Late author Elmore Leonard was known for his sense of humor, so it only makes sense that a night dedicated to him would be filled with laughter provided by some of the people who keep his work alive.
Castmembers of FX’s “Justified” and others gathered at the New Roads School in Santa Monica Jan. 21 to read excerpts and pay tribute to the novelist/screenwriter, who died in August of last year.
Nonprofit literature organization Writers Bloc presented the evening with help from Leonard’s researcher, Gregg Sutter. The org’s founder, Andrea Grossman, served as host and explained how the event came to be.
“When Elmore died this past summer, I was stricken,” she said. “I loved that guy. My 20-year-old daughter told me to get a grip, stop whining, call Gregg Sutter and plan a tribute.”
She also acknowledged that many of the people present were missing something else: the third episode of the new season of “Justified” which aired that night. “Thank God for DVRs,” she jested.
Before handing the microphone off, she let the man of the hour have the stage, showing a video of Leonard accepting his National Book Awards Medal for distinguished contribution to American letters.
“The review I think has the most stimulating, if not a realistic, appraisal of my work comes from New Music Express in London who calls me ‘the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers,’” he read, and paused for the audience to laugh. “You hope in vain you see a quote like that on the back cover on your book.”
“Justified” showrunner Graham Yost fittingly read a passage from the short story that inspired the series.
“When I was adapting that story, ‘Fire in the Hole’ – it’s 55 pages in this book – what I did a lot of the time, if I was typing the scene, I’d think, ‘What’s Raylan going to say next?’” He recalled after reading the excerpt. “Hell, what would Elmore have him say next? Let’s use that.”
“That’s the reason we’ve been on for five years,” he continued. “We try to do an Elmore Leonard show, week in, week out.”
Elmore’s son Peter Leonard also shared what the author was like at home.
“In the ’60s, when everyone in Detroit was driving a big American car, Elmore bought a Fiat convertible that he sometimes drove on the sidewalk to the bewilderment of our neighbors,” he laughed. “I think alcohol might have been involved.”
He also read some favorite letters his dad received: one from a convict, one from a 12-year-old girl and one from someone who vehemently hated his work, which left the audience cracking up.
Walton Goggins, who plays the infamous Boyd Crowder on “Justified,” was tasked with reading one of Leonard’s most intense works: “Pagan Babies.” Before he did, he marveled at the role that Leonard left behind for him.
“If you would have told me five years ago that I would get the opportunity to play a criminal called Boyd Crowder written by Elmore Leonard, I would have said, ‘What is it you’ve been smoking?’” he said. “And if you would have told me five years ago that five years later I’d still be playing Boyd Crowder, I would have said, ‘What is it that you’ve been smoking and can I have some?’”