August 3rd – Leon Uris

“Who here wants to be a writer?’ I asked. Everyone in the room raised his hand. ‘Why the hell aren’t you home writing?’ I said, and left the stage.” 

Leon Uris

Leon Uris (August 3, 1924 – June 21, 2003) was a best-selling American author. 

Uris was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His father was a Polish immigrant who spent a year in Palestine before coming to the US after WWI, and his mother was a first generation Russian-American. 

Although a writer from a young age, reportedly composing an operetta at six, Uris failed English three times and didn’t graduate from High School. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, and served in New Zealand from 1942 – 1944 until sickness forced him back to the US. While recuperating in San Francisco he met his future wife, Betty Beck, a Marine sergeant.

After being released from service, he worked for a newspaper and wrote in his spare time. In 1950 Esquire magazine bought an article of his, at which point he began to dedicate more to his craft, and in 1953 published Battle Cry, which was a best-seller and soon after released as a movie by MGM. His next book, The Angry Hills was released in 1955, and his best known work, Exodus, which covered the history of Palestine from the late 19th century to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, was published in 1958. To write the novel, Uris moved to Israel and spent more than two years reading over 300 books and traveling 12,000 miles, collecting 1,200 interviews and 1000 pages of notes. 

The novel was very popular and influential with both Soviet Jews and Americans who at the time were apathetic to the new state of Israel in the 1950s, although Uris has been criticized for the bias against Arabs in his works.  Exodus was published in more than two dozen languages and made into a movie starring Paul Newman. Tourism to Israel soared with the publication, and the Prime Minister deemed it the best work written about the state. At the time, Exodus was the biggest best seller in the US since Gone With the Wind in 1936. 

His best-selling work Trinity illustrated Ireland’s long bloody struggle for freedom through the love of a rebellious young Catholic boy and a beautiful Protestant girl. Uris was a Polish-Russian Jew, first-generation on his father’s side and second on his mother’s. To write Trinity Uris traveled 10,000 miles around Ireland, and the work yielded another book, the 388-photo essay titled Ireland, a Terrible Beauty that he wrote with his 3rd wife Jill, a photographer. 

Although critics didn’t favor his works, saying they lacked originality and depth and had wooden characters, they were undeniable page-turners that  sold over 150 million copies in 29 countries. 

Lesson from Uris:

Uris failed English and got sent home before the biggest battles, but realized his calling was a combination of these things. He pursued his passion, telling the stories of bravery and battle, and illustrating for the world what he believed was right. Critics said he was not a good writer – but a great storyteller – and in the end that was what mattered. 

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