Friday, April 27, 2018

Three-Ten to Yuma

Elmore Leonard (1925–2013)
From Elmore Leonard: Westerns

Van Heflin as Dan Evans (Paul Scallen in the story) and Glenn Ford as Ben Wade (the Jim Kidd character) in the 1957 film adaptation 3:10 to Yuma, directed by Delmer Daves from a screenplay by Halsted Welles
Months after he graduated from college, Elmore Leonard began writing Western fiction, both because of his fondness for movies such as The Plainsman and Red River and because the market for the genre was thriving among book publishers and in magazines ranging from Dime Western to The Saturday Evening Post. In April 1951 he submitted his first Western story, “Tizwin,” to the pulp magazine Argosy. It was rejected, but an editor encouraged him to send more. “Trail of the Apache,” the third story Leonard wrote—and his first published story—appeared in Argosy’s December issue. His preference was to be published as “Dutch Leonard” but the story was printed in the magazine under the byline “E. J. Leonard.”

Leonard received $1,000 for that first story; in 1954 he completed his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, for which he received a $3,000 advance. But Argosy fiction editor James B. O’Connell cautioned him not to give up his job: “You ought to know right at the beginning that writing for a living is a most hazardous occupation.” By the mid-1950s Leonard had developed a routine, getting up each morning and writing for two hours before making breakfast for his kids and heading to a job as a copy editor for the advertising agency Campbell-Ewald. “I had a rule that I had to write a page before I put the water on for the coffee,” he said later.

One of the early stories, published in 1953, was “Three-Ten to Yuma,” which he sold to Dime Western for ninety dollars. “I had to rewrite one of the scenes and do two revisions on my description of the train,” he recalled. “The editor insisted on it. This guy made me work. ‘You can do it better. You’re not using all your senses. It’s not just a walk by the locomotive. What’s the train doing? How does it smell? Is there steam?’ He made me work for my ninety bucks. Which was good.” In 1955 his agent, Marguerite Harper, working with Hollywood agent H. N. Swanson, negotiated a deal with Columbia Pictures, and two years later 3:10 to Yuma, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, opened in theaters to strong reviews. (In 2012 the movie was one of 25 selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.)

His employers began to realize they had someone special working in their offices. In 1956 Campbell-Ewald took out a full-page advertisement in The New Yorker, showing Leonard at his typewriter with a cow skull, two six-shooters, and a rifle on the wall behind him. The headline: “Meanwhile back at the agency.” The ad described him as “a rising young writer of Western novels” whose “gunsights never become entangled in fancy verbal foliage.”

Three years later, however, Harper urged him to switch genres because of the declining market for Western fiction. So in 1966, after five years away from writing any fiction, Leonard finished The Big Bounce, featuring a young thief named Jack Ryan. “The new book got me going again and I’ve got a couple more ideas now I want to develop,” he wrote to his editor at Dell. His first non-Western novel, The Big Bounce was rejected by eight-four publishers and movie studios before finally appearing in 1969, both as a major motion picture and in paperback. The movie, a vehicle for Ryan O’Neal, was a flop, as was a 2004 remake with an all-star cast that included Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman. Leonard later remarked, “When The Big Bounce came out the first time, in 1969, I said, ‘This has got to be the second worst movie ever made.’ I didn't know what the first one was until they remade The Big Bounce.” Fortunately for readers, Leonard’s first experience with crime fiction didn’t discourage him from sticking with the genre, and he even brought back Jack Ryan in the 1979 novel Unknown Man No. 89.

Although the remainder of his career was devoted mostly to crime fiction, Leonard continued to publish Westerns into the 1980s and many of his early works remain popular with readers and critics. All told, Leonard wrote thirty Western short stories and eight Western novels. This past week the best of these works—four novels and eight stories, including “Three-Ten to Yuma”—were gathered in the newest Library of America edition, Elmore Leonard: Westerns. (An image from the photo shoot for the 1956 Campbell-Ewald ad graces the jacket front.) Below we present the classic “Three-Ten to Yuma” as our Story of the Week selection.

Most of the details from the above introduction have been culled from Gregg Sutter’s fascinating Chronology that appears in each volume of the LOA’s Elmore Leonard edition.

Notes: Established in 1877, Fort Huachuca is a U.S. Army installation in Arizona. Nana, mentioned on page 646, was leader of the Warm Springs Apache. In 1877, he fled the San Carlos reservation in Arizona to which the tribe had been relocated, and, assuming leadership in 1880, waged a long struggle against the U.S. Army and American settlers before surrendering in 1883.

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He had picked up his prisoner at Fort Huachuca shortly after midnight and now, in a silent early morning mist, they approached Contention. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection is used by permission.
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