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December 8, 1997 - VOL. 25, NO. 7


Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
The Ransom Center

Author leon Uris to place his archive at UT's Ransom Center

Leon Uris, internationally renowned author of Battle Cry, Exodus and Trinity, has announced that the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at UT Austin is to be the archival repository of his literary manuscripts.

"We are extremely pleased that Mr. Uris has decided to place his archive at the Ransom Center," said Dr. Thomas F. Staley, director of the Center. "Uris is one of the most popular and widely read novelists America has produced. His extensive contextual research gives his novels a sense of living presence and authority achieved by few contemporary authors."

Born in Baltimore in 1924, he attended school there as well as in Philadelphia and Norfolk. Uris served in the United States Marine Corps, 1942-45, and he saw action at Guadalcanal and Tarawa. After the war, Uris drove a newspaper truck in San Francisco before turning his attention to writing in the early 1950s. Uris wrote in a converted attic after his regular job.

Uris' war-time experience became the source of his best-selling first novel Battle Cry (1953), which also became famous as a film (1954). In an interview with critic Bernard Kalb, Uris said "My guiding thought throughout was that the real Marine story had not been told. We were a different breed of men who looked at war in a different way."

It was thought by many that with Battle Cry he had begun a new genre of war literature written from the viewpoint of men who loved the Marine Corps and saw some wars as just, a perspective seemingly at odds with the sentiments expressed in novels such as The Young Lions, The Naked and the Dead and Cane Mutiny, where war seems inevitably horrible and without redeeming virtues.

Leon Uris went on to write The Angry Hills (1955), for which he drew on a diary of an uncle who had served in a Jewish unit of the British Army in Greece during World War II, which became a film starring Robert Mitchum. A gripping story of adventure, this novel was the beginning of a creative period devoted to Jewish issues, which led to Uris writing his greatest and most memorable novel, Exodus (1957), a story of the founding of Israel, which would be one of the most popular novels of the century.

In the meantime he wrote the screenplay for the landmark western movie, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), starring Burt Lancaster as marshal Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday, for which Uris' creative imagination and popular style made him uniquely qualified. What is more certain is that in this, as in his other novels, he also draws upon historical details and extensive contextual research, which give his novels a sense of living presence and authority achieved by few contemporary novelists. What he strove for in his novels was a metaphorical truth about a time and place that transcended the limitations of fiction and history, for which he was often skewered by the critics even as he enchanted millions of readers.

Exodus is the story of an entire people emerging from the greatest nightmare of their history, from the concentration camps of Germany, the hiding places in Eastern Europe, and the scattered Islamic territories of the Middle East. Few writers of this century have been able to capture a sense of the heroic as Uris does, and nowhere did he do it better than in this novel. In our century this is one of the greatest of all stories, and it was best told by Leon Uris. The film Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger with a distinguished cast including Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Peter Lawford, was one of the most highly acclaimed of its time.

Several additional books by Uris were centered on Jewish or Israeli themes: Mila 18 (1961), about Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943, Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin (1964), QB VII (1970), about the trial of an author for libeling a former Nazi physician, The Haj (1984), about a Palestinian Arab's view of the founding of Israel, and Mitla Pass (1988), a best-selling novel about the Sinai War from the perspective of an Israeli soldier. There also were books of photographs: Exodus Revisited (1959) and Jerusalem, Song of Songs (1981), where Uris wrote the commentary.

Readers surely will recall the best-selling Topaz (1967), the spy thriller about Cuba, which inspired the Alfred Hitchcock movie, but in some ways the most important book of his mature years was Trinity (1976), which marked a major shift in interest from the Middle East to Ireland. As with Israel, here was another story of an entire people struggling to escape the heel of oppression; Ireland's desire to be free of British rule was another of the century's greatest stories, and it was to occupy his attention in later years.

As with Exodus, the individual family serves as a representative of an entire nation, and here his focus was on three families in Northern Ireland -- hence "Trinity." The latest novel of Leon Uris, Redemption (1995), continues the themes of Trinity into the next generation. Rory Larkin, whose family has escaped the poverty and oppression of Ulster, now a sheep farmer in New Zealand, fights in an ANZAC unit in World War I, and helps the Fenians assassinate his Ulster Protestant commanding.

In addition to the novels, Uris has written screenplays, co-authored photography books, and contributed stories and articles to many magazines and anthologies. His ongoing interest in Ireland resulted in collaboration with his former wife Jill on a memorable photography book called Ireland: A Terrible Beauty: The Story of Ireland Today (1975).

In assessing the writing career of Leon Uris, New York Times critic Pete Hamill wrote "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."


December 31, 1997
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