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Leon Uris

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Leon Uris
Uris in 1989
Uris in 1989
Born(1924-08-03)August 3, 1924
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
DiedJune 21, 2003(2003-06-21) (aged 78)
Shelter Island, New York, U.S.
Resting placeQuantico National Cemetery
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable worksExodus (1958)
Mila 18 (1961)
QB VII (1970)
Betty Beck
(m. 1945; div. 1968)
Marjorie Edwards
(m. 1968; died 1969)
Jill Peabody
(m. 1970; div. 1988)

Leon Marcus Uris (August 3, 1924 – June 21, 2003) was an American author of historical fiction who wrote many bestselling books, including Exodus (published in 1958) and Trinity (published in 1976).[1]

Life and career


Uris was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Jewish American parents Wolf William and Anna (née Blumberg) Uris. His father, a Polish-born immigrant, was a paperhanger, then a storekeeper. His mother was first-generation Russian American.[2] William spent a year in Palestine after World War I before entering the United States. He derived his last name from Yerushalmi, meaning "man of Jerusalem". (His brother Aron, Leon's uncle, took the name Yerushalmi.) "He was basically a failure", Uris later said of his father. "I think his personality was formed by the harsh realities of being a Jew in Czarist Russia. I think failure formed his character, made him bitter."[3]

Uris in Israel in the 1950s
Leon Uris during a 1967 visit to Israel
Leon Uris during a 1967 visit to Israel

At age six, Uris reportedly wrote an operetta inspired by the death of his dog. He attended schools in Norfolk, Virginia, and Baltimore, but never graduated from high school, and failed English three times. When he was 17 and in his senior year of high school, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served in the South Pacific with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment, where he was stationed in New Zealand, and fought as a radioman in combat on Guadalcanal and Tarawa[4] from 1942 through 1944. He was sent to the US after suffering from dengue fever, malaria and a recurrence of asthma that made him miss the devastation of his battalion at the Battle of Saipan, which was featured in Battle Cry.[5] While recuperating from malaria in San Francisco, he met Betty Beck, a Marine sergeant; they married in 1945.

Released from service he worked for a newspaper, and wrote in his spare time. Esquire magazine bought an article in 1950, and he began to devote himself to writing more seriously. Drawing on his experiences in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, he produced the best-selling Battle Cry, a novel depicting the toughness and courage of U.S. Marines in the Pacific. He then went to Warner Brothers in Hollywood helping to write the eponymous movie which was extremely popular with the public, but not the critics.[4] He went on to write The Angry Hills, a novel set in war-time Greece.

His best-known work may be Exodus, which was published in 1958. Most sources indicate that Uris, motivated by an intense interest in Israel, financed his research for the novel by selling the film rights in advance to MGM and by writing newspaper articles about the Sinai campaign,[6][7][8] which is said to have involved two years of research, and thousands of interviews.[a][10] It was a worldwide best-seller, translated into a dozen languages, and was made into a feature film in 1960, starring Paul Newman, directed by Otto Preminger, as well as into a short-lived Broadway musical, Ari, in 1971, for which Uris wrote the book and lyrics.[11]

Exodus illustrated the history of Palestine from the late 19th century through the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.[12][13][14] Exodus was also extraordinarily influential among Russian Refuseniks. Two typewritten Russian translations were circulated as samizdat – illegal, hand-copied works that were passed secretly from hand to hand – and the story was retold orally in the prison camps, with the oral version eventually being written in a notebook which was passed from one generation of prisoners to the next.[15]

Uris's 1967 novel Topaz was adapted for the screen and directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1969.[16] His subsequent works included Mila 18, about the Warsaw ghetto uprising; Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin, a chronicle which ends with the lifting of the Berlin Blockade in 1949; Trinity, about Irish nationalism, and the sequel, Redemption, covering the early 20th century and World War I.

QB VII, about the role of a Polish doctor in a German concentration camp, is a dramatic four-part courtroom novel written by Uris that was published in 1970, highlighting the events leading to a libel trial in the United Kingdom. It is loosely based on a court case for defamation (Dering v Uris) that arose from Uris's earlier best-selling novel Exodus. It was Uris's second consecutive #1 New York Times Best Seller. The Haj was set in the history of the Middle East. He also wrote the screenplays for Battle Cry and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Personal life


Uris was married three times. His first wife was Betty Beck, whom he married in 1945. They had three children before divorcing in 1968. He then married Marjorie Edwards in 1968, who committed suicide by gunshot the following year.[17][18]

His third and last wife was photographer Jill Peabody, daughter of Frances Gleason and Alfred Peabody of Boston.[19] They had two children. They married in 1970, when Jill was 22 years old and he was 45.[20][21] He and wife Jill worked together on his book Ireland: A Terrible Beauty, for which she provided illustrations and on Jerusalem: A Song of Songs.[18][22] They divorced in 1988, and soon after Uris settled in New York City.[23]



Leon Uris died of kidney failure at his Long Island home on Shelter Island in 2003, aged 78.[4] His papers can be found at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas in Austin, where the University of Texas Press published a literary biography about him.[24] The collection includes all of Uris's novels, with the exception of The Haj and Mitla Pass, as well as manuscripts for the screenplay, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.[16] He was survived by his five children and two grandchildren.[23]

Selected titles


See also


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Thirty years after the publication of Exodus, public relations man Edward Gottlieb claimed to have commissioned the novel to make the American public sympathetic toward Israel, however research by Martin Kramer, a Middle East scholar, found no evidence that Gottlieb's claim was true.[9]


  1. ^ "Author Leon Uris Dies at 78", The Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, June 25, 2003, p. A8.
  2. ^ Congressional Record, p. 16911
  3. ^ Hillel Italie AP national (June 2003). "Leon Uris, author of 'Exodus', novel of founding of Israel, and other" (news). Deseret News. Retrieved August 11, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c "Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  5. ^ Nadel, Ira B. Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller University of Texas Press, September 24, 2010
  6. ^ Leon Uris, 78, Who Wrote Sweeping Novels Like "Exodus," Dies Archived January 1, 2010, at the Wayback Machine New York Times – June 25, 2003
  7. ^ Chris Fujiwara (2009). The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. Faber & Faber. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-86547-995-1. [1]
  8. ^ Patricia Erens (March 3, 2009). The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press, 1988. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-86547-995-1. [2]
  9. ^ Kramer, Martin (2016). The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East; The Exodus Conspiracy (PDF). New Brunswick, NJ: Routledge. pp. 245–252. ISBN 978-1412864992.
  10. ^ Joel Shatzky; Michael Taub (1994). Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Greenwood Press. p. 440. ISBN 0-313-29462-3.
  11. ^ "Ari". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  12. ^ Burston, Bradley (November 9, 2012). "The 'Exodus' Effect: The Monumentally Fictional Israel That Remade American Jewry". Haaretz. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  13. ^ Homberger, Eric (June 25, 2003). "Obituary: Leon Uris". The Guardian. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  14. ^ "Exodus, myth and malpractice – Martin Kramer on the Middle East". martinkramer.org. October 11, 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  15. ^ Beckerman, Gal, When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone, pp. 27-29
  16. ^ a b Willmann, Travis. "Leon Uris's Exodus". Obituary. Fall 2003 Newsletter. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on May 1, 2009. Retrieved January 16, 2010.
  17. ^ "Milestones: Feb. 28, 1969". Time magazine. February 28, 1969. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008. Retrieved January 3, 2011. Marjorie Uris, 26, former New York fashion model who married Author Leon Uris (Exodus, Topaz) six months ago; apparently by her own hand (.38-cal. revolver); in Aspen, Colo.
  18. ^ a b Blagden, Nellie (January 12, 1976). "To Jill and Leon Uris, 'Our Marriage Is Like the Melding of Two Generations'". People. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  19. ^ "Jill Peabody Married Here To Leon Uris". The New York Times. February 16, 1970. p. 41. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  20. ^ Bernstein, Adam (June 25, 2003). "Writer Leon Uris Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  21. ^ "Leon Uris (1924–2003)". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  22. ^ Gascoigne, Bamber; Liukkonen, Petri. "Leon (Marcus) Uris )1924–2003)". Authors Calendar: Books and Writers. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  23. ^ a b Harrell, Eben (June 24, 2003). "Author Leon Uris dies". Aspen Times. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  24. ^ Nadel, Ira B. (October 2010). Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller (First ed.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70935-5. Archived from the original on June 12, 2020. Retrieved June 12, 2020.

Further reading

  • Ira Nadel. Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller (University of Texas Press; 2010) 376 pages; scholarly biography