Leon Marcus Uris was the son of Jewish-American parents, Wolf and Anna Uris, born in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 3, 1924. His father, a Polish immigrant, had spent a year in Palestine before coming to the United States. His parents and grandparents knew the harsh life of Jews under the Russian Tsar. Leon was writing from the age of six. He went to school in Norfolk, Virginia and in Baltimore but never graduated from high school. He was seventeen when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the South Pacific, stationed in New Zealand. He was a radioman on Guadalcanal from 1942-1945 and married Betty Beck, a Marine sergeant, in 1945.
After the war, he worked for a newspaper, doing his own writing in his spare time. In 1950, Esquire magazine bought one of his articles, and he was encouraged to pursue writing more seriously. He used his combat experience to write the first of his historical fiction, the best-selling novel, Battle Cry (1953) about the courage of the Marines in the South Pacific. He also wrote the film script for Warner Brothers when it was turned into a movie. His novel The Angry Hills (1955) was set in war-time Greece. In 1956 he covered the Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East as a reporter, and the result was is best known historical novel, Exodus (1958). To finance it, he sold the film rights in advance to MGM. He spent two years researching his subject and interviewed thousands of people. The book centers on the founding of Israel from the early pioneers in Palestine in the nineteenth century through the independence of the state of Israel in 1948. The book was a best-seller and became a film in 1960, starring Paul Newman and directed by Otto Preminger. Uris’s novel Topaz (1967), a spy thriller, was also adapted to the screen and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
His best-known later books include Mila 18 (1961), a story about the Warsaw ghetto uprising in World War II, and Armageddon (1963) about Berlin after the war. QBVII (1970) depicts a Polish doctor in a concentration camp. Trinity (1976) is an epic novel about Ireland’s fight for independence. The Haj (1984) tells the history of the Middle East from the Muslim point of view. Uris also wrote the screenplay for “Gunfight at the OK Corral” (1957). His last book was O’Hara’s Choice (2003). Uris is commonly thought to be a popular rather than a literary author.
Uris was married three times. He had three children with Betty Beck. He married Marjorie Edwards in 1969, who died a year later by suicide. His last wife was Jill Peabody whom he married in 1970 and with whom he had two children. He died of renal failure in his Long Island home in 2003.