In 2005, I was the editor of “Style,” a Detroit lifestyle magazine. For our 20th anniversary issue, our staff picked 20 Detroit Stylemakers — people who imprinted their singular style on Motown.
Elmore Leonard was certainly a Stylemaker, and I wanted to interview him. I knew he lived in suburban Detroit so I reached out the best way I could to this established writer. I wrote him a letter, but unfortunately I never received a response. When I heard he loved flowers and was a master gardener, I had another idea. I sent him an orchid via the local florist with my business card attached. He called and agreed to an interview and a photo session. It helped that the photographer, Glenn Triest, photographed him previously. He had one caveat — he asked if I would drive him to the photo session.
The following week, I was in Elmore’s house. He showed me the orchid, his living room with a simple wood desk and his notes — all on yellow legal paper written out in long hand.
He mentioned his upcoming research on German prisoners of war in the United States. I mentioned that Glenn’s family was from Germany, and that Glenn’s father had quite a story — leaving Germany as a teen, fighting in World War II, becoming a translator for the Nuremberg Trials and finding surviving family members.
Elmore was intrigued, and when we arrived at the photo shoot he was excited to speak to Glenn. Glenn prepared his studio like a movie set filming a crime scene. The mood was dark, the lights were dim and broken glass littered the floor. Elmore was in his element.
We all had the best time. I heard about Elmore entertaining Quentin Tarantino and Aerosmith and how Elmore has no idea what the ending of his stories are until he ends it!
Glenn mentioned that there will be a movie premiere about his father, Howard Triest, at Oakland University. The movie, “Journey to Justice” featured Howard’s historic footage shot in 1947, Glenn’s still photography and the plight of the Triest family fleeing Germany. “I’d love to see it,” said Elmore. “It’s a date,” I added.
The following week my husband and I picked up Elmore and his then wife at his home and went to Oakland University for the showing. Elmore was gracious, humble and, of course, interesting. A few people came up to him and asked for his autograph. He graciously signed it and gave good wishes to all the aspiring writers.
It was a special evening. When I heard about his death last week, I thought about my date with Elmore.
Many obits were written, but I especially liked Bill Shea’s tribute in Crain’s Detroit Business with this headline: “Crime Paid: Dickens of Detroit is gone, but legacy will continue to make a killing.”