Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2003 Newsletter

Leon Uris's Exodus


Leon Uris embarking on his Exodus research mission
to Israel. 1956. Leon Uris collection.

Leon Uris, the American novelist best known for Exodus, an epic novel about the founding of the state of Israel, passed away on June 21, 2003.

Born in Baltimore on August 23, 1924, to Jewish parents of Russian-Polish origin, Uris attended public schools in Norfolk, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. He quit high school shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and joined the Marines, serving as a radio operator in the campaigns at Guadacanal and Tarawa, during which time he contracted malaria and was sent home to serve out the remainder of the war. Uris based his first novel, Battle Cry (1953), on his experience in the Marines, and later moved to Hollywood to write the screenplay for Warner Brothers. The adaptation was released in 1955.

Uris felt research was paramount to his writing. "Research to me is as important, or more important, than the writing. It is the foundation upon which the book is built." He prepared for writing Exodus by reading nearly 300 books, traveling 12,000 miles within Israel's borders, and interviewing 1,200 people. Exodus was published in 1958, eventually equaled the sales of Gone With The Wind, and was translated into 50 languages.

Several of Uris's books were adapted for the screen, including Exodus (directed by Otto Preminger, 1960) and Topaz (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1969), and he wrote the screenplay for John Sturges's Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1957.

Though critics found technical flaws in Uris's writing, they were generally viewed as an acceptable tradeoff for his vivid narrative. As stated by Pete Hamill in the New York Times Book Review, "Leon Uris is a storyteller, in a direct line from those men who sat around fires in the days before history and made the tribe more human. The subject is man, not words; story is all, the form it takes is secondary."

Leon Uris's papers reside at the Ransom Center. All of Uris's novels, with the exception of The Haj (1984) and Mitla Pass (1988), are represented in the collection, as well as the manuscripts for Gunfight at the OK Corral.  

-Travis Willmann

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