An excerpt from the upcoming book by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary: On Monday night two accomplished writers took the stage, one a newcomer, the other an old friend of the Conference. Elmore “Dutch” Leonard author of 32 novels including Mr. Majestyk, Hombre, Stick, and 52 Pick-up, fifteen of which were made into films and Scott Frank an accomplished screenplay writer, including the screen version of Leonard’s Get Shorty.
Dutch opened with a reading of how he wrote a scene in the book Get Shorty, where the character Chili Parker played by John Travolta meets the producer played by Danny Devito, as a way of showing how the written word gets transposed on film. True to his style, Leonard’s read words were short, crisp, and pithy.
“If only I was a light skinned black chick I could sing and do it on my own,” he read, the words of a transvestite reacquainting herself with Chili.
The patter between Chili and other characters continued in Leonard’s gravelly, cough-accented voice for ten minutes. Short bits, (cough), “inflict pain if I need to,” the character said. “Look at me,” Chili said, “no, I mean look at me like I’m looking at you. You’re nothing to me. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business...”
The audience was then treated to a slice of the Get Shorty movie and a scene played out by Danny Devito and John Travolta. Oddly enough, the dialogue between Devito and Travolta was close to what Dutch had read, but the rest of the scene so crisply read by Leonard was fleshed out with an overacting transvestite character. Clearly, the best part of the scene was the dialogue that Travolta and Devito delivered almost exactly as Dutch had written.
Scott Frank related the story of a two hour lunch with Leonard where he told of how others had made movies of his novels that were horrible. Scott went home and said to his wife that he didn’t want to give Leonard another horror story.
For that reason more than any other the scene with Devito and Travolta rang with verisimilitude, to the pleasure of the audience, author, and screenwriter.
Elmore (Dutch) Leonard