August 23, 2013
Guests: Marian McPartland - Elmore Leonard
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: For over 30 years, jazz pianist Marian McPartland hosted one of public radio's move beloved shows, "Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz." As NPR's Felix Contreras wrote, it gave the world an intimate insider's perspective on one of the most elusive topics in music, jazz improvisation. McPartland died of natural causes on Tuesday. She was 95.
We're going to remember her today with an interview she recorded in 1987 with Terry Gross. "Piano Jazz" featured performances and conversation with a wide variety of pianists, including Teddy Wilson, Bill Evans, Eubie Blake, Hank Jones, Ray Charles and Dave Brubeck. But not just piano players. Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Lyle Hampton, Henry Mancini and Willie Nelson were guests as well.
Here's an excerpt with her program with the late pianist Oscar Peterson, which aired in 1998.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO PROGRAM)
MARIAN MCPARTLAND: You know, something else I admire about you is you utilize all of the different styles, well I guess you have to when you're playing solo piano more than you do with a trio, but like this thing...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
OSCAR PETERSON: Broken tense.
MCPARTLAND: You know, that's so great, broken tense.
PETERSON: One of the reasons I do that, Marian, is because when I play at tempo or any kind of a tempo, first of all it's a lot less tedious than jumping the octaves, you know, unless you want to for effect. But when I do that, it sends - it gives me a chance to play a little more of an evolved line against it.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PETERSON: Rather than...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PETERSON: You know, that...
MCPARTLAND: Yeah, but then you see you've got it all worked out because then after you do it with the broken tense, then you do the stride piano after that. Everybody gets excited. You know, like, like whether you know it or not, which I'm sure you do, you know, the things you do are very great for show because you get very excited, and everybody gets all excited, and then bang, suddenly you go right down to nothing, like...
PETERSON: I go to this (unintelligible) line and, like...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MCPARTLAND: Yes, yes.
PETERSON: Well I do that also so people can hear. Many times, you know, I've been asked what, what is a line, what does it mean, why do people play like this. And, you know, I have always gone through the thing about creating a line and against a bass line, you know.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PETERSON: So with just the two going, they can hear the relationship.
MCPARTLAND: How about doing a duet?
PETERSON: I would love to.
MCPARTLAND: I mean, it took me a lot of - I've got a lot of guts saying that, but this is one of my favorite tunes, "Falling in Love with Love." And we're going to do this in C, right?
PETERSON: I hope so.
PETERSON: Because I don't know it in any other key.
MCPARTLAND: Can I do an ad-lib introduction?
PETERSON: You start it. Yeah, you start it.
MCPARTLAND: And then I'll go into C.
PETERSON: Go ahead.
MCPARTLAND: All right.
PETERSON: I'll follow you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FALLING IN LOVE WITH LOVE")
DAVIES: That's Marian McPartland in a duet with Oscar Peterson from her program " Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz." McPartland grew up in England, in a proper, middle-class home where classical music was abundant. But her interest in jazz represented a life her parents disapproved of. She met the American cornet player Jimmy McPartland during World War II while they were each performing for the troops and moved to his hometown, Chicago, after they married.
For the first few years of their 20-year marriage, she played Dixieland standards with her husband. But she soon became interested in the more modern jazz of the '50s and starting leading her own small groups. In 1979, McPartland launched "Piano Jazz," a production of South Carolina ETV Radio. As veteran Philadelphia listeners may recall, when FRESH AIR was still a local program here in Philadelphia, "Piano Jazz" was a regular Monday afternoon feature.
So it was a great treat when Terry had a change to interview McPartland in 1987. Here's their conversation.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Marian McPartland, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's a pleasure to have you here.
MCPARTLAND: Thank you, Terry, it's nice to be here.
GROSS: I feel like we should play a duet together like on your show, but no.
MCPARTLAND: Why not? We've got a piano here. Let's try four hands.
GROSS: I'd like to talk to you about your life. So many of your listeners have heard you talk with other musicians about their lives. I want to hear some about yours. I know you came from a pretty proper family in England. Your mother played classical music and I think wished that you played classical music, too. They didn't like the idea of you playing jazz. What did it represent to your parents?
MCPARTLAND: I don't think - now Terry, you know, I don't think they minded - I don't think they minded what I played. It was just when they got the idea that I was going to do something in music, that they weren't going to see me get what they thought would be a nice job, like my father always thought it would be nice if I worked in a bank or became a nurse of all ridiculous things.
They really didn't mind me playing jazz, but when they finally got the word that I was going to be in it, then it became a different thing, it became music as a profession.
GROSS: What did they object to about that?
MCPARTLAND: Oh, I think my mother said, what was it, oh, you'll come to no good. You'll marry a musician and live in an attic. See, that's pretty much what happened.
MCPARTLAND: Although we weren't ever in the attic, but we were in some funny little apartments. So that was her idea, that I would meet terrible people and that I would come to no good, you know, that it represented something depraved, and...
GROSS: Did your teachers in music school feel the same way?
MCPARTLAND: The three years that I did take lessons at the Guild Hall School of Music, I played by ear up until that time, when I was studying, the professor I had there was a very wonderful guy, very solemn, very much against jazz, and at that time I was really into learning all kinds of jazz from records. And I would be supposed to be practicing, but I would be playing something by Art Tatum or trying to perfect an Art Tatum run or something.
And he opened the door one time and got very red in the face. Stop playing that trash. But it really wasn't long after that that I left and took off with a four-piano act that was my first introduction to not so much the jazz life but the show business life. And actually now I'm rather proud of having worked in all those vaudeville theaters because they're very historical places, those of them that are still standing.
GROSS: I think your entry into the jazz came during World War II, when you were playing for the troops and playing a lot of jazz, were you considered something of a freak, being a woman jazz musician?
MCPARTLAND: No, I don't think so, Terry, because when I went to France and played in a group for the armed forces, that really wasn't jazz. That was sort of show biz again. And then actually after I met Jimmy, I guess that's when I feel that I really got into playing a little more actual jazz.
But then when I came here to the States and got to hear all the people in person that I had loved for so long on records, like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, James P. Johnston, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, all those people. Then a lot of it did start to sort of rub off on me, and I became a better player because of hearing all these people and of course because of Jimmy, working with his group.
I certainly have a fine Dixieland repertoire, and we still play together, and we still play all those tunes.
GROSS: Well when you started playing, you were playing with your husband's band.
GROSS: And I wonder if it was hard for you to get your own sense of identity as a performer. I think a lot of women who are married to someone who they work with, especially a few decades ago, were considered the wife of and kind of secondary to the man who was performing. Did that ever happen?
MCPARTLAND: It's funny. I guess I must have been naturally pushy or something.
MCPARTLAND: Plus the fact that Jimmy was very helpful. He was always very helpful and very admiring of my talent, and he was always kind of introducing me to do solo numbers and to do numbers with the band. He seemed to be very proud of what I did. In fact when we moved to New York, it was really through Jimmy that I got started with the trio because I really didn't want to.
He kept saying oh, you want to have your own trio, and you shouldn't be working in this band. I could feel myself getting out of the Dixieland chord structure and into more modern things. And of course I listened to everything that was going on all the time. So he really was the one that kind of sold me on the idea that I should have my own trio.
And once I did start with the trio, Jimmy was very helpful in introducing me to all kinds of people. And I always tell him he created a monster because, you know, once I started, I didn't want to stop. That was it.
GROSS: Well, some jazz musicians remain sidemen all their lives. They spent their lives playing with other people's bands.
MCPARTLAND: That's true.
GROSS: Very early on in your career, you became a leader. How did you manage to pull that off?
MCPARTLAND: Well, I guess what happened was I got booked in this one place, The Embers, so since I had been booked as the leader, I was able to hire the people to work with me. And from then on it always was that way. I was always booked as the leader and would hire the best - I always wanted the best sidemen there were available.
As a matter of fact, in a way I'm kind of sorry I didn't what I would call go through the ranks and be a sideman or side person with some other groups, but it just didn't work out that way because I went right from working with Jimmy to my own trio. And it was very hard because it was a top club, and I felt that I was very green and callow.
And it's funny, I couldn't open my mouth. I remember we had my group, and Eddie Heyward was opposite me. I couldn't even think what to say to introduce him. I had it written on a piece of paper: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, and now I'd like to introduce Eddie Heyward. You know, I would do it, and I would be shaking. It was so funny.
But, you know, we went - I guess you learn by doing, you know.
GROSS: Jimmy McPartland used to drink a lot.
MCPARTLAND: Yes, he sure did.
GROSS: Did you ever feel since you were his wife, when you were playing together on the bandstand, that you had to keep one eye on how much he was drinking?
MCPARTLAND: Oh Terry, that's a whole other - I mean, Jimmy finally went into AA, and I was probably a terrible person because I was always nagging and worrying about that. It just seems like there's always somebody around a person who drinks a lot. There's always some sort of well-meaning do-gooder trying to keep them straight, and that was me.
GROSS: Well that must have put a real strain on your performing to on the one hand be playing and on the other hand trying to keep track of what was happening with your husband.
MCPARTLAND: Yeah, I mean there's so many anecdotes I could tell about that. At this point they seem funny, though at the time they weren't because, you know, when somebody's drinking, they always have a million friends who want to make sure that they buy them drinks, and they get their quota. You know, Jimmy would walk around the bar and tell everybody that his wife couldn't stand to see him drink. And so his friends would say oh that's terrible, you know, and they would carry a water glass full of gin into the men's room.
And I never could figure out how he got - well no, Jimmy wasn't a sort of falling-down drunk. He just got very slow and boring. You know, and the worst thing that would happen would be he would be announcing a tune, and it would take him 10 minutes to announce the tune, and we'd all be saying oh, for God's sake, get on with it, you know.
Now that's a whole other side of my life, and it seems to have, in retrospect, as I say, a lot of it seems very funny, though at the time it was quite a tragedy. But it's great. It worked out because he did stop, and so many of the musicians that he worked with are gone, probably because of that. You know, a lot of people died too young. So not so with the old man. He's in good shape.
DAVIES: Marian McPartland, recorded in 1987. Marian and Jimmy McPartland remarried in 1991, shortly before Jimmy's death. The divorce, she liked to say, didn't take. We'll hear more of our interview with Marian McPartland after this break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Marian McPartland, who died on Tuesday at the age of 95. Let's get back to the interview she did with Terry Gross, recorded in 1987.
GROSS: You told us a little earlier that you didn't feel that out of place being a woman early on in your jazz career, and I'll tell you I find that hard to believe.
MCPARTLAND: Well see, Terry, before I had gone to America, there were so many women that I had listened to who were my idols, like Hazel Scott and Mary Lou Williams, Lil Armstrong and a woman who I really admired a great deal, Cleo Brown. So I didn't realize that being a woman, when I got to New York, being a woman with a jazz group people would find it unusual because it seemed to me that there were plenty of women out there, and I still think so.
GROSS: You know what might have been helpful to you, too, being married to a jazz musician. And what I mean by that is that you weren't, quote, available to any man who thinks, well, I think I'll flirt with that dame pianist, you know, because...
MCPARTLAND: No that's true, that's true, and then there's this to it, also, Terry, that when I did get out with my own trio, I was really in it for the music. Like although I think I dressed pretty well, you know, cared about my appearance, there wasn't any idea of, well, I'm going to play, and I'm going to be winking at some guy at the bar. I was always - I wanted so much for the music to be accepted, and I really wanted to play as well as I could. And that's always been in the forefront, you know, to try to play as well as I could, although at that time I was - I think I was rather dependent upon the opinion of other people.
I mean, I'm not so much that anymore. I've sort of become my own person a little more than I was then.
GROSS: Did you feel initially uncomfortable in the jazz life as an upper-middle-class British woman? Were you made to feel uncomfortable by that? Did you try to...
MCPARTLAND: You mean to get down and to be one of the boys?
GROSS: Exactly. Well this - a lot of people go through this, you know, that they're just a little embarrassed about their proper upbringing, and they try to be more down or more bohemian or whatever.
MCPARTLAND: No, I think I was always myself in that regard, in fact, but people used to kid me either about my accent, but I really was one of the group. I mean, I wasn't somebody that sort of was a snob. I think - I mean although I came, I feel that my family were snobs, my mother was very careful about - she didn't let me mingle with certain kinds of people. Well, that's why they were so upset about me being in the music business, because they felt that everybody in music had to be weird or a bohemian or strange.
You know, some of the strangest people I've ever met have had nothing to do with music.
GROSS: You know, your career has had an interesting graph to us. A lot of musicians early on in their lives become very well-known for a certain style or for a certain recording, and then they reach a peak early on, and it's kind of, in the public eye, it's kind of downhill from there. And I think with your career it's been exactly the opposite. It's been this slow, upward...
MCPARTLAND: It's amazing, isn't it?
GROSS: Every year you become known, and I think your playing becomes more beautiful, and it's - I think it's an unusual twist on the typical career.
MCPARTLAND: It's funny. I think - well, I just feel as if everything I've done has been a sort of a springboard to do something else. And I like to set goals for myself and always have something new to do. And I also have this feeling that one, you're supposed to improve. As you learn more, you're supposed to get better. I feel as I know more, therefore I should be able to play more, and I'm always trying to eliminate bad things about my playing.
And it's just that feeling. I think, well, you should be able to do better, you should be able to play better, you should be able to write more. And so far I've been luck that's the way it's gone.
GROSS: It also brings to mind a very nice quote from Mary Lou Williams that's in one of the profiles in your new book, and she says anything you are shows up in your music.
MCPARTLAND: Yeah, isn't that a great thing?
GROSS: I do like that quote a lot. It seems to me that cuts both ways, though.
MCPARTLAND: It probably does.
GROSS: The wisdom of your life is reflected in your music. But if you're really in a real rut emotionally, that could come out in your music, too.
MCPARTLAND: Yeah, I'm sure it could. I mean, I don't want to drop any names, but I can think of some people years ago that I felt that about, that they would reach a certain level. And I guess the temptation is if you're very well-known is to reach a certain level and then coast on what you had. And you sort of think, well, I don't have to do any better.
But I think maybe that's the way I've always been brought up, that you're supposed to always do your best and try hard and don't give up, and there's a saying about - I forget who said this but when you sit down to play, you should play as if it were the last day of your life, play as well as you can because it may be the last chance you have to play.
And I think a lot of us do feel that way.
GROSS: Well, I wish you the best with the new series, and I thank you very much.
MCPARTLAND: Are we done?
GROSS: Yeah, time just flew by.
GROSS: Thank you so much for being here, Marian McPartland.
MCPARTLAND: Oh thank you, Terry.
DAVIES: Marian McPartland, speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1987. McPartland hosted" Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz" for more than 30 years. She died Tuesday; she was 95. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.
Elmore Leonard, the prolific crime novelist embraced by millions of readers, as well as literary critics and Hollywood producers died Tuesday. He was 87. Leonard was known for crisp dialogue and memorable villains. The bad guys are the fun guys, he said in a 1983 interview. The only people I have trouble with are the so-called normal types.
The New York Times Janet Maslin said Leonard was the most influential, widely imitated crime writer of his era over career that lasted more than 60 years. Many of Leonard's books and short stories were adapted to film, and most recently to television in the FX series "Justified." The film adaptations include "Get Shorty," "The Big Bounce" and "Rum Punch," which became the Quentin Tarantino film "Jackie Brown."
Get Shorty" starred John Travolta as Chili Palmer, a Miami loan shark sent to Los Angeles to collect a gambling debt. In this scene from the film, he visits Harry Zimm, a B movie producer, played by Gene Hackman. Palmer follows Zimm and breaks into the home of the producer's girlfriend, Karen Flores. Here, Palmer tries to muscle the money from Zimm.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GET SHORTY")
JOHN TRAVOLTA: (as Chili Palmer) A marker is like a check, Harry.
GENE HACKMAN: (as Harry Zimm) I know what a marker is.
TRAVOLTA: (as Chili Palmer) And they don't want to deposit yours and have it bounce. That annoys them. And your dear friend Dick Allen's been calling, leaving messages on your machine and you haven't gotten back to him. So he asks me as a favor to look you up. So I follow you here and I see you in the window with the woman. Looks a lot like Karen Flores, the actress from "Grotesque." You're not looking at me, Harry.
HACKMAN: (as Harry Zimm) Why do I have to keep looking at you?
TRAVOLTA: (as Chili Palmer) Because I want you to.
HACKMAN: (as Harry Zimm) So now you gonna get rough, huh? I make good by tomorrow, you gonna break my legs?
TRAVOLTA: (as Chili Palmer) Come on, Harry - Mesas?
HACKMAN: (as Harry Zimm) You tell Dick Allen I'll cover those markers in the next 60 days at the most. If he doesn't like it, then that's his problem. So, you want me to call you a cab?
TRAVOLTA: (as Chili Palmer) So you make movies, huh?
HACKMAN: (as Harry Zimm) I produce feature motion pictures, no TV. You mentioned "Grotesque" before, that happens to be "Grotesque Part II" that Karen Flores was in. She starred in all three of my "Slime Creatures" releases. You may have seen them.
TRAVOLTA: (as Chili Palmer) I got an idea for a movie.
DAVIES: And that's a scene from the 1995 film "Get Shorty." Terry spoke to Elmore Leonard in 1995 and 1999. We'll hear excerpts from both interviews.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Elmore Leonard, welcome to FRESH AIR.
ELMORE LEONARD: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: You write mostly in dialogue.
GROSS: You know, like a lot of crime fiction, there's a lot of interior thought - a lot of like first person, just like thinking, contemplating.
GROSS: Very little of that in your novels, it's mostly dialogue. Why have you taken that direction in your writing?
LEONARD: I like dialogue. I've always liked dialogue from the very beginning. When I started 44 years ago, I was influenced by writers who were very strong in dialogue; Hemingway, John O'Hara, Steinbeck, a writer not many people know about, Richard Bissell in the '50s. "Pajama Game" was made from one of his book "7 1/2 Cents." I like dialogue. I like to see that white space on the page and the exchanges of dialogue, rather than those big heavy, heavy paragraphs full of words. Because I remember feeling intimidated back in the, say, in the '40s, when I first started to read popular novels, Book of the Month Club books, I would think, god, there are too many words in this book. And I still think there are too many words in most books. But dialogue appeals to me.
GROSS: When you started writing crime fiction, were their places that you would hang out just to listen?
LEONARD: I would hang out at in Detroit Frank Murphy Hall Justice, which is the criminal courts and watch examinations with little trials rather than the - these are the pre-trial exams to find out whether a crime has been committed or not. And then finally, by 1979 and '80, I was spending time with the Detroit police. I did a piece for the Detroit News on homicide section. That was the first and only piece of journalism I've ever done. It was the kind of piece that may be you'd spend three days with the homicide cops and then spend, take a day to write it and that was it. But I was with them at least three weeks before I even wrote a word and got to know them and they trusted me, and they showed me their case files. I could just sit there in the squad room and listen to them.
GROSS: Now it seems to me you're also particularly interested in colloquialisms and, you know, colorful language inventions that people come up with, little slang words.
LEONARD: Yeah. But you have to be very careful about using slang because expressions come into popularity and go out overnight. I remember back in '68, '69, the bounce was an expression. You probably don't even, you haven't even heard it. But I wrote a book "The Big Bounce" because the bounce seemed to be, you're looking for the bounce, you're looking for a little excitement. And I used that in a title and I thought this was going to be a popular expression and it didn't make it, the bounce. You know, nobody uses it now. I can't rely on slang and I don't. It's the rhythms of speech that I'm mostly interested in.
GROSS: Now in "Get Shorty" - in the novel and in the movie, the character Chili, the character played in the movie by Travolta, is always saying to people who he wants to intimidate, look at me.
GROSS: And because the character is so confident, and because he has the power to back up his confidence, people usually get the point when they look at him.
GROSS: I mean, he does intimidate them.
GROSS: Then another character tries that and it doesn't work because he doesn't have the confidence or the power to back it up.
GROSS: How did you think of coming up with that? Was there an idea behind that?
LEONARD: The real Chili Palmer who worked for this friend of mine who was the private eye, once in a while were retained by the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas to call on individuals in South Florida who owed them money. Not to intimidate them, just ask them, are you going to start making payments? Be nice. There wasn't any, no violence ever involved. But my friend, the private investigator, Bill Marshall, he would talk to the guy. And he's a very - Marshall is a very entertaining guy and he would get the guy laughing. But Chili Palmer, who is sitting next to him and he would stare at the guy, just stare and never say a word. Now, he never said look at me - I made that up - but the idea of the intimidation, that stare, I thought I could use that.
GROSS: Well, his model - Chili's model - is actually, don't talk when you don't have to. I mean, his approach is don't tell them what can happen if they don't pay.
GROSS: Just stare at them because anything you tell them isn't going to be as bad as what they can imagine. They can imagine anything far worse than what you could do, so just let their imagination work.
LEONARD: Yeah. and Harry Zimm says to him - Gene Hackman - he says, what do you, you break their legs? And Chili says, what do you mean break their legs? How are they going to pay you if they're in the hospital with their legs broken?
LEONARD: No, we don't break their legs.
GROSS: Now in your latest novel "Riding the Rap" there's a kind of unusual twist on the hostage story or the kidnapping story.
GROSS: Would you say something about the hustle you came up with for that?
LEONARD: The individual who masterminds this - if that's the word - he had watched the what had been going on in Beirut with the hostages, how they were kept, especially how they were blindfolded and chained or tied up, what they were fed. And he wonders: is there any money in that, is there any money in hostage taking, to do it right? And he thinks yeah, well, look, if you get a guy who has got a lot of money and you blindfold him and he doesn't know where he is and you don't even talk to him for a few days or a week or so and then finally you say, do you want to get out of this? You tell me how you can give me two million bucks. You have to work it out. No ransom notes. Nobody knows this but you. You tell us how you can deliver to us a certain amount of money - a couple million - and we'll let you go. If we don't like the idea, you're dead. So then it's up to the victim, you see. And it sounds good. Of course, in this book the perpetrator wants to be very, very realistic about it. He wants straw mats. He wants the feed them mutton, stale cheese.
LEONARD: He wants to do it exactly the way they did it in Beirut. He said well, we'll put them in a basement somewhere. And his accomplice says, base - where are you going to find a basement in Florida? No just everything is against him doing it the way he feels is the right way.
GROSS: Do you think you would've made a good criminal? Let's face it, in a lot of ways you have the mind. You know, you say most of your staff isn't from research. You just, you know, sit...
GROSS: ...sit at your typewriter and think it's up.
LEONARD: Well, I could - yeah, I could think of it but I wouldn't have the nerve. God...
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Are you a confident guy? I mean, you know...
LEONARD: I'm confident about my work, but my work...
LEONARD: Yeah. That took - even that took about 15 years, you know, to gain confidence in what you do. I couldn't imagine walking into a bank and saying give me all your - not all your money. Give me what money you have on top of that little alarm system that the last bill is lying on. And don't give me any dye pack and don't give me any funny money or money with the serial numbers, you know, listed. If you know enough about it I think you can get away with it. It's - I think bank robbery would be pretty easy, even though nine out of 10 bank robbers are caught. And I think mostly because they tell other people what they do and because they're not really professional about it. They just, they need money for drugs.
GROSS: Now a lot of you guys are talkers and they can talk their way...
LEONARD: They have to be talkers.
GROSS: Yeah. Right. They talk their way into things and out of things. And can you do that?
GROSS: So you couldn't do in real life what your characters do verbally?
LEONARD: Oh no. Never. No. See, the beauty of it in a scene where you end in the scene with a line, with the perfect line, you know? But you're writing a book and you have months to think about it.
GROSS: Right. Now do you like five minutes or two days after the moment has passed think of a good last line you could've said in real life, or do you not think in real life in those terms?
LEONARD: Well, in real life, I'm sitting on a bench at Aspen at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, dead tired. I've come down the mountain. A woman skis down 25, 30 years younger than I am. Puts one boot up on the bench and says, I don't know what's more satisfying, taking off my boots or, and then she used an expression for sleeping with somebody.
GROSS: And you said?
LEONARD: And I said, huh, huh. Like that.
LEONARD: And that was probably 15 years ago. And I still been, ever since I've been trying to think of - it doesn't even have to be snappy, just something - a decent comeback, you know.
GROSS: You started your fiction career writing Westerns.
GROSS: So tell us about one of the Western heroes you created.
LEONARD: Western heroes. Did I create any...
GROSS: Western characters.
LEONARD: Oh, yeah.
LEONARD: Hombre. I like that character a lot, which Paul Newman played.
GROSS: In the movie.
LEONARD: In a movie, yeah. Yeah, I thought that was a, I was very proud of that one. And also I liked "Valdez is Coming," which Burt Lancaster did. Burt - "Valdez is Coming" is my favorite Western that I wrote. And at the time when I read it now I can see my style beginning to change into what I'm doing now, really not what I'm doing now, but it began to change. And...
GROSS: More dialog-oriented?
LEONARD: Yeah. A little more dialogue, a little more characters, a little more human, I'm loosening up a little bit, and that's when I finally I learned. Because I had studied Hemingway so closely and learned a lot, but I didn't agree with his attitude about life, about himself. He took everything himself, everything so seriously. And, but your style comes out of your attitude - how you, what kind of a person you are, you know, your personality, how you see things. Are you optimistic? Are you funny? Are you grim? What? This is all out of your attitude. And once I learned that then I had to find other writers to study and imitate.
GROSS: Well, how would you compare your attitude to Hemingway?
LEONARD: Well, I don't see that much, there's that much to take seriously in everyday situations that come up that people worry about and - or people worry about things that might happen, you know, which is a big waste of time. I don't worry.
GROSS: You don't worry?
LEONARD: I don't worry.
GROSS: So this is one of the differences between you and Hemingway, you don't worry about things.
GROSS: Don't brood about things.
LEONARD: Well, we know how seriously he took himself. Right...
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
LEONARD: ...with that shotgun he put in his mouth.
LEONARD: No, I don't see any reason to do that.
LEONARD: I really - I don't take my work that seriously and I think that's what keeps me loose. If I try to write, if I catch myself trying to write, I'll fall right on my face. I'll see it. If I see in the prose that I'm - boy, look at me writing, I rewrite it. I rewrite it because I don't, because I think it's distracting.
DAVIES: And that's Terry's interview with crime novelist Elmore Leonard who died earlier this week. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR and we're listening to Terry speaking with crime novelist Elmore Leonard who died this week at the age of 87. Here's a scene from the 1997 film "Jackie Brown" which was adapted from Leonard's novel "Rum Punch." Here Samuel L. Jackson is trying to get Chris Tucker into the trunk of a car.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JACKIE BROWN")
CHRIS TUCKER: (as Beaumont Livingston) Man, you must be out of your (bleep) mind if you think I'm fixing to get in this dirty ass trunk.
LEONARD: (as Ordell Robbie) We ain't going nowhere but to Korea Town, man. You ain't going to be in here no more than 10 minutes.
TUCKER: (as Beaumont Livingston) Man, I ain't riding in no (bleep) trunk for no minute, man. Why I can't ride up front with you?
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (as Ordell Robbie) You can't ride up front with me. The surprise element is 90 percent of it.
TUCKER: (as Beaumont Livingston) I'm sorry, man, but I ain't getting in no (beep) trunk.
JACKSON: (as Ordell Robbie) I can't believe you do me like this.
TUCKER: (as Beaumont Livingston) Do you like what? Man, I just ain't climbing...
GROSS: Let me ask you about the screen adaptation of "Rum Punch" which was Quentin Tarantino's movie "Jackie Brown."
LEONARD: In the screen version, now, which I think is the most closely adapted of any of mine that have been made into movies, Quentin's screenplay expanded a little bit on scenes. He took his time with it and he told me that this was what he was going to do, that the first half of the picture is getting to know the characters and then finally we will get them into action.
And I resented the fact that some of the critics said, well, it's too long. Well, too long - it wasn't too long for Quentin and he's the one who's making the picture. This is his movie. You know? It's like a painting, it's like looking at a painting on a wall and it's, oh, well, it's too wide. You ought to cut about two feet off the right-hand side.
Now, I thought the movie was great. I loved it.
GROSS: I loved it too. One of the really nice things about the movie is, you know, the two romantic leads in it are Robert Forster and Pam Grier and, you know, they're both, you know, middle aged. They'd be over the hill by Hollywood standards, right?
GROSS: And there's something just, like, so touching about the relationship of these two really hardboiled people with each other.
LEONARD: Well, that was the idea - that it is a romance. He was going to do a book of mine called "Kill Shot" but then he decided - he called me up and said I've decided to do "Rum Punch" because it's the best woman's part I've seen in a long time. And he had already thought of Robert Forster for the bail bondsman. Didn't mention, though, didn't mention Pam Grier.
And so he must've had her in mind. But he didn't want to spring that on me, I don't think, yet because then just before he went into production he called me up and said I've been afraid to call you for the last year. And I said why, because you're changing the title and you're making the lead a black woman? And he said yeah. I said, well, I like Pam Grier and I like your movies. So go ahead. Do whatever you want.
You know, it's in your hands. I'm not going to make any suggestions?
GROSS: Is there a scene in any of the recent film adaptations of your novels where you particularly like hearing the actor doing lines that are straight out of your book?
LEONARD: Yeah. In "Jackie Brown," when Sam Jackson was trying to get - I forgot who it was - to get into the trunk of the car. And Quentin liked that so much he elaborated on it. The scene is longer in the movie than it is in the book.
GROSS: And how much of that was improvised? How much of it came right out of the book?
LEONARD: Well, I was on the set when they were shooting that scene and they started to improvise and Quentin said, no, do the - stay with the lines as they're written. You can improvise later. And he made sure that the character stayed with his dialogue. Then he would let them try things. And it was the same way with Barry Sonnenfeld in "Get Shorty." The actors had to stay with the words as written.
Because what happens is, when actors begin to make up their own lines they're usually lines that you thought of and discarded as being, you know, trite or too obvious. And it's funny. In story meetings the studio executive will come up with this what he thinks is a great idea and he doesn't realize that in writing a book over a period of six or seven months that you thought of all these ideas. You discarded them.
LEONARD: And you've come up with what you believe is the best idea to make the story work. You know?
GROSS: Elmore Leonard, thank you very much.
LEONARD: Thank you, Terry.
DAVIES: Elmore Leonard speaking with Terry Gross recorded in 1999. Leonard died Tuesday at the age of 87. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new Edgar Wright comedy "The World's End." This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Director Edgar Wright and actor Simon Pegg and Nick Frost first worked together on the British sitcom "Spaced," then graduated to feature films with the horror comedy "Shaun of the Dead" in 2004 and the action comedy "Hot Fuzz" in 2007. Their latest collaboration is called "The World's End." Critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: "The World's End" is a world-shaking, genre-bending, sci-fi comedy, a splendid capper to what British writer-director Edgar Wright and actor-writer Simon Pegg call their Cornetto trilogy, for an ice cream they eat on their side of the Atlantic. This one's arguably the best of the three, but who wants to argue over gorgeous satires like "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End?" It's like ice cream flavors: Have them all.
"The World's" End is also the name of a suburban English pub, the last of 12 on a projected odyssey devised by Pegg's protagonist, the fortyish child-man Gary King. One pint per establishment plus shots. He and his mates tried the same odyssey in their teens but gave up before they hit The World's End under humiliating circumstances. Now he wants them to reunite in their hometown of Newton Haven and finish the job.
His old pals - Martin Freeman's Oliver, Paddy Considine's Steve and Eddie Marsan's Peter - are respectable these days, with careers and families. His one-time best friend, Andy, played by Nick Frost, is a conservative finance type who hasn't spoken to him or had a drink in 16 years.
For Gary, though, the manhood thing hasn't quite worked out. Drinking his way to The World's End will be his revolt against time, a ringing declaration of existential freedom, though rather undermined by his self-centeredness and raging alcoholism. Still, he labors with admirable aplomb to convince Frost's Andy to join them.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WORLD'S END")
SIMON PEGG: (as Gary) But we can go back, see the guys, chew the fat. It'll be just like it always was. Except this time we're going to finish this thing once and for all.
NICK FROST: (as Andy) You have a very selective memory, Gary.
PEGG: (as Gary) Thanks.
FROST: (as Andy) You remember the Friday nights. I remember the Monday mornings.
PEGG: (as Gary) Yeah. That's why we're going back on a Friday. Duh.
FROST: (as Andy) Why do you think none of us live in Newton Haven anymore?
PEGG: (as Gary) I dunno.
FROST: (as Andy) Because it is a black hole. It's boring. It always was and it always will be.
PEGG: (as Gary) It's only boring because we're not there.
FROST: (as Andy) It's pointless arguing with you.
PEGG: (as Gary) Exactly. So come.
EDELSTEIN: Gary would be less fascinating in the hands of anyone but Pegg and Wright. In some films, he'd be glorified for his nonconformity; in others, condemned for being a jackass. He'd wind up in AA. Here his instincts are proved right and wrong. His resistance to conformity is laudable, his behavior pathetic. The question is whether he can keep the one and lose the other.
The filmmakers take a mere half-hour to cover the ground of an entire subgenre of American child-man bromance comedies, and then they go further. Striding into their first pub, Gary - in a long, "Matrix"-style coat - anticipates a returning hero's welcome. He finds instead that the watering holes have been taken over by corporations serving fake real ale and taste-alike lagers, the food, the dartboard, the music interchangeable, the bartenders grim.
His buddy Oliver's sister, played by Rosamund Pike, arrives at one pub to incinerate Gary with her stares. He'd seduced and abandoned her in the loo of this very place all those years ago. He'd like to seduce her again, but he has something more urgent to discuss: People they know have gotten stranger.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WORLD'S END")
ROSAMUND PIKE: (as Sam) Gary, take a hint.
PEGG: (as Gary) It's all right. I'm not trying to have sex with you.
PIKE: (as Sam) Why are we in the disabled toilets, then?
PEGG: (as Gary) There's something I need to tell you right now. Unless you do want to have sex, in which case, I'll tell you afterwards.
PIKE: (as Sam) Tell me right now.
PEGG: (as Gary) Have you noticed anything creepy about the twins, apart from the fact that they're twins?
PIKE: (as Sam) Just because they're twins does not automatically make them creepy.
PEGG: (as Gary) It does a little bit.
PIKE: (as Sam) You had sex with them.
PEGG: (as Gary) A, I did not. And, B, how did you know about that?
PIKE: (as Sam) A, it's a small town. B, I'm not stupid. And, C, they told me.
PEGG: (as Gary) Right. Well, I did once but I was wasted which was creepy because it was like there was four of them. I'm not proud of it. I am a bit.
PIKE: (as Sam) Is this what you wanted to tell me?
PEGG: (as Gary) No. This is.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ow!
EDELSTEIN: I can't really tell you where the movie goes from here - a note in my press kit from Wright said be a mate and don't spoil it. I can say he and Pegg have spoken openly about the importance of John Wyndham's sci-fi novels like "The Midwich Cuckoos." I can also talk about how they play with the genre in "Shaun of the Dead," where George Romero's cannibal-zombie conventions were used to satirize a certain species of middle-class English complacency, and "Hot Fuzz," which used buddy-cop shoot-'em-up tropes to tackle the vicious underbelly of quaint English villages.
"The World's End" employs sci-fi the same way. These are not genre parodies. Lowbrow genres are used for higher ends, but they're still lowbrow and fun. The last half-hour of "The World's End" is one killer set piece after another, the action brilliantly staged and shot in Wright's syncopated, percussive, hyperbolic style. The all-star cast is perfection. The ending is antic yet somehow judicious. Those wise fools Wright and Pegg have made the year's most uproarious movie.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. Follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.
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