Leon Uris

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Leon Uris
Leon Uris (cropped).jpg
Leon 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 place Quantico National Cemetery
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable works Exodus (1958)
Mila 18 (1961)
QB VII (1970)
    Betty Beck
    (m. 19451968)
    ; divorced; 3 children
      Marjorie Edwards
      (m. 19681969)
      ; her death
        Jill Peabody
        (m. 19701988)
        ; divorced; 2 children

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 with patrol.jpg
Uris in Israel in the 1950s

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, 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 his battalion's decimation at Saipan that 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. [9] 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 in 1971. [10]

Exodus illustrated the history of Palestine from the late 19th century through the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. [11] [12] [13] 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. [14]

According to Jack Shaheen, Americans were largely apathetic about Israel in the 1950s, so the eminent public relations consultant Edward Gottlieb was called on "to create a more sympathetic attitude" toward the newly established state, and sent Leon Uris to Israel to write Exodus, a novel peopled with heroic Israelis and sleazy, brutal Arabs, some of whom are linked with ex-Nazis, to introduce readers to the Arab–Israel conflict. [15] However, this account of Exodus's creation has been disputed, and the story may have been invented by a PLO spokesperson. [16]

Uris' 1967 novel Topaz was adapted for the screen and directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1969. [17] 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 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 , and 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 .

His work on the subject of Israel has been criticized for being biased against Arabs. [18] [19] [20]

Private 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. [21] [22]

His third and last wife was photographer Jill Peabody, daughter of Frances Gleason and Alfred Peabody of Boston. [23] They had two children, Rachel and Conor. They married in 1970, when she was 22 years old and he was 45. [24] [25] 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. [22] [26] They divorced in 1988, and soon after Uris settled in New York City. [27]


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. [28] 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. [17] He was survived by his five children and two grandchildren. [27]

Selected titles

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Topaz</i> (1969 film) 1969 film by Alfred Hitchcock

Topaz is a 1969 American espionage thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the 1967 Cold War novel Topaz by Leon Uris, the film is about a French intelligence agent who becomes entangled in the Cold War politics of before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and then the breakup of an international Soviet spy ring in France. The story is loosely based on the 1962 Sapphire Affair, which involved the head of France's SDECE in the United States, the spy Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli, a friend of Uris, who played an important role in "helping the U.S. discover the presence of Russian offensive missiles in Cuba."

<i>Mila 18</i>

Mila 18 is a novel by Leon Uris set in German-occupied Warsaw, Poland, before and during World War II. Mila 18 debuted at #7 on The New York Times Best Seller List and peaked at #2 in August 1961. Leon Uris's work, based on real events, covers the Nazi occupation of Poland and the atrocities of systematically dehumanising and eliminating the Jewish people of Poland. The name "Mila 18" is taken from the headquarters bunker of Jewish resistance fighters underneath the building at ulica Miła 18. The term ghetto takes on a clearer meaning as the courageous Jewish leaders fight a losing battle against not only the Nazis and their henchmen, but also profiteers and collaborators among themselves. Eventually, as the ghetto is reduced to rubble, a few courageous individuals with few weapons and no outside help assume command of ghetto defence, form a makeshift army and make a stand.

<i>QB VII</i> Novel by Leon Uris

QB VII by Leon Uris is a dramatic courtroom novel published in 1970. The four-part novel highlights the events leading to a libel trial in the United Kingdom. The novel was Uris's second consecutive #1 New York Times Best Seller and third overall. The novel is loosely based on a court case for defamation that arose from Uris's earlier best-selling novel Exodus.

<i>Trinity</i> (novel)

Trinity is a novel by American author Leon Uris, published in 1976 by Doubleday. It spent 21 weeks on the top of The New York Times Best Sellers list in 1976 and 14 weeks in 1977.

<i>Exodus</i> (Uris novel) Novel by Leon Uris

Exodus is a historical novel by American novelist Leon Uris about the founding of the State of Israel beginning with a compressed retelling of the voyages of the 1947 immigration ship Exodus and describing the histories of the various main characters and the ties of their personal lives to the birth of the new Jewish state.

Topaz is a mineral or gemstone.

<i>Exodus</i> (1960 film) 1960 movie about the founding of the state of Israel

Exodus is a 1960 American epic film on the founding of the modern State of Israel. It was made by Alpha and Carlyle Productions and distributed by United Artists. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, the film was based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo. The film features an ensemble cast, and its celebrated soundtrack music was written by Ernest Gold.

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<i>The Haj</i>

The Haj is a novel published in 1984 by American author Leon Uris about a Palestinian Arab family caught up in the area's historic events of the 1920s–1950s as witnessed by Ishmael, the youngest son. The story begins in 1922 when Ibrahim, Ishmael's father, takes over the position of muktar from his dying father in the relatively isolated village of Tabah in the Ajalon Valley, just off the main road leading to Jerusalem from Jaffa. The book then goes on to show how the family is affected by the proximity of nearby kibbutz Shemesh, by the political struggles exhibited and the pressures exerted by the region's Arab leaders during the course of 35 years, and by the disruptive effect of having to resettle rather than be in close proximity to Jews, relegating the family to being self-imposed refugees.

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<i>Topaz</i> (novel) novel by Leon Uris

Topaz is a Cold War suspense novel by Leon Uris, published in 1967 by McGraw-Hill. The novel spent one week atop The New York Times Best Seller List, and was Uris's first New York Times number-one bestseller since Exodus in 1959. During its 52-week run on the list, Topaz set two records in two weeks; those for largest positional jump to number-one (9-1) and largest positional fall from number-one (1-5).

Ira Bruce Nadel is an American-Canadian biographer, literary critic and James Joyce scholar, and a distinguished professor at the University of British Columbia. He has written books on the twentieth-century Modernists, especially Ezra Pound and Joyce, biographies of Leonard Cohen and Leon Uris, and on Jewish-American authors. He has won Canadian literary awards, and has edited and written the introduction to a number of scholarly books and period pieces. He is a critic of the Olympic torch relay as a legacy of the Nazis.

Yossi Harel

Yossi Harel was the commander of the Exodus 1947 operation and a leading member of the Israeli intelligence community.

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"Theme of Exodus" is a song composed and performed by Ernest Gold. It serves as the main theme song to Otto Preminger's epic film Exodus, based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Leon Uris, which tells the story of founding of the modern State of Israel. The song was released on the soundtrack album for the picture. All music was written by Gold, who won both Best Soundtrack Album and Song of the Year at the 1961 Grammy Awards for the soundtrack and theme to Exodus respectively. It is the only instrumental song to ever receive that award.

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  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. 1 2 3 "Movies" . 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.
  8. Patricia Erens (March 3, 2009). The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press, 1988. p. 217. ISBN   978-0-86547-995-1.
  9. Joel Shatzky; Michael Taub (1994). Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook . Greenwood Press. p.  440. ISBN   0-313-29462-3.
  10. "Ari". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  11. Burston, Bradley (November 9, 2012). "The 'Exodus' Effect: The Monumentally Fictional Israel That Remade American Jewry" . Retrieved February 10, 2018 via Haaretz.
  12. Homberger, Eric (June 25, 2003). "Obituary: Leon Uris". The Guardian. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  13. "Exodus, myth and malpractice – Martin Kramer on the Middle East". martinkramer.org. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  14. Beckerman, Gal, When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone, pp. 27-29
  15. Neff, Donald (June 1998). Fifty years of Israel. American Educational Trust. p. 19. ISBN   9780937165089. In the early 1950s, an American public relations man, Edward Gottlieb, seeking to improve Israel's image in the United States, hit upon the idea of hiring a writer to go to Israel and write an heroic novel about the new country. The writer was Leon Uris, and his novel, Exodus, became a huge best-seller. Moreover, the highly romanticized novel later became a movie starring Paul Newman. It was a box office smash hit.
  16. 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.
  17. 1 2 Willmann, Travis. "Leon Uris's Exodus". Fall 2003 Newsletter, Obituary. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on May 1, 2009. Retrieved January 16, 2010.
  18. Elsner, Alan (April 24, 2013). "Re-reading Leon Uris' Exodus" . Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  19. Broyard, Anatole (April 27, 1984). "Books of the Times;" . Retrieved February 10, 2018 via NYTimes.com.
  20. "THE HAJ by Leon Uris – Kirkus Reviews" . Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  21. "Milestones: Feb. 28, 1969". Time magazine. February 28, 1969. 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.
  22. 1 2 Blagden, Nellie (January 12, 1976). "To Jill and Leon Uris, 'Our Marriage Is Like the Melding of Two Generations'". People. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  23. "Jill Peabody Married Here To Leon Uris". New York Times. February 16, 1970. p. 41. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  24. Bernstein, Adam (June 25, 2003). "Writer Leon Uris Dies". Washington Post. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  25. "Leon Uris (1924–2003)". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  26. Gascoigne, Bamber; Liukkonen, Petri. "Leon (Marcus) Uris )1924–2003)". Authors Calendar: Books and Writers. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  27. 1 2 Harrell, Eben (June 24, 2003). "Author Leon Uris dies". Aspen Times. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  28. 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 . Retrieved June 12, 2020.

Further reading