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March 24, 2021 @ 7:00 pm

Shooting Midnight Cowboy: An Evening with Glenn Frankel and Arlo Haskell


March 24, 2021
7:00 pm

Books & Books and Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West…

An Evening with Glenn Frankel

Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic 

(FSG, $30)

Wednesday, March 24, 7pm EST

LIVE via Crowdcast



The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and New York Times–bestselling author of the behind-the-scenes explorations of the classic American Westerns High Noon and The Searchers now reveals the history of the controversial 1969 Oscar-winning film that signaled a dramatic shift in American popular culture.

Director John Schlesinger’s Darling was nominated for five Academy Awards, and introduced the world to the transcendently talented Julie Christie. Suddenly the toast of Hollywood, Schlesinger used his newfound clout to film an expensive, Panavision adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd. Expectations were huge, making the movie’s complete critical and commercial failure even more devastating, and Schlesinger suddenly found himself persona non grata in the Hollywood circles he had hoped to conquer.

Given his recent travails, Schlesinger’s next project seemed doubly daring, bordering on foolish. James Leo Herlihy’s novel Midnight Cowboy, about a Texas hustler trying to survive on the mean streets of 1960’s New York, was dark and transgressive. Perhaps something about the book’s unsparing portrait of cultural alienation resonated with him. His decision to film it began one of the unlikelier convergences in cinematic history, centered around a city that seemed, at first glance, as unwelcoming as Herlihy’s novel itself.

Glenn Frankel’s Shooting Midnight Cowboy tells the story of a modern classic that, by all accounts, should never have become one in the first place. The film’s boundary-pushing subject matter—homosexuality, prostitution, sexual assault—earned it an X rating when it first appeared in cinemas in 1969. For Midnight Cowboy, Schlesinger—who had never made a film in the United States—enlisted Jerome Hellman, a producer coming off his own recent flop and smarting from a failed marriage, and Waldo Salt, a formerly blacklisted screenwriter with a tortured past. The decision to shoot on location in New York, at a time when the city was approaching its gritty nadir, backfired when a sanitation strike filled Manhattan with garbage fires and fears of dysentery.

Much more than a history of Schlesinger’s film, Shooting Midnight Cowboy is an arresting glimpse into the world from which it emerged: a troubled city that nurtured the talents and ambitions of the pioneering Polish cinematographer Adam Holender and legendary casting director Marion Dougherty, who discovered both Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight and supported them for the roles of “Ratso” Rizzo and Joe Buck—leading to one of the most intensely moving joint performances ever to appear on screen. We follow Herlihy himself as he moves from the experimental confines of Black Mountain College to the theatres of Broadway, influenced by close relationships with Tennessee Williams and Anaïs Nin, and yet unable to find lasting literary success.

By turns madcap and serious, and enriched by interviews with Hoffman, Voight, and others, Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic is not only the definitive account of the film that unleashed a new wave of innovation in American cinema, but also the story of a country—and an industry—beginning to break free from decades of cultural and sexual repression.




About the Author:

Glenn Frankel worked for many years at The Washington Post, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1989. He has taught journalism at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin, where he directed the School of Journalism. He has won the National Jewish Book Award, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and is a Motion Picture Academy Film Scholar. He is the bestselling author of The Searchers and High Noon, and lives in Arlington, Virginia.


About the Moderator:

Arlo Haskell is an award-winning writer, literary organizer, and publisher. Much of his work focuses on the literary and social histories of Key West, Florida.

He is the author of “The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969),” which received the 2017 Florida Book Award (Philip and Dana Zimmerman Prize for Florida Nonfiction). He is also the author of the poetry collections “Fool Proof “(2003) and “Joker” (2009). As an editor, Haskell has worked on critically acclaimed editions of poetry and literature in translation, including “The Last Books of Héctor Viel Temperley” (translated by Stuart Krimko and named a BOMB magazine “Editor’s Choice” for 2011) and Harry Mathews’s poetry collection, “The New Tourism” (selected as a Times Literary Supplement “Book of the Year” in 2010). Most recently, he is the editor of Mathews’s “Collected Poems: 1946-2016” (2020).

Haskell lives with his family in Key West, Florida, where he is executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar. In 2019, he was named Poet Laureate of Key West by the Key West City Commission.