James Ellroy (nee Lee Earle Ellroy) was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His mother was a nurse and his father, when he did work, was an accountant, among other things.
When his parents divorced in 1954, his mother got custody and moved to El Monte (a low income area in L.A). His mother was murdered there in 1958. James Ellroy's attempt to solve this still unsolved murder was the subject of his 1996 nonfiction work My Dark Places. After his mother's death, he moved in with his father.
Ellroy claims to have been turned on to crime fiction by the Hardy Boys. At the age of ten, his father bought him Jack Webb's The Badge, a history of the LAPD. He became obsessed with the book and studied it repeatedly. In this book, he discovered the story of the Black Dahlia, as well as the cops and crime figures he would later write about in the L.A. Quartet.
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 claims to have received only one schoolyard beating for his anti-Semitic hijinks. He was a big fan of "The Fugitive" TV series in the early sixties and was obsessed with crime novels and movies in his late teens. When he wasn't reading crime novels, he was shoplifting food and porno magazines. At this time, his father suffered from a stroke and he reluctantly stepped into the caregiver role.
He was eventually expelled from Fairfax high school for ranting about Nazism in his English class. Soon after, he joined the army.
Realizing that he didn't belong in the army and worried about his father, he faked a stutter and convinced the army psychiatrist that he was not mentally fit for combat. After three months, he received a dishonorable discharge.
Soon after returning home to L.A., his father died in the hospital. His last words: "Try to pick up every waitress who serves you."
After his father's death, he moved into his own apartment on the money the army paid him. He landed himself in juvenile hall trying to steal a steak from a Liquor & Food Mart. When he got out, his friend's father, who Ellroy called a "right-wing crackpot" became his guardian.
When he 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, experimented with drugs, and read hundreds of crime novels. He discovered Benzedrex, a sinus inhaler. Instead of inhaling it, he would swallow it to get a speed high.
When it got cold he would move into vacant apartments. The police caught him doing this once, and threw him in jail. When he got out of jail, he got a job at an adult book store and loaded up on magazines. The women reminded him of his mother and the Black Dahlia.
The Benzedex drove him to near schizophrenia and the alcohol was destroying his health. He suffered from pneumonia twice and developed what his doctor called "post-alcohol brain syndrome." Fearing for his sanity, he joined AA and got sober. He earned steady money as a golf caddy and began to mentally formulate a mystery plot, which would become Brown's Requiem.
At the age of thirty, he wrote and sold his first novel.
He currently lives in Kansas City.
From the author's website August 2010
This biography was last updated on 08/13/2010.
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A Conversation with James Ellroy author of The Cold Six Thousand
In the opening paragraph of American Tabloid you write that
"America was never innocent." How does this theme further evolve in The
Cold Six Thousand?
America was founded on a bedrock of land grabs, slavery, religious extremism, colonial ambition, and genocide. The notion that America was innocent prior to Jack Kennedy's murder is preposterous; by the rules he lived by, Jack got what he deserved. He took aid from organized crime during the 1960 election; he repaid the debt by siccing his kid brother Bobby on the Mob at large. He betrayed the Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. He pissed off a hot-headed troika of mobsters, exiles and renegade CIA men involved in the Cuban cause. They whacked him for it. His death derived from the perennial motives of money and turf. It was a gaudy homicide that set the stage for the out-of-control America that I portray in The Cold Six Thousand.
So you really think the Mob called the hits on JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, and Bobby Kennedy?
I'm convinced that the Mob, in cahoots with Cuban exiles and renegade CIA elements, whacked Jack Kennedy. That said, I'm a novelist -- and my job is the creation of ...
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