Life Piece:  Crime Does Pay (1990)
Posted: 27 June 2008 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Total Posts:  485
Joined  2005-10-08

Crime Does Pay by Elmore Leonard
He wanted to rob a bank in every state in the union
Life (November 1990)

The picture [see below] was taken in Memphis, most likely during the summer of 1934, a few months before I turned nine.  The ladies are my sister, Mickey, my mother and a family friend whose name I don’t remember.  The car, an Oakland, once made by General Motors, stands in the driveway of our home, which used to be on the corner of Poplar Pike and Crestmore Place.  An office building now occupies the site.  The picture might have been taken by my dad.  He was with General Motors and kept getting promotions that moved us six times before I was nine; from New Orleans where everyone in the family was born, to Dallas, to Detroit and then to Memphis for a couple of years before returning to Detroit in the fall of ’34.

For several years, not too long ago, a 40-inch photostat blowup of the picture hung on a wall of my study in Birmingham, Mich.  Next to it was a mounted newspaper photo, also blown up and grainy, of Buck Barrow – brother of outlaw hero Clyde Barrow – sitting in his undershirt, mortally wounded, in a field near Dexter, Iowa.  Police and deputies, who shot him six times that day in July 1933, are all around him.  We were in Memphis at the time.

A few years earlier, though, we were living in Dallas, where in 1930 Clyde Barrow first set eyes on Bonnie Parker, a little blond-haired waitress, 19, working hard to get by while her husband, Roy, was doing 99 years on a Texas prison farm.  Meeting Clyde Barrow changed her life.  They were not nearly as good-looking as Faye Dunaway or Warren Beatty, but were younger.  Bonnie 23, Clyde 25, the day they were shot 187 times in an ambush near Gibsland, La., May 23, 1934.

I would guess that photo by the car in Memphis was taken not too long after, however by October of that year we were in Detroit and the Tigers were playing the Cards in the World Series.

But the most telling clue of all is my pose, foot on the running board and cap pistol aimed at the camera – not unlike the famous shot of Bonnie Parker holding a revolver against her hip, a cigar stub clamped in the corner of her mouth and one foot on the front bumper of a care bearing a 1933 Texas license plate.  Faye Dunaway struck the same pose in the movie and it wasn’t bad.

Looking for the original Memphis shot, I came across an earlier gun pose that lacks the swagger of the one on this page.  I’m only about four in this one, wearing bib overalls and standing by our house in Oklahoma City.  I’m wondering if maybe it was inspired by Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, who robbed banks in Ohio about that time.  I don’t suppose the outlaw would have to be local, though; John Dillinger was raising all kinds of hell in those days.  So was George “Baby Face” Nelson.  Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll.  Ma Barker and her boys. . . I seemed to have liked guns then, a lot, and yet I don’t own one now, outside of a BB gun my wife, Joan, uses to scare off raccoons. 

Another early photo that puzzles me, taken when I was four or five, has me sitting in a toy airplane, a kind that you pedal to make it go, dressed in a cowboy outfit – the hat, cowboy chaps and pistol.  It might indicate a conflict of interests or maybe a desire to have it both ways; influenced by Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson in western serials as well as “Smilin’ Jack,” the pilot in the funnies.  Ken and Hoot must have moved me in a more positive way, for 20 years later I was writing westerns.

But what is most significant to me is the apparent effect of that 1930s outlaw period on the main body of my work.  I seem to be dealing with characters in contemporary situations who closely resemble these desperadoes; down-home killers who grew up on an oil lease in Oklahoma, served time in a Texas prison or came out of the Florida Glades to life of crime.  There’s a character in my novel KILLSHOT whose ambition is to rob a bank in every state of the union except for Alaska; “He had thirty-seven states to go but was young.”  About Clyde Barrow’s age.

I don’t know what the appeal is about outlaws, but it’s a fascination that can afford you a good living.  I’m glad I put my foot on that running board back in 1934 and aimed a cap pistol at the camera.

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Posted: 27 June 2008 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Senior Member
Total Posts:  97
Joined  2008-03-18

Probably in the back of my head I’ve wondered at some of Mr. L’s characters, settings. Opening “Pagan Babies” stills blows me away, that first scene so fluid with its foreshadowing you hardly realize it.

But the one idea that I remember thinking about - where’d he get the idea for the diver in “Tishomingo Blues”? Certainly the Civil War reenactment was not too strange. Newspapers here in the South have articles on them annually.

Maybe the part with Detroit mobsters taking part in the war was, well, surprising, but cool, as we expect from Mr. L.

Dennis Lenahan, the diver, man.

I remember watching Elvis Presley in “Fun in Acapulco” I think it was, at a saturday matinee as a kid. One of my characters in a novel I started, he dreams of doing that, going to Acapulco like Elvis and cliff diving. It’s something he put off doing his whole life and at the end…well, he gets a chance.

But a traveling diver? I gotta believe it’s something Mr. L saw somewhere, and there you go. Maybe not.

That is one idea, though, that I definitely wondering, “Where’d that come from?” as I read.