Leon Uris (1924 – 2003)

Leon Uris was born on August 3rd, 1924 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 Exodus 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 bestseller in the US since Gone With the Wind in 1936.

Another best-selling work, Trilogy, published in 1976, illustrated Ireland’s long bloody struggle for freedom through the love of a rebellious young Catholic boy and a beautiful Protestant girl. 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.

Uris was married three times; first to Betty Beck, the Marine Sergeant, from 1945 - 1968. They had three children. Then he married Marjorie Edwards, a former model who was 19 years his junior in 1968. She died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound the same year they were married. His third wife, Jill Peabody, was a photographer. They married in 1970 when she was 22 and he was 45. They had 3 children together and collaborated on two books, Ireland: A Terrible Beauty, and Jerusalem: A Song of Songs, before divorcing in 1988.

Leon Uris died of kidney failure on June 21, 2003, at the age of 78. He was living on Shelter Island, on Long Island, NY.

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Books by Leon Uris