according to the interview below.

This was Clint Eastwood's cowboy, or Glenn Ford's—not the more preening version John Wayne, and arguably President George W. Bush would seek to personify.

We mention this in a magazine principally about the social and behavioral sciences because, among Leonard's less-noted literary achievements, was a major bit of American posturing. Leonard's early stories helped carry the famous American notion of the classic cowboy, the mission-driven man of few words, forward in the second part of the 20th century. For better or worse.

This was Clint Eastwood's cowboy, or Glenn Ford's—not the more preening version John Wayne, and arguably President George W. Bush would seek to personify. This was the quieter one with the unspoken past that would worm its way into the American psyche less garishly, but perhaps more influentially.

The classic Leonard cowboys are the villain and the lawman in his short story 3:10 to Yuma, later made into two film versions. If you haven't seen the original, today's a fine day to fix that. The remarkable ending—they sheriff has to get the villain onto that train to Yuma, where the hangman awaits—is as taut as it gets. Watch that and the next time you tell yourself to stop complaining, shut up, and get on with something, you'll realize you're in Elmore Leonard's world.

A New York Times item argued several years back that Leonard left that world for the talkier, flashier stage of crime stories, because the Western, and the pulp magazines that sold them, lost the public's fancy. At a time when whole chunks of major media are falling apart, it's a familiar tale. Here he is talking about what those earlier days were like, before anyone Got Shorty:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUMHAvXG4zg

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