The PR people were wise–promise an interview with Elmore Leonard and surely you’ll say “yes” to what they were actually promoting: A big, gritty, beautiful book of photographs of Detroit by Julia Reyes Taubman.
Leonard had written the forward to the book. Taubman was half his age and a transplant to the Detroit area because of her developer husband. She’d become enchanted by the strange city where Leonard spent his life.
The two became friends and he’d agreed not just to the essay, but to accompany her on a book tour. (Her gift in return was to squire him out to the family compound in the desert.)
They made an odd pair: stylish, young and beautiful Taubman, and Elmore himself, spry, with his throaty, cigarette-infused laugh. (He eagerly lit up as soon as we went out back behind our basement studios to take photographs.) Leonard was kind, generous, and funny–the kind of person you want holding court at your party. And he didn’t just tell good stories; he listened to yours, too.
Then 85, Leonard seemed offended when we suggested the elevator as an alternative to the flight of stairs down to the KCRW studio. He was excited about going out to the desert. (Moving to Los Angeles never appealed to him, he said, but given the winter chill in his hometown, you could tell he was enjoying the climate.)
Several KCRWers asked for his signature, and he obliged. He explained that he inscribes every book–to combat the trick of opportunistic autograph hounds who just place the merchandise on eBay. He was careful to write out each letter in his name. Leonard was famous for writing his drafts by hand, and then typing them on a typewriter.
There aren’t very many people like this prolific author out there; he was cut from the cloth of an old-fashioned generation that, with his passing, dwindles. May the “Dickens of Detroit” rest in peace.