Carole Baron Remembers Elmore Leonard
I met Elmore (or Dutch, I called him both; he gave himself the nickname when, as a teenager, he felt he needed one; he chose a Tigers baseball player as his namesake) at a writers' conference in a suburb in Michigan around 1978 when I was Executive Editor of Pocket Books and was on a publishing panel with A. Scott Berg who had just published Maxwell Perkins. Elmore was in the audience and we hooked up afterward as fellow Detroiters. He was a popular author but he hadn't reached the height of acclaim and sales he deserved. I wanted to change that. But it took me over ten years, until I became president of Delacore/Dell, to become his publisher.
The first book I worked on with Dutch was Get Shorty. The idea was to model its marketing on what I called "the Tony Bennett relaunch." As Bennett’s son did with his father, I thought we could build on Dutch’s loyal fan base while going after a new hip audience. We realized that Dutch was being read by the young literary crowd when publisher of the visionary Grove Atlantic and literary dazzler, Morgan Entrekin, came over to the table at the Versailles restaurant in Miami, so enthusiastic to meet Leonard. The updated look of Elmore's book jackets, (Chip Kidd would later design the back list) and the advertising campaign that focused on this new look (no more dead bodies and guns) would all help to serve to expand his audience and secure his place as a literary master.
Elmore Leonard was one of a kind. He did all his writing on yellow legal pads and if he didn't like what he’d written, he tore the pages up. He didn't "do" email so I called him or wrote him letters. I would visit him at his home in Birmingham when I went to see my parents who lived close by. I often took my sister Barbara along and he was always interested in her love life and approved of her husband Jack when he met him. When I took sketches of the different designs for the jacket for Get Shorty, my husband Richard took this picture. When he had an autographing, my parents would go and he was always so nice to them, this elderly couple who were so excited to meet an author. With Dutch, it was always a family affair.
Whether it was Detroit, Las Vegas or Florida, Elmore Leonard took us into a world that amazed, dazzled, and made us smile. With his sharp ear for dialogue, his wacky sense of character, his shrewd view of the world, and his economical style, he delighted us all. He will be missed.