For Swanie, Bless His Heart (1991)
Posted: 30 March 2008 05:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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For Swanie, Bless His Heart”
ELMORE LEONARD.  Los Angeles Times Jun 16, 1991.  p. 3

In the mid-‘50s H. N. Swanson negotiated the sale of film rights, on behalf of my New York agent, to two stories of mine that had appeared in Dime Western and
Argosy. Both were produced as features: “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, and “The Tall T,” with Randolph Scott and Richard Boone.

A few years later I called Swanson’s office, asked for him and gave the receptionist my name. She said, “Just a minute.” Came back on and said, “What is this in regard to?”

We did talk, briefly. I had an idea I wanted to write for television-before I had watched a sufficient number of the back-to-back Westerns on TV at the time,
all pretty much the same and not one that had learned anything from “My Darling Clementine.”

A few more years went by before Swanie sold “Hombre” to Fox and a Martin Ritt picture was made starring Paul Newman and Fredric March. Now I began to receive
encouraging letters.

In 1967, my New York agent, Marguerite Harper, was seriously ill at the time I had just completed my first crime novel, “The Big Bounce.” Marguerite sent the
manuscript to Swanie, who read it, called me up and said, “Kiddo, I’m going to make you rich.”

Within the next few months Marguerite passed away and “The Big Bounce” (original title, “Mother, This is Jack Ryan”) was rejected by 84 publishers and
film producers. The consensus seemed to be that the characters were bums and the ending a downer.

Swanie wrote to say, “Don’t lose your nerve, kiddo. We have the tiger by the tail.”

His advise was to put in a plot but not sweeten the characters. I did and he sold it. The same guy, Jack Ryan (not Tom Clancy’s Ryan, a different one),
appeared in “Unknown Man No. 89,” which was rejected by 105 producers and studio people before Hitchcock bought it outright.

Swanie said to change the guy’s name if I ever considered using him again.

The first time I went out to Hollywood to work, in ‘69, he drove me past his home in Beverly Hills. “The only one on the street,” Swanie said, “without a mortgage.” He drove me past it again in ‘72. “There it is, kiddo.  Three-and-a- half acres.” He took me to lunch a couple of times during that period and to dinner at the Brown Derby on Wilshire when, I think, the only people in the place were Swanie and I and George Raft.

Finally in 1984 he invited my wife Joan and me to his home. I had to say it: “You know it’s taken 30 years to get inside this place?” He said, “Well, you weren’t making any real money till lately.”

He could say it with a straight face and I could smile and that was that, because we had an ideal writer-agent relationship. He didn’t have to give me special attention or coax work out of me. I produced and he sold it.

Swanie sincerely believed that “Nothing in this world can take the place of work. It’s the best companion you will ever have. It will never upset your lifestyle, and there is always the chance it will make you rich as well as famous.”

A note from Swanie enclosing a check: “You should be able to live on this for two-and-a-half years, which would free your mind of earthly cares, give you all this time for writing.”

Once in a while there were stock-market tips.

He warned: “Lend no money to friends. It will get around that you are writing for movie stars, and they will come at you from all angles.”

Another: “Avoid having anything to do with putting money in motion pictures . . . “

Norma, Swanie’s wife, will tell you his first loves were making deals and dining out, and that she was his “third draft selection.” He would laugh hearing her say it, though he might very well have put it that way himself.  Swanie laughed easily, eyes shining, for a gruff old guy who could scare you to death if you didn’t know him.

I watched him negotiate with a publisher once. Swanie wanted a new book deal for me. The publisher said, “But that isn’t fair, we already have a contract.”  And Swanie said, “I never said I was fair. Do you want the boy or not?”

I must have been at least 20 years older than the publisher, but to Swanie I was “the boy.”

He said to the publisher, “Why don’t you go back to New York and see how much money you can come up with?”

Another time, when a publisher balked at Swanie’s demand, he said, “Well, if you don’t want the boy we can always go up the street. We’re all friends.”

The only editorial advice he ever offered was to “get a girl with golden hair in your book. You know what I mean.”

He talked about good times with John O’Hara at 21 in New York.

He discussed flowers and investments with my wife Joan, and titles and the endings of books. Showed us where Scott and Zelda had danced on his patio.

I met W. R. Burnett in his office. Heard stories about Jim Cain and Ray Chandler.

Nine years ago I dedicated a book [LABRAVA] to him. “This one’s for Swanie, bless his heart.”

A framed photograph of Swanie that appeared in GQ stands on the bookcase behind my desk, Swanie looking over my shoulder as I work, reminding me, “If it isn’t fun, kiddo, it isn’t worth doing.”