Leon Uris

From New World Encyclopedia

Leon Uris
Leon Uris (cropped).jpg
Uris in 1989
Born August 3 1924(1924-08-03)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died June 21 2003 (aged 78)
Shelter Island, New York, U.S.
Occupation Author
Genres Historical fiction
Notable work(s) Exodus (1958)
Mila 18 (1961)
QB VII (1970)
Spouse(s) Betty Beck
(m. 1945; div. 1968)
Marjorie Edwards
(m. 1968; died 1969)
Jill Peabody
(m. 1970; div. 1988)
Children 5

Leon Marcus Uris (August 3, 1924 – June 21, 2003) was an American author of historical fiction who wrote many bestselling books including Exodus (1958) and Trinity (1976). Uris served as a radioman in combat during the Second World War, including at the battle of Guadalcanal. After the war, he wrote a best-selling novel, Battle Cry based on his war experiences before turning his attention to Israel (Exodus) and then Ireland (Trinity). Exodus, an unabashedly pro-Israel account of its founding, was an international best-seller. The film version, starring Paul Newman, was also a big success.


Uris was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Jewish American parents Wolf William and Anna (née Blumberg) Uris. His father, a Polish-born immigrant, was a paperhanger, then a storekeeper. His mother was first-generation Russian American. William spent a year in Palestine after World War I before entering the United States. He derived his last name from Yerushalmi, meaning "man of Jerusalem." (His brother Aron, Leon's uncle, took the name Yerushalmi.) "He was basically a failure," Uris later said of his father. "I think his personality was formed by the harsh realities of being a Jew in Czarist Russia. I think failure formed his character, made him bitter."[1]

Leon Uris during a 1967 visit to Israel

At age six, Uris reportedly wrote an operetta inspired by the death of his dog. He attended schools in Norfolk, Virginia, and Baltimore, but never graduated from high school, having failed English three times. When he was 17 and in his senior year of high school, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served in the South Pacific with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment, where he was stationed in New Zealand, serving as a radioman in combat on Guadalcanal and Tarawa from 1942 through 1944. He was sent back to the U.S. after suffering from dengue fever, malaria and a recurrence of asthma that made him miss the devastation of his battalion at the Battle of Saipan, later featured in his novel, Battle Cry.[2] While recuperating from malaria in San Francisco, he met Betty Beck, a Marine sergeant; they married in 1945.

Literary Career

Released from the service he worked for a newspaper, writing in his spare time. Esquire magazine bought an article in 1950, and he began to devote himself to writing more seriously. Drawing on his experiences in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, he produced the best-selling Battle Cry, a novel depicting the toughness and courage of U.S. Marines in the Pacific. He then went to Warner Brothers in Hollywood helping to write the movie script which was extremely popular with the public, but not the critics. He went on to write The Angry Hills, a novel set in war-time Greece.


His best-known work, Exodus, was published in 1958. Exodus illustrated the history of Palestine from the late nineteenth century through the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.[3][4][5]Most sources indicate that Uris, motivated by an intense interest in Israel, financed his research for the novel by selling the film rights in advance to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and by writing newspaper articles about the Sinai campaign,[6][7][8] which is said to have involved two years of research, and thousands of interviews.[9][10] [4]

The novel was about the founding of the State of Israel beginning with a compressed retelling of the voyages of the 1947 immigration ship Exodus and describing the histories of the various main characters and the ties of their personal lives to the birth of the new Jewish state.

Published by Doubleday in 1958, it became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since Gone with the Wind (1936) and still at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list eight months after its release.[2] It has been widely praised but also criticized as anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian and as having "ignored the basic injustice" at the root of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Eric Homberger of The Guardian, describing Uris as a "master storyteller" and "educator of the American public in the Zionist interpretation of modern Jewish history," noted some literary license with historical facts and some stereotypical characters.[4] Writer Saul Bellow admits that while some reviewers feel that the book was not of high literary caliber, it was nonetheless effective as a document: "We need such documents now," he said.[11]

Among the criticism was Aziz S. Sahwell of the Arab Information Center for historical inaccuracies and its depiction of Arabs.[12][13] Edward Said suggested in 2001 that the novel still provides "the main narrative model that dominates American thinking" with respect to the foundation of Israel.[14]

It was translated into a dozen languages, and was made into a feature film in 1960, starring Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan. The film was directed by Otto Preminger. It focuses mainly on the escape from Cyprus and subsequent events in Palestine. The book was also turned into a short-lived Broadway musical, Ari, in 1971, for which Uris wrote the script and lyrics.[15]

Exodus was also extraordinarily influential among Russian Refuseniks. Two typewritten Russian translations were circulated as samizdat – illegal, hand-copied works that were passed secretly from hand to hand – and the story was retold orally in the prison camps, with the oral version eventually being written in a notebook which was passed from one generation of prisoners to the next.[16]

Later Works

Uris's 1967 novel Topaz was adapted for the screen and directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1969.[17] His subsequent works included Mila 18, about the Warsaw ghetto uprising; Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin, a chronicle which ends with the lifting of the Berlin Blockade in 1949; Trinity, about Irish nationalism, and the sequel, Redemption, covering the early twentieth century and World War I.

QB VII, about the role of a Polish doctor in a German concentration camp, is a dramatic four-part courtroom novel published in 1970, highlighting the events leading to a libel trial in the United Kingdom. It is loosely based on a court case for defamation (Dering v Uris) that arose from Uris's earlier best-selling novel Exodus, and was Uris's second consecutive #1 New York Times Best Seller. The Haj was set in the history of the Middle East. He also wrote the screenplays for Battle Cry and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Personal life

Uris was married three times. His first wife was Betty Beck, whom he married in 1945. They had three children before divorcing in 1968. He then married Marjorie Edwards in 1968, who committed suicide by gunshot the following year.[18][19]

His third and last wife was photographer Jill Peabody, daughter of Frances Gleason and Alfred Peabody of Boston.[20] They had two children. They married in 1970, when Jill was 22 years old and he was 45.[21] He and wife Jill worked together on his book Ireland: A Terrible Beauty, for which she provided illustrations and on Jerusalem: A Song of Songs.[19][22] They divorced in 1988, and soon after Uris settled in New York City.[23]


Leon Uris died of kidney failure at his Long Island home on Shelter Island in 2003, aged 78. His papers can be found at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas in Austin, where the University of Texas Press published a literary biography about him.[2] The collection includes all of Uris's novels, with the exception of The Haj and Mitla Pass, as well as manuscripts for the screenplay, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.[17] He was survived by his five children and two grandchildren.[23]


Uris' novel, Exodus, initiated a new sympathy for the newly established State of Israel.[24] The book has been widely praised as successful propaganda for Israel. Uris acknowledged writing from a pro-Israel perspective after the book's publication, stating that: "I set out to tell a story of Israel. I am definitely biased. I am definitely pro-Jewish," and the then–Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion remarked that: "as a piece of propaganda, it’s the greatest thing ever written about Israel".[25] His work on the subject of Israel has been criticized for being biased against Arabs.[26][27][28]

Years after the success of the book, Uris explained why he thought it received such an enthusiastic reception:

Exodus is the story of the greatest miracle of our times, an event unparalleled in the history of mankind: the rebirth of a nation which had been dispersed 2,000 years before. It tells the story of the Jews coming back after centuries of abuse, indignities, torture, and murder to carve an oasis in the sand with guts and with blood....Exodus is about fighting people, people who do not apologize either for being born Jews or the right to live in human dignity.[29]

Selected titles

  • Battle Cry, 1953
  • The Angry Hills, 1955
  • Exodus, 1958
  • Exodus Revisited, 1960 (GB title: In the Steps of Exodus)
  • Mila 18, 1961
  • Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin, 1963
  • Topaz, 1967
  • The Third Temple (with Strike Zion by William Stevenson), 1967
  • QB VII, 1970
  • Ireland, A Terrible Beauty, 1975 (with Jill Uris)
  • Trinity, 1976
  • Jerusalem: A Song of Songs, 1981 (with Jill Uris)
  • The Haj, 1984
  • Mitla Pass, 1988
  • Redemption, 1995
  • A God in Ruins, 1999
  • O'Hara's Choice, 2003


  1. Hillel Italie, "Leon Uris, author of 'Exodus', novel of founding of Israel, and other," Deseret News, June 2003.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Ira B. Nadel, Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0292709355).
  3. Bradley Burston, "The 'Exodus' Effect: The Monumentally Fictional Israel That Remade American Jewry," Haaretz, November 9, 2012. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Eric Homberger, "Obituary: Leon Uris," The Guardian, June 24, 2003. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  5. Martin Kramer, "Exodus, myth and malpractice – Martin Kramer on the Middle East," www.martinkramer.org. October 11, 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  6. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Leon Uris, 78, Who Wrote Sweeping Novels Like Exodus, Dies," New York Times, June 25, 2003. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  7. Chris Fujiwara, The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger (London, U.K.: Faber & Faber, 2009, ISBN 978-0865479951), 255. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  8. Patricia Erens, The Jew in American Cinema (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988, ISBN 978-0865479951), 217. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  9. Thirty years after the publication of Exodus, public relations man Edward Gottlieb claimed to have commissioned the novel to make the American public sympathetic toward Israel, however research by Martin Kramer, a Middle East scholar, found no evidence that Gottlieb's claim was true. Martin Kramer, The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East; The Exodus Conspiracy (New Brunswick, NJ: Routledge, 2016, ISBN 978-1412864992), 245–252. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  10. Joel Shatzky and Michael Taub, Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 1997, ISBN 0313294624), 440.
  11. Jeffrey Gurock, American Jewish History: The Colonial and Early National Periods, Volume 1, London, U.K.: Taylor & Francis, 1998, ISBN 978-0415919203), 78–79.
  12. Aziz S. Sahwell, Exodus: A Distortion of Truth (Ontario, CA: Arab League Information Centre, 1960). Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  13. Jeremy Salt, "Fact and Fiction in the Middle Eastern Novels of Leon Uris," Journal of Palestine Studies 14(3) (1985): 54–63.
  14. Edward Said, "Propaganda and war" Al-Ahram Weekly (549) (August 30 – September 5, 2001). Retrieved November 22, 2023. "The most disturbing thing is that hardly any of the questioned Americans knew anything at all about the Palestinian story, nothing about 1948, nothing at all about Israel's illegal 34-year military occupation. The main narrative model that dominates American thinking still seems to be Leon Uris's 1950 novel Exodus."
  15. "Ari," Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  16. Gal Beckerman, When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry (Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 2010, ISBN 978-06185730970), 27-29.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Travis Willmann, "Leon Uris's Exodus," Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin Fall 2003 Newsletter. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  18. "Milestones," Time, February 28, 1969. "Died: Marjorie Uris, 26, former New York fashion model who married Author Leon Uris (Exodus, Topaz) six months ago; apparently by her own hand (.38-cal. revolver); in Aspen, Colo." Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Nellie Blagden, "To Jill and Leon Uris, 'Our Marriage Is Like the Melding of Two Generations'," People, January 12, 1976. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  20. "Jill Peabody Married Here To Leon Uris," The New York Times, February 16, 1970, 41. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  21. Adam Bernstein, "Writer Leon Uris Dies," The Washington Post, June 25, 2003. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  22. Bamber Gascoigne and Petri Liukkonen, "Leon (Marcus) Uris (1924–2003)," Authors Calendar: Books and Writers. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Eben Harrell, "Author Leon Uris dies," Aspen Times, June 24, 2003. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  24. Jill Hamilton, God, Guns and Israel: Britain, The First World War And The Jews in the Holy City (Cheltenham, U.K.: The History Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0752495071), 181. "Two months after the tenth anniversary a novel was published in America that changed the public perception of Israel and the Jews. Exodus by the Jewish US ex-marine Leon Uris became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest best seller in the United States since Gone with the Wind. Both the novel and the subsequent movie thrust Israel into the lives of millions, and with it initiated a new sympathy for the young country."
  25. Henry Gonshak, Review of Matthew Silver, Our Exodus: Leon Uris and the Americanization of Israel's Founding Story, H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews, May 2011, 1. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  26. Alan Elsner, "Re-reading Leon Uris' Exodus," Huffington Post, April 24, 2013. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  27. Anatole Broyard, "Books of the Times," The New York Times, April 27, 1984. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  28. Review of THE HAJ by Leon Uris," Kirkus Reviews, October 6, 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2023.
  29. Leonard Schroeter, The Last Exodus (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1979, ISBN 978-0295956855), 64-65.

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External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2023.


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