When Elmore Leonard wrote his ten rules of writing, he opened with:
- Never open a book with weather.
Yet eleven years earlier, he had opened one of his better-known novels with:
When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.
There is no denying that the first thing mentioned in Get Shorty is the weather, even if there’s a stolen jacket by the end of the sentence. It’s the theft that sets the tone as it sets Chili the loan shark on a collision course with Ray Bones, that propels him out of Miami Beach and into the world of Hollywood film financing.
Leonard was already a veteran novelist and screenwriter when he wrote Get Shorty, best known for his tales of the Wild West and the even wilder cities of 20th century America in which hard men on either side of the law traded bullets, fists and the crackling dialogue that Leonard is famous for.
In Get Shorty, he brought the world he wrote about with the world he inhabited. There’s a strong element of satire in the portrayal of Hollywood, from the egotistical horror film director who desperately wants to be taken seriously to the self-important actor who never orders from the menu, never pays his own bill and, like many actors, constantly surprises people who meet him by being considerably smaller than they expected. Conspicuous by their absence are the screenwriters, who never progress beyond the occasional contemptuous mention by the bigshots. Several times, I found myself wondering who Leonard was taking revenge on.
When Leonard has Chili effortlessly establish himself as a player in the glittering world of Hollywood, he seems to be saying that what matters is not artistic ability so much as simply not being distracted by the glitter. Or perhaps that Hollywood isn’t so different to the amoral world of loan sharking that Chili has already mastered.
Whatever the hidden meaning, it’s a great story of the dark side of Tinseltown, and it does make me wonder what the story behind the film adaptation is.