The Big Bounce Introduction by E L (1989)
Posted: 05 September 2007 06:17 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The Big Bounce by Elmore Leonard
The Armchair Detective Library (March, 1989)

Introduction by Elmore Leonard

The first time THE BIG BOUNCE was offered to publishers and film producers, in the fall of 1966, it was rejected eighty-four times within a period of three months.  They said the writing was okay, the author showed promise, but none of the characters was worth caring about and the ending was a downer.

This was not encouraging.  The unanimous negative reaction of eighty-four professionals would suggest that I hide the manuscript away, maybe even throw it away, and move on to something with a more commercial ring to it, at least more easily recognized good guys and bad guys.

But I didn’t.  And you will never know how glad I am that I didn’t.  I read the manuscript again while it was collecting rejections and realized that what it needed was not a different attitude, or a more recognizable cast of characters.  It needed a plot.  It needed a promise that something eventually was going to happen.

Up until this time I had been writing only westerns, having chosen the genre as a good place to concentrate my efforts and learn how to write.  There was a wide-open magazine market for westerns in the Fifties.  You could aim at THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, COLLIER’S, ARGOSY, all paying top rates, as much as a thousand dollars or more for a short; and if you failed to hit the slicks you could try ADVENTURE, BLUEBOOK, or at least a half-dozen pulp magazines, like DIME WESTERN and ZANE GREY’S WESTERN, who were paying two cents a word, a hundred bucks for a short.  You could do pretty well if you wrote fast.  But I think my main reason for choosing westerns as a place to begin was because I loved western movies.  I developed a style of writing scenes, dialogue moving the story, with movie sales in mind.

(continued)

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Posted: 05 September 2007 06:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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(continued)

From August 1951, when I made my first sale to ARGOSY, and through the rest of the fifties, I managed to sell five novels, about thirty short stories – several more to ARGOSY and one to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.  Two of the magazine stories were made into movies:  “The Tall T,” with Randolph Scott and Richard Boone, from an ARGOSY novelette; and “3:10 to Yuma,” which appeared originally in DIME WESTERN in 1953.

By the end of 1960 I felt I was ready to leave my regular job with an ad agency and become a full-time fiction writer.  But as soon as I did the market for westerns all but disappeared, done in by the dozen or so western series programs appearing on television – all of them pretty much awful.  There was no incentive to get into that.

For the next few years I freelanced, wrote ads, promotional material, industrial and educational films, everything but cocktail napkins and not a word of fiction until HOMBRE sold to Twentieth Century Fox.  They offered an insulting ten thousand for film rights – since the book had been lying dormant for years – and I grabbed it, discontinued all freelance work except for a couple of advertising accounts, and began writing my first novel with a contemporary setting, MOTHER, THIS IS JACK RYAN.

My agent in New York at the time, Marguerite Harper, was taken seriously ill and sent the manuscript to H.N. Swanson, the Hollywood literary agent who negotiated the three film deals for us (Marguerite passed away shortly after).  Swanie read the manuscript, phoned me for the first time and said, “Did you write this book?” I said, of course I wrote it.  Isn’t my name on it?  Swanie said, “Well, kiddo, I’m going to make you rich.”

It was during the next few months that the manuscript was clobbered with eighty-four rejections.

But Swanie knew it would eventually sell and so did I, once I rewrote it.  What appealed to him most about the story was the female lead, Nancy.  In the late 1960s Swanie could look out of his office window on Sunset Strip and see a parade of girls like Nancy any time of the day, girls looking for “the bounce.”

(continued)

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Posted: 05 September 2007 06:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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(continued)

The new title appeared on the revision and the key word came out of an article in the February 1967 issue of ESQUIRE titled “The New American Woman.” The essay focused on types of Los Angeles women, described a composite and held that this L.A. Woman had many qualities that made her special, “some of which had already rubbed off and influenced the national female style.  But of all her traits, one looms above all others.  She is often dead at twenty-one.” She’s on pills of one or another.  Almost always needs music playing.  Sex has no meaning for her; she seldom attaches feelings to the act and the word “love” is never mentioned.  “Should boredom finally dominate her, she will seek the kick, the bounce, the flash.  It may be in a disastrous business venture, or it may be in a rage that end in violence…”

I had a hunch the word “bounce” would emerge and become popular, assuming they were using it out there and in time it would even reach Michigan.

Maybe I should have called the book KICKS.

In THE BIG BOUNCE traditional values collide with casual amorality.  Jack Ryan meets Nancy, and her bored, thrill seeking attitude scares him to death.  The fact that our traditional values are represented by a burglar turned migrant worker, who assaults his crew chief with a baseball bat, appeared to be a major problem in getting the book published.  But I refused to change Ryan’s background or his attitude.

The film version attempted to solve the problem by making Ryan a returned Vietnam vet, an obvious hero type, and by moving the locale from Michigan farm country to sunny California.  I read the script and told Swanie at least they’d have no problem casting it.  They could choose characters from PEYTON PLACE, which was the DALLAS/DYNASTY series of the late Sixties.  And that’s exactly what they did.  Ryan O’Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young stepped out of that Peyton Place into what was to become mine, on film.

I was in New York when the picture opened, ran out of a pre-production MOONSHINE WAR meeting to the theater on Third Avenue and arrived about fifteen minutes late.  Twenty minutes later the woman in front of me said to the man she was with “This is the worst picture I ever saw in my life.” And the three of us got up and left.

Not even Van Heflin, Lee Grant, and Robert Webber (all of them miscast) could save it.  Nor was it O’Neal’s or Taylor Young’s fault that it was a bad movie; they just happened to be in it.  Since then I’ve caught parts of THE BIG BOUNCE on television, but I still haven’t seen the opening, with my credit, or the final scene.

(continued)

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Posted: 05 September 2007 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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continued)

It happened that during the picture’s run in Detroit I addressed the young ladies of the senior class of the Academy of the Sacred Heart.  I told them I would bet that I was the only writer who’d ever appeared at the school with a film currently in release that had been condemned by the Legion of Decency.  Today, the picture would be rated PG.

Jack Ryan, the hero, went on to appear in UNKNOWN MAN NO. 89 as a process server, not highly motivated but still with a mind of his own, his personal set of values intact.  There are references in UNKNOWN MAN to his past adventure.

Jack is not related to Frank Ryan, one of the co-stars of SWAG.  But a character from that one, Leon Woody, did appear in THE BIG BOUNCE and he asks Frank if he knows Jack.  Ernest Stickley, Jr., the other co-star, who served seven years for armed robbery following SWAG and went on to become STICK, does resemble Jack Ryan quite a bit.  If Stick is a more interesting character than Jack, it’s only because my writing has improved, perhaps not in plotting in but in delineating character (the plot is not that important to me).  All of my male leads, in fact, even in the westerns, resemble Jack Ryan in that they have much the same basic attitude about their own existence, what’s important and what isn’t.  Jack Ryan might possibly have become a continuing character aging along with his maker, if it were not for the fact that each time you sell a film rights to a studio, they own the character for a specified number of years.  So I change the names.

UNKNOWN MAN NO. 89 opens with the lines:  “A friend of Ryan’s said to him on time, ‘Yeah, but at least you don’t take any shit from anybody.’ Ryan said to his friend, ‘I don’t know, the way things’ve been going, maybe it’s about time I started taking some.”

He may entertain the idea, but you know he isn’t going to do it.  That’s what Jack Ryan and all the Jack Ryans who appear under other names are all about.

-Elmore Leonard

END

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Posted: 07 September 2007 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thanks Robb.  Yet another brilliant look into the mind of the Master.

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