March 4, 1948, James Ellroy (Lee Earle Ellroy) appeared at his mother's
side in a hospital in Los Angeles, where she had given him birth. His mother
was a nurse, and his father--when he worked, which was rarely--was an accountant.
When his parents divorced in 1954, Ellroy's mother received custody of
her son and moved with him to El Monte, a low-income area in L.A. There, when
he was only 10, she
was murdered, and Ellroy went to live with his father.
was introduced to the sinister world of crime fiction while reading the
Hardy Boys mysteries. His father bought him Jack Webb's The Badge:
A history of the LAPD, and he became obsessed with crime stories. He was fascinated with the story of the Black Dahlia, as well
as with the cops and crime figures he would later write about in L.A.
Quartet, four novels centered around the soft underbelly of the West Coast
Ellroy went to high school in the largely Jewish city of Fairfax.
As an attention-starved adolescent, he mailed Nazi pamphlets to girls he
liked, criticized JFK, and advocated the reinstatement of slavery.
Amazingly, he received only one beating for his anti-Semitic activities.
A self-described television junkie, he was a big fan of The Fugitive
series in the Sixties and was equally obsessed with crime novels and movies
throughout his late teens. When he wasn't reading about crime, he was
committing it, shoplifting food and porno magazines at every opportunity. When his father suffered a
stroke, Ellroy reluctantly stepped into the role of caregiver.
After being expelled from school for ranting about Nazism in his English
class, Ellroy decided to join the army. Realizing too late that he was not cut
out for military life, he faked a stutter and, after three months, convinced the
army psychiatrist that he was unfit for combat.
After being discharged and returning home to L.A., Ellroy's father was
rushed to the hospital.
His last words to his son were, "Try to pick up every waitress who serves
his father's death, Ellroy moved into his own apartment on the money he
received from his military disability payment. He landed in juvenile hall after trying to steal a
steak from a liquor and food mart. Following his release, his friend's
father, whom Ellroy called a "right-wing crackpot," became his guardian.
When Ellroy turned eighteen, he was back on the streets again. He
lived in parks and Goodwill bins. He broke into the homes of girls he
liked and stole their underwear. He drank to excess, experimented with drugs,
and immersed himself in hundreds of crime novels. He discovered Benzedrex, a sinus
inhaler, which he ingested in order to get a speed high.
When the weather turned cold, he moved into a vacant apartment where he
was eventually caught and thrown into jail. When he got out, he took a job at an
adult book store, pilfering all the adult magazines he could.
He said that the women in the glossies reminded him of his mother and the Black Dahlia.
the time he realized he was addicted to Benzedex, he developed schizophrenic
reactions. His alcoholism was steadily eating away at his health.
He suffered several bouts with pneumonia and eventually developed what
doctors called "post-alcohol brain syndrome." Fearing for his sanity
and his very life, he joined AA and finally got sober.
Alone and at the age of
30, Ellroy was making good money working as a golf caddy when he found
himself formulating the plot to a
mystery. The story turned into his first novel, Brown's Requiem. Since
then, he has gone on to write dozens of popular crime-fiction novels.
Ellroy's attempt to solve the still unsolved murder of his mother led him
to the 1996 nonfiction work, My Dark Places.
Ellroy is best known for his crime fiction, including L.A. Quartet.
One of the series of books, L. A. Confidential, was turned
into a successful film starring Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey, Russel Crowe,
and Danny DeVito. Produced by Warner Brothers in 1997, it earned
two Academy Awards.
James Ellroy lives and writes in Kansas City.
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