Saturday, February 27, 2016

Birthday: James Herlihy, author of Midnight Cowboy

From Box Turtle Bulletin:

► James Leo Herlihy: 1927-1993. The novelist, playwright and actor was born in Detroit to a working-class family. Herlihy enlisted in the Navy in 1945, missing combat thanks to the war’s end. He attended the highly experimental Black Mountain College near Asheville North Carolina for two years where he studied sculpture, painting, music and literature, and then moved to California to attend the Pasadena Playhouse College of the Theater when his first play, “Streetlight Sonata,” premiered in 1950. He then moved to New York, were his “Moon in Capricorn” appeared off Broadway. His first play to make it to the Great White Way was “Blue Denim” in 1958, which was made into a movie the following year.

He began publishing novels in 1960, two of which were adapted to films. All Fall Down (1960), about an adolescent boy’s conflicts with his function family, dealt with the very touchy subjects of teenage sexuality, pregnancy and abortion, and broke new ground for what major publishers were willing to touch. It was made into a film in 1962 starring Warren Beatty, Eva Marie Saint and Karl Malden. While the novel received wide critical acclaim, the movie flopped.

The reverse happened with 1965’s Midnight Cowboy: the book received relatively lukewarm reviews, but the 1969 film became the first (and only) X-Rated film to receive an Academy Award. It actually won three: for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. His last novel, Season of the Witch (1971) took the form of a diary written by a 19-year-old girl who moves to New York with her gay boyfriend.

Herlihy himself spent most of his life living the bohemian lifestyle in the gay paradise of Key West, Florida. During the late 1960s, he embraced the hippie and anti-war movements, despite being a whole generation older. His Key West cottage became a kind of a “safe house” for hippies. “I protected a fair number of them from the law, who wanted to drive them out of town and we had love-ins and weddings in the garden,” he later said. “What made me so happy with those beautiful creatures was the sense they gave me that the marginal people to whom I’d been drawn all through my life were suddenly having a heyday. We’ve learned since then that it wasn’t as simple as all that, but for a time, at least, the freaks really did have the establishment on the run, and nothing’s been the same since.”

By the 1970s, Herlihy was starting to feel claustrophobic by his celebrity and the growing toursm in Key West. He also found that it was getting too hard for him to work. In 1973, he moved to Los Angeles and adopted a pseudonym to try to keep the world at bay. He resumed writing, but never published anything else after the move. He also acted in several plays and one movie, Four Friends (1981). His character, a disturbed father, commits suicide. In 1993, Herlihy took his own life, overdosing on sleeping pills.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We enjoy hearing from visitors! Please leave your questions, thoughts, wish lists, or whatever else is on your mind.