Off-Ramp | Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.
Arts & Entertainment

John Rabe remembrance: A letter from Elmore Leonard

Author Elmore Leonard poses during a portrait session prior to a reading and signing of his latest novel
Author Elmore Leonard poses during a portrait session prior to a reading and signing of his latest novel "Up In Honey's Room" on May 24, 2007 at Book Soup in Los Angeles, California. Leonard died at age 87 in his home Tuesday [Aug. 20].
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

More than twenty years ago, my father, W.T. "Bill" Rabe, was dying of cancer. But, my dad being my dad, he was working on a project among all the other loose ends he was seeing to, a project that involved Elmore Leonard. Leonard, better known as "Dutch" to his old friends from Detroit, wrote my dad just a few days before my dad died, and the typed letter has become one of my prized possessions.

Dutch moved with his family to Detroit in 1934, and went to the University of Detroit's high school. When he graduated in 1943, he joined the Navy, then returned to earn his degree at the U of D.

(U of D Tower Yearbook)

The rest of his story is being told all over the media today, so I won't go into it, but Dutch was part of a close-knit group with connections to the U of D that stayed in touch for decades.

My dad also went to the U of D's high school and university, as did his close friend Jack McCabe, an early champion of Laurel & Hardy and ghostwriter of James Cagney's memoir, Cagney by Cagney.

Around 1990, Jack began work on a loving history of The High, as they called it, and by 1992 my dad and Dutch were helping get it published. Dutch contributed a blurb, as he says below, but I think he also gave money to the project.


I'm not sure who wrote the hand-written note. Probably not Dutch, unless he referred to himself in the third person. Probably whoever was helping deal with the flood of letters and cards that came in my dad's last days. Dick Haefner was and is news director of WJR in Detroit.

I don't believe The High did very well, but it was a noble project.

My dad died April 4, 1992, at 70. Jack McCabe died in 2005, at 84. And now, with Elmore Leonard's passing, another link to those days -- when Detroit was an actual city -- is gone. One of the few left is my uncle Jack Rady, another U of D alum, and like Dutch, a Navy vet.

Jack is memorialized in Leonard's 1950 Western short story, No Man's Guns:

In fact, When I spoke with Uncle Jack at Thanksgiving, he told me Dutch had borrowed a book a while back - on some maritime subject - and still hadn't returned it.