Scribe-journo-adventurer Leon Uris, best known for his massive tomes “Exodus” (1958) and “Trinity” (1976) and the screenplay for 1957’s “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” died from congestive heart failure at his home on New York’s Shelter Island Saturday. He was 78.
“Exodus,” about the creation of Israel, became a global bestseller and later an acclaimed film starring Paul Newman and directed by Otto Preminger (Ernest Gold won the music score Oscar for the 1960 pic). The classic “O.K. Corral,” starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, was directed by John Sturges. His thriller novel “Topaz” (1969) became an Alfred Hitchcock film. “Trinity” focused on the conflicts in Ireland.
His book “QB VII,” about Nazi atrocities and an infamous court case (and based in part on a legal battle he had over “Exodus”), became an acclaimed TV miniseries starring Ben Gazarra and Anthony Hopkins.
In October, HarperCollins is set to publish Uris’ last book, “O’Hara’s Choice,” a historical novel about the U.S. Marine Corps. His ex-wife, photographer Jill Uris, said he completed the work this spring.
His other books include spy novel “The Angry Hills” (1959), later a film starring John Mitchum and directed by Robert Aldrich; “Exodus Revisited” (1960); “Mitla Pass” (1988), a personal account about the Middle East conflict; “Mila 18,” about the Jewish uprising in Warsaw during World War II and a springboard for family history; and his first book, “Battle Cry” (1953), the screenplay for which he also worked on, based on his experiences as a WWII Marine and as a war correspondent.
His novels have sold more than 150 million copies in 50 countries, and many have topped bestseller lists. Readers were especially attracted to the breadth and sweep of his books, even as critics were less than enthusiastic about his prose.
Baltimore native and son of immigrants dropped out of high school after failing English three times and joined the Marines, serving in the South Pacific during World War II. After the war, he turned to writing full-time. In 1956, he reported on the Middle East conflict; “Mitla Pass” was an autobiographical perspective on the Sinai campaign. The book’s editor, Herman Gollob, described Uris as a “committed Jew” and a larger-than-life character.
Uris himself admitted to being difficult, ruthless and “hurt(ing) a lot of people on the way up.” He even feuded with Preminger and Hitchcock, and was involved in lawsuits regarding and “Topaz” and “Exodus.”
Married three times, he is survived by five children.