The egoless among us.

I don’t know how I missed this, a lengthy piece on Elmore Leonard last week in the WashPost, pegged to nothing in particular. The writer, Neely Tucker, seems quite taken by the fact Leonard isn’t an asshole:

Walk through his house, a two-story thing on a nice-but-not-ostentatious street in this leafy ‘burb, and you’ll be hard-pressed to know you are in the house of a writer, much less a famous one. He works at a regular desk with an IBM Wheelwriter 1000 typewriter at the side. It’s in a nice room with some wooden bookcases and a television at one end. He doesn’t own a computer. Then there’s a family room with pictures of his five kids and 13 grandkids and three great-grandchildren and a lovely oil portrait of Christine. The kitchen opens onto a sunroom, and there’s the back yard with 40-foot fir trees and a small swimming pool and a tennis court with a sagging net.

He drives a VW Jetta.

There is no glory wall, no photographs of him with stars in his movies: Cheadle, Clooney, De Niro, Eastwood, J-Lo, Newman, Travolta. He doesn’t go to the Oscars. Until you get to the “business room,” a tiny thing off a hallway by the garage with a couple of bookcases lined with copies of his books, the only sign he’s in the business is in a wet bar off the kitchen: the iconic Annie Leibovitz photograph of him on a hard-backed chair on Miami Beach, all in black, wearing a beret and typing away.

He looks cooler than you could ever hope to be.

“One time when I was a kid, I picked up the phone. This lady said, ‘I have Clint Eastwood calling for Mr. Leonard,’ ” says his son Bill, an ad agency executive who now lives just a few blocks over. “I said, very calmly, ‘Dad, Clint Eastwood is calling from California.’ Everybody screamed. We kids ran to the other room and unscrewed the mouthpiece so we could listen in. . . . He was completely unassuming about Hollywood. He’d say, ‘They’re just people.’ Aerosmith — the whole band — came over to his house a few years ago. They all went swimming.”

This evening, he and Christine go to dinner a mile or so from his house. He gives the maitre d’ his name for the reservation. Goes right over the guy’s head. He tells Dutch he’s late and he’s missed his spot and he’ll just have to wait some more. Dutch, who could buy the restaurant, doesn’t say anything. He and Christine just stand there, looking like a couple of nice retirees, and then Christine flags a waitress she knows, and this lady gets them a booth.

It’s like going out with the egoless Zen master.

Please don’t misconstrue this — I’m as delighted by Leonard’s lack of jerkitude as any person should be — but it makes me sad that not going on the muscle with restaurant hosts and not having a glory wall of pictures of oneself mugging with J-Lo is somehow more noteworthy than doing so.

Every so often I run across the syndicated TV version of Those of you familiar with it know their stock in trade — not celebrity news, but celebrity humiliation. (There’s a clip today of Andy Dick being carried, physically carried, out of a party, and whoever put that vomit risk in their car is either a hero or fool.) I’m intrigued by the show’s structure, which is familiar to anyone who’s ever sat through a newsroom staff meeting, because that’s what it is — a bunch of young reporter types pitch their stories to an older editor, who makes notes on a whiteboard. You get the sense of a platoon of spies, out to capture celebrities spilling coffee, looking offensively fat/skinny or, of course, being drunk. In that Andy Dick clip, which was filmed from a second-story window looking down on the action, you can hear someone nearby saying, “Are you getting this?” A man participating in the Dick-carrying action looks up at the camera and cries, “Dlisted!” — another gossip blog.

So what we have here is an army of paparazzi, feeding a digital Fleet Street full of gossips, dedicated to the twin propositions that a) celebrities are assholes; and b) we must publicly denounce them as such, preferably by being assholes ourselves (“Courtney Cosucka”).

I’m glad Elmore Leonard isn’t an asshole, but by the time you’re 82, it’s wisest not to be. Maybe that’s why he’s still doing his best work in his ninth decade.

In the story, Leonard makes the same point he makes with everyone who asks why it took so long for Hollywood to figure out how to make his books into decent movies:

Barry Sonnenfeld, the first director to figure out Leonard’s dark humor (“Get Shorty”), says his books are “medium camera-shot” stuff with no close-ups for punch lines, no cues to the audience something funny just happened.

In interviews, Leonard says this was his advice to Sonnenfeld — no cutaways for the reaction-mugging. Maybe that’s the secret, but I thought “Get Shorty,” the film, fell about 17.43 percent short of the praise heaped upon it. Danny DeVito was all wrong for the part of the jerk movie star (it needed someone short and clueless and handsome, a Tom Cruise) and John Travolta — meh. For my money, “Out of Sight” was far superior, and the secret to that wasn’t a lack of close-ups, it was leaving the damn dialogue alone and underplaying it. Leonard’s dialogue is very funny, but it’s dry-as-dust funny — you laugh inside. “Freaky Deaky” opens with a drug dealer being called to the phone in his mansion, a turn-of-the-century showpiece he’s tricked out with his hideous drug-dealer taste, like a green-striped parachute over “the Jacuze.” It’s his girlfriend on the phone, who asks if he’s sitting down. You have to sit down for this, it’s important. He sits down in the chair next to the phone (this being pre-wireless days) and she says, “When you get up, what’s left of your ass is gonna go clear through the ceiling.”

See, he’s armed a bomb. It’s a pressure switch, and when the pressure’s off, boom. But he has a phone, right? So he calls the police. And the bomb squad shows up, and the bomb expert crawls under the chair and says, yep, that’s a bomb. That’s when it starts to get funny — the dealer starts complaining that he’s “got to go the toilet” and the cops just don’t give a shit about his comfort. He’s a drug dealer, they know it, he knows they know it, and what’s the hurry? Let him suffer. They start putting ideas in his head: Now don’t think you can dive into that Jacuzzi and outrun a stick of dynamite, you can’t do it. Then they leave the room. A beat, and …boom. Now that’s funny, but it’s not ha-ha funny. It’s the guy sitting on a bomb in his mansion, the contempt of the cops, “I got to go the toilet, bad.” Just copy and paste, Mr. Screenwriter, it’s easy money. That’s what Scott Frank did in “Out of Sight.” And then they got George Clooney, one of the great underplayers, and Ving Rhames, another one, and they managed to wrap a few steel bands around J-Lo’s ego, and voila. “Out of Sight” is a romantic comedy in which you don’t laugh, only smile.

You’ve heard all this before. I apologize. Very tired this morning. I had the hockey game on for company while I worked last night and finally had to turn it off — the hysteria in the play-by-play and the desperation of the play itself was too much to bear. Dorothy said Penguins in six. She may be right. It might be Penguins in seven. (Or Wings in six!)

So let’s skip to the bloggage:

Geoffrey Feiger’s been on trial here, for campaign finance law violations, and a cursory look at the facts as presented suggest he was guilty, guilty, guilty. Not that it swayed the jury of his peers, who found him not guilty, not guilty, not guilty. (Most of you non-Michiganders probably know him as Dr. Kevorkian’s first high-profile lawyer.) I cannot tell a lie: I don’t care. The prosecution was flawed, and the Republicans (at the state and national level) have been hunting him for too long for me not to be cheered that he gave ’em the slip. The guy is the stone personification of the slimy lawyer, and yet, he’s easily one of the most amusing characters in town, and I’m glad he’s going to be in business a while longer. His TV ads are beyond belief, 30-second goblets of smarm talking about our great American justice system and his pledge to stick up for the little guy, blah blah blah, always punctuated by Feiger, his head tilted and eyes twinkling, smiling with the whitest set of teeth this side of Hollywood. (See here, here and, most spectacularly, here.) If I were the director, I’d add a little twinkle-sparkle effect in the last second. In fact, I bet he’s preparing a “thank you, American judicial system” spot as we speak, and I hope it includes it.

And speaking of court trials, I cannot tell another lie: If I were in a spinning class with someone who yelled, “Good burn!” and “You go, girl!” while the class was ongoing, I’d be tempted to dismount, pick up his stationary bike and slam it down to make my point. So, apparently, were members of this jury, who said as one: NOT GUILTY. Lance Mannion’s wife, the Blonde, and I were in an aerobics class with someone who did that, but it was a big room and he wasn’t quite that obnoxious. He was very big on spontaneous whoooos, however. The Blonde and I really hated that.

Finally, guess what’s on top of the NYT most-e-mailed list? This column: Put a little science in your life. Enjoy it as I did; I’m off to the gym, where nobody better mess with me!

Posted at 9:48 am in Uncategorized |

37 responses to “The egoless among us.”

  1. John said on June 3, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Dorothy said Penguins in six. She may be right.

    Please get more rest. The Red Wings are up 3 – 2.

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  2. Dorothy said on June 3, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Thanks for the Pens plug, but they can’t win in 6 now, since they lost the first two. But they can still win in 7!! And I’m dressed like a penguin today – black and white – and my penguin earrings.

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  3. moe99 said on June 3, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Posted it y’day but has not escaped the moat yet: the inventor of the Pringles can had himself cremated and part of his remains went into, yup, a Pringles can.

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  4. brian stouder said on June 3, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Now THAT’s ego-less

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  5. LAMary said on June 3, 2008 at 11:08 am

    TMZ is remarkably obnoxious. I like the cheesy celebrity gossip as much as the next person, but that show is really odious. They went on about how nasty is was to watch Jodi Foster shopping for underwear the other day. What is inherently nasty about it, we never got to hear. Maybe because she’s probably gay? Maybe because she’s not 22 years old? Who knows.

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  6. nancy said on June 3, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Duh. You’re right.

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  7. Sue said on June 3, 2008 at 11:20 am

    From “Put a Little Science in Your Life”: ‘We must embark on a cultural shift that places science in its rightful place alongside music, art and literature as an indispensable part of what makes life worth living.’
    Seriously? Schools are cutting music and art because taxpayers are screaming, and lit is something only snobs are interested in, right? And the author thinks science, which most schools recognize as more important than other subjects and which most parents at least pay lip service to, is getting short shrift? The problem with science and math teaching in schools is not that kids aren’t challenged enough or shown how fascinating the subjects can be, but that no one is allowed to catch up when they fall behind. If you can’t keep up, you have the option of a resource center staffed by other children or teachers who use the time to grade papers. Beyond that, you’re on your own. I agree that science should be a bigger part of our lives, but current attitudes in our country (which have been building for years, even before this administration) discount education. If you can’t get it by 18, give it up. At least with music, art and literature, self-education and community resources can help you pick up what you couldn’t or wouldn’t understand in grade school and high school. Science and math teaching in the US simply leaves too many people at the starting gate, and no cultural shift can happen until that changes.

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  8. brian stouder said on June 3, 2008 at 11:41 am

    In The News – Word of the Day: “pivot”

    With the long primary election cycle ending today, and the political machinations rattling to a (presumed) end – my bet is that you will read or hear the word “pivot” approximately eleventy-seven times before we get to Friday (D-Day, as it happens)

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  9. John said on June 3, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I saw that picture of you yesterday. It may be time for some Geritol as you were looking a tad bit peaked. Maybe all the bike riding has caused an oxygen leak.

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  10. Sue said on June 3, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    I didn’t think you look peaked. I thought you looked “soulful”.

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  11. brian stouder said on June 3, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    With all the thunderstorms crossing Indiana and Illinois right now, I think later this afternoon most of the folks in D-Town will look like that (at least in flashes)

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  12. colleen said on June 3, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    “Dick carrying action”

    Look for an increase in your hits from that little phrase….

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  13. coozledad said on June 3, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Eight years of this administration finally got me to throw in the towel, as regards personal appearance. I’m frequently half clothed, here on the farm. I’ve taken to eating entire packages of cheese as a between-meal snack. When I go to town, I have to hunt up a pair of “presentable” coveralls and flip-flops. I stopped shaving as a sort of joke, and realized it’s the next best thing to a chin prosthesis. For a while, my wife said it made me look more dignified; but I kept going with it, and now I’ve strayed into Abbie Hoffman territory. I have a feeling my new look will not be complete until I start walking around with a spit-cup.
    Does anyone have any recommendations for smokeless tobacco?

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  14. nancy said on June 3, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Whatever brand you choose, make sure a little juice drips into your beard. That’s what completes the look.

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  15. Jolene said on June 3, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    I liked yesterday’s self-portrait. What software is it that allows you to do that? Very cool effect.

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  16. beb said on June 3, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    It was during Britney’s very public meltdown that I noticed to what extent she was being followed by photographers, 20-30 of them all snapping pictures as if their life depended on it. If it had been five or ten photographers I wouldn’t have been shocked but the 20-30? That is so excessive. And the constantly glare of flashbulbs. If life were defined as moving in and around such hordes of voyeurs I know I’d go crazy.

    Then I read Rolling Stones article about Britney which suggested that she kind of makes a point of going out for milk, gas, a big gulp, whatever just so she can lead a posse of twenty cars (filled with photogs) around town. So is Britney a victim of excessive gossip mag voyeurism or is she an attention-addict who can’t live without being in the spotlight?

    It’s because people like Britney are considered normal that genuinely modest people like Elmore Leonard are considerd so exotic.

    I’m glad Geoffrey Fieger bet the rap because while he may be a slimey lawyer (some are not, of course) the people who have been trying to nail him have been positively skanky.

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  17. nancy said on June 3, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Jolene, that’s Photo Booth, which comes bundled with all newer Macs. My MacBook has a built-in camera, and PB works just like old-style photobooths. Strike a pose, click, countdown 3-2-1 and snap. There are two pages of digital effects you can add; “thermal camera” is but one.

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  18. john c said on June 3, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    My kids LOVE Photo booth …

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  19. John said on June 3, 2008 at 1:16 pm


    Don’t forget to start working on your cope ring.

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  20. Hattie said on June 3, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    My friend who grew up around movie people says that the really powerful people in Hollywood are extermely staid and conservative.

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  21. Jolene said on June 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Photo Booth sounds like fun!

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  22. coozledad said on June 3, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Nancy, John: I’ll try not to go to seed half-assed, but I don’t think I’ll spring for the tatoo on the nape of the neck.
    If Obama wins, though, I may take up running again.
    Elmore Leonard got me thinking about the mid to late 70’s in my hometown of Durham NC, when the Hell’s Angels merged with the Vice Squad to streamline their drug and prostitution operations. I always thought it was funny that on the heels of white flight, the white suburbs in the Northern area of town became, as a cousin of mine (a detective from a nearby town)
    said, “a fucking pit, a goddamned hellhole.”
    The police and fire departments had been merged into a creature called the Department of Public Safety. I don’t know what happened to the Internal Affairs people, unless they were the ones who shopped drugs confiscated from the Outlaws motorcycle gang back to the Angels. It was way out of control. One bar owner was killed by a bomb placed under his car-seat. There was an automatic weapons pipeline from Durham to NYC. One of the Durham cops was interviewed by SCREW magazine, and he boasted about how much pussy he got because “chicks love that uniform, and that gun”.
    They eventually ditched the whole Public Safety thing after the Vice Squad got busted by the Feds, and at least one of the Hell’s Angels liasons was killed assassination-style by the new police department. He was a twenty-something badass who was known to have killed several people. I knew a girl who rebuffed him at a bar once. He waited for her to leave and broke her nose with his fist. Her father decided he’d kill him himself, so I told my cousin (the detective) about it. He told me to tell the girl’s father “Don’t fuck with him.He’ll kill you and your whole fucking family. We can’t do a goddamned thing with him right now.” But eventually they did. About six guys, backed up by off-duty officers, lured him to a house and shot him many, many times when he walked through the front door.
    No one did time for that one.

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  23. Sue said on June 3, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Brian S commented on yesterday’s entry about the awful bike/car accident in Mexico. If you want to see where I go when I’m not reading all you high-falutin’ guys and your upscale topics (colonoscopy preps, tobacco juice), check out the comment section for “What Can You Say Here Except “Holy Crap”, at Yes. I am a bad person.

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  24. MaryC said on June 3, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Re the restaurant scene, my thoughts were yours — also that the writer called the maitre d’ a doofus for not recognizing Mr. Rich & Famous Writer so that he could send some nice retiree couple to the end of the line and give Mr. R&FW their table. But then what else are maitre d’s for, I suppose.

    It was during Britney’s very public meltdown that I noticed to what extent she was being followed by photographers, 20-30 of them all snapping pictures as if their life depended on it.

    For years I saw photos of Princess Di walking down the street or getting into her car without thinking much about it. Then I saw a documentary on her life in the fishbowl, when the camera pulled back and there were 20 photographers right in her face getting those shots we saw. Every public moment those guys were invading her space. I don’t know how she stood it but it’s been said that at some level she loved it and encouraged it and would pose for the paparazzi.

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  25. nancy said on June 3, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Britney is also said to like the photographers’ attention. I was told — by a pap photographer himself, so take that however you will — that she would call them to brief them on her schedule.

    A very strange and sad girl, that one.

    The bike-accident photo is so awful I have to keep my eyes squinted. That is, quite literally, my second-worst nightmare. (In the worst, Kate is on one of the bikes.)

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  26. Sue said on June 3, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    I think Diana’s courting of attention is pretty well-documented. Also a very strange and sad girl, described as a borderline personality. If only she were really what we all wanted her to be.

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  27. Dexter said on June 3, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Andy Dick. I caught his bit on the Pam Anderson roast, about the vilest thing I have ever seen on TV. (Comedy Central) Dick ran over to Tommy Lee and gave him a faux blow-job. Oh…Pam said her greatest assets were “Pancho and Lefty here”, as she fondled her chest.
    You know how Comedy Central heavily censors Jon and Stephen? They censor nothing after a certain hour…the roasters were way off the charts with the vulgarity…I am no prude, but to call somebody stuff like juicy cunt face? And it got worse.

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  28. nancy said on June 3, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Andy Dick is pretty loathsome, and the CC roasts are vile. It’s interesting to compare them to the Friars’ Club roasts, which are every bit as filthy, but are somehow actually funny. The New York Observer used to send someone to file a report, and I was always amazed both at how blue they got and how much I was laughing.

    Best one was Hugh Hefner, held three weeks after 9/11. That’s where Gilbert Gottfried told the aristocrats joke. Funniest bit ever was Hef sitting there like a lox, while 7/8 of the jokes flew nine miles over his empty head.

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  29. Dexter said on June 3, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    nance…lohan does the same thing with the photogs….~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    …and I’m surfacing into the 21st century…I took my first cell phone pictures today. Hey! Maybe someday I’ll get a hi-def TV so I can enjoy hockey more…NBC’s coverage is horrible compared to the Red Wings regular telecasts. Last night, the PA was totally overriding the commentators…the whole game, when a song played “…born and raised in SOUTH DEE-TROIT!!!” (for Rafalski) , as an example, there were delays of up to 30 seconds before the words came through…Pierre lost an entire seg because of this…POOR POOR POOR television work.

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  30. Dexter said on June 3, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    the aristocrats joke…that makes me cringe worse than anything ever, if it’s done right. That’s one joke that has potential to make people puke, turn green, and just up-and-leave in total shock and disgust. I couldn’t believe the twists and turns it took the first time I heard it.

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  31. john c said on June 3, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    I remember feeling a bit defensive when Diana died and everyone was ragging on the press. No disrespect to the woman, but it occurred to me at the time that she was, quite literally, a pure celebrity. Other than the fact that the British Royal family owns a boatload of things and is very rich, they are pure and officially sanctioned celebrities for no apparent reason. In other words, if people stopped following her around and making a big fuss, what would she have been, other than rich?

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  32. coozledad said on June 3, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    john c: Adam Mars-Jones wrote a short comic piece about the Royalty back in the early eighties that discussed how the job of being a Royal screws up the being wealthy part. You belong to the Brits to the point it infringes on your ability to function sanely. In the story, the Queen catches rabies from one of her corgies, and nobody notices until she begins battering someone in a receiving line with her purse.
    The title of the collection of short stories is “Fabrications”.

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  33. Terry WAlter said on June 4, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Feiger was just denied a license to practice law in Indiana for lying on his application. And, yes, more science in our lives would be a good thing. That way, the public couldn’t be led around by the nose by Al Gore and the other charlatans about ‘global warming’. The Petition Project now has over 31,000 signatures of U.S. scientists, including over 9,000 Ph.Ds, that aren’t into role playing as useful idiots.
    I’m voting for HILLARY. Hillary Will, that is. Yes, the fine young lady just won her first national event, driving her 8,000 horsepower,320 MPH top fuel dragster. Ahhhh, I love the smell of nitromethane in the afternoon. Owned by Kalitta Flying Service, one of the few remaining businesses still operating in Michigan. Meanwhile,I’ll go put on my SFI 3A-2/5 fire jacket so I’ll be ready for the warmth of all your love washing over me. Later, gotta go Prius shopping. Or Not.

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  34. del said on June 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Terry, Fieger did not lie on his application to practice law in Indiana. He added a qualifying word to the form he was required to fill out. No lie.

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  35. Randy said on June 4, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Leaving Leonard’s dialogue alone also works for his earlier, slightly darker stuff. The film version of 52 Pickup with Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret and John Glover is underrated, but works just right.

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  36. nancy said on June 4, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I’m so glad someone else recognizes “52 Pickup” as an unpolished gem. As I recall, the movie relocates the action to California, a huge mistake — it’s one of his best Detroit books, and the main character is Detroit through and through.

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