Leon Uris overcame a series of events, including World War II, that seemed to deflect him from his career as a writer, to become one of the top-selling novelists of the second half of the 20th century, his work a source of major motion pictures for 15 years. Born Leon Marcus Uris in Baltimore, MD, in 1924, he was the second child of Wolf William Uris and the former Alma Blumberg, both Polish-Jewish immigrants. The elder Uris had spent a year in Palestine in the late 1910s while traveling from Poland to America; the connection to Palestine would figure in a major way in Leon Uris's later writing career. The impulse to write hit Leon early in life -- according to Current Biography, Leon Uris authored an operetta in 1930, at age six, inspired by the death of his pet dog. Despite his interest in writing, however, he was a poor formal student of English, failing the subject several times. And even such routine matters as his completion of and graduation from high school were thwarted by events around the world -- while still a high school senior, he enlisted in the Marine Corps just weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Following a period stationed in New Zealand, Uris served in combat on Guadalcanal and Tarawa as a radio operator, all experiences that would play a key role in his subsequent career.
Uris lived in San Francisco after the war with his new wife, herself a former Marine sergeant, and a growing family. He worked in a non-editorial capacity for a newspaper, writing in his spare time and occasionally trying to get a magazine article published. All of his efforts were unsuccessful until 1950, when he sold an article to Esquire dealing with the All-Amercian football team. With that sale, he plunged into writing in earnest, his goal to tell the story of the Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II, feeling that -- as he put it to Bernard Kalb in the Saturday Review -- "the real Marine story had not been told." The result, published by G.P. Putnam in 1953, after being rejected by a dozen companies, was Battle Cry. Coming out in the wake of a flurry of fact-inspired (if not fact-based) World War II novels, including Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, James Jones's From Here to Eternity, and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Battle Cry was highly praised by critics and was a huge seller, possibly helped by the fact that it was a much more unquestioningly patriotic work than many of those other books, most of which took a more cynical, jaundiced, and complex look at the motivations behind the men fighting the war. The marines in Battle Cry, by contrast, signd up and fought for the best of reasons, just as Uris had in early 1942.
Hollywood beckoned in the wake of Battle Cry's success, and by the mid-'50s Uris was working in the story department at Warner Bros., where he was one of the hands that helped to bring Rebel Without a Cause to the screen. At the same time, he also wrote the scenario for Raoul Walsh's screen version of Battle Cry -- a sprawling, epic-length film with a huge cast. The movie was not taken too seriously by reviewers, who mostly criticized it for focusing on what they regarded as soap opera-ish character relationships, and taking two hours to get to any actual fighting. The public, in love with the book and oblivious to the critics, lined up in droves and the movie was an immense success.
For his second novel, Uris wrote The Angry Hills, dealing with the British campaign in Greece during World War II and based on the diary of an uncle of his who had been a member of the Palestine Brigade. That book, in turn, was brought to the screen in 1959 by Robert Aldrich. Uris's own Hollywood output, however, was very spotty at best until 1956, when producer Hal Wallis engaged him to do the screenplay to Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Although that script was no more accurate than any other Hollywood version of the story -- the actual characters of Wyatt Earp