Like his very close friend Molly Ivins, Leonard was adored by many of us for his unflinching left-wing principles. His review of James B. Stewart’s DisneyWar enumerates a few of them:
But those of us who grew up dreaming of teaching, journalism or nonprofit social service, for whom the point of an economy is to provide jobs, food, medicine and space for its citizens, for whom leveraged buyouts, hostile takeovers, prestaggered cash flows and capital liquidity ratios were a superstitious sort of Pythagorean number mysticism—who have always rooted for Jesse James, Calamity Jane and Willy Loman against railroads, Daddy Warbucks and J. R. Ewing, who have lined up with deerslayers and river pirates against J. P. Morgan as immortalized by Steichen, the avatars of Donald the Vulgarian and the severed ear of a kidnapped Getty—are nauseated by the celebrity chic of the megapolists who show up every year at Herb Allen’s Sun Valley media and entertainment conference to get their mugs shot by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair, who would have fired Franz Kafka for looking in his mirror, seeing the modern corporation and inventing workmen’s comp, who might even have been happier in Regency England, when the poor were hanged for poaching rabbits. But then we have also wondered why the downsized and homeless haven’t stoned the smoky windows and slashed the radial tires of every stretch limo on the streets of the imperial city.
Boy was he prescient about that “superstitious sort of Pythagorean number mysticism.”
Leonard was an alcoholic who stopped drinking a couple of decades ago. In the words of his colleague Eden Ross Lipson, “he had sobriety long enough for an entire career, and used it generously.” But he was always conscious of the dangers threatening scribblers everywhere. This is what Leonard said about them in that same review of Mailer quoted by Doctorow:
Of course, it’s virtually as if writers are there to be ruined. Look at the list: booze, pot, too much sex, too little, too much failure in one’s private life, too much attention, too much recognition, too little recognition, frustration. Nearly everything in the scheme of things works to dull a first-rate talent. But the worst probably is cowardice—as one gets older, one becomes aware of one’s cowardice. The desire to be bold, which once was a joy, gets heavy with caution and duty. And finally there’s apathy. About the time it doesn’t seem too important to be a major writer, you know you’ve slipped far enough to be doing your work on the comeback trail.
Remarkably, Leonard never succumbed to any of those dangers. As Jen Nessel put it, “he was deeply principled in ways you don’t see much anymore.”
Last year Leonard hung on just long enough to celebrate the seventieth birthday of his wife, Sue Leonard—and to cast his vote to end a forty-year-long era of conservatism in America. Only then could he allow himself to let go.