Ellroy, James: Novelist-Screenwriter

JAMES ELLROY co-wrote the screenplay for David Ayer’s Street Kings, which is based on his story.

James 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. Sadly, she was murdered there in 1958. 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.

After being expelled from high school, Ellroy joined the army. Concerned for his father, who just had a stroke, and unhappy in the army, Ellroy faked a stutter and convinced the army psychiatrist that he was not mentally fit for combat. After three months, he received a dishonorable discharge.

He returned home to L.A. just in time for his fathers death and by 18 years old he was living in parks and Goodwill bins. 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. 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. He writes longhand on legal pads, rather than on a computer, and prepares elaborate outlines for his books that are several hundred pages long. Other Ellroy credits include Clandestine, Killer on the Road, the Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy, and American Underworld Trilogy.

In 1987, Ellroy became involved in film when his novel Cop was adapted into a screenplay. Several others of his novels would also be adapted for the big screen including L.A. Confidential, starring Kim Basinger, Kevin Spacey, and Russell Crowe and The Black Dahlia which featured Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson, and Hilary Swank.

Ellroy is set to pen the screenplay for Nicci Frenchs novel Land of the Living with Alessandro Camon to direct.