Inside the making of a film classic

Decades from now, when people shock what New York City was like in the late ’60s, all they’ll do is watch “Midnight Cowboy.” Released 50 years in the previous, on May 25, 1969, it reveals the metropolis in its gritty glory — considerably 42nd Street, the stomping ground of the film’s decided hustler, Joe Buck, carried out by Jon Voight.

And that avenue, says Bob Balaban, who carried out one of the Texas cowboy’s shoppers, was every bit as filthy and dangerous as a result of it seems in the film. “If you had to walk down that street with a book or a wallet, you grabbed it and ran,” he knowledgeable The Post.

The film’s cinematographer, Adam Holender, added, “You couldn’t create that roughness by yourself. Life created it.”

James Leo Herlihy’s 1965 novel equipped the story that British director John Schlesinger positioned on show, making superstars of its leads, Voight and Dustin Hoffman. But even Schlesinger, who died in 2003, had doubts. Michael Childers, his affiliate of 37 years and the film’s on-set photographer, remembers seeing him sitting open air his trailer, sobbing.

“Who’s going to see a movie about a cowboy who turns tricks on 42nd Street?” Schlesinger cried.

Many did and favored it. Reviewing the film for The Post, Archer Winsten known as it “an epic of the underside, a masterpiece of small lives and meager ambitions.” Schlesinger known as it “a love story.”

“Midnight Cowboy” is the solely X-rated film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. (Its rating was later revised to a less-daunting R.) And whereas Bob Dylan wrote a monitor for it and Andy Warhol clamored for a cameo, future obtained of their method.

Here’s what cast and crew members knowledgeable The Post about the making of a classic.

The search for Joe and Ratso

Producer Jerome Hellman was the first to picture Hoffman as greasy, gimpy Ratso Rizzo. He’d seen the actor in 1966 off-Broadway’s play “Eh?” and shortly returned, with Schlesinger. As Childers recalled it, “They went backstage and immediately offered him ‘Midnight Cowboy.’ ”

They almost certainly obtained a low cost. “The Graduate” opened 12 months after the play, and Hoffman turned one of Hollywood’s prime major males. Childers says “Midnight Cowboy” employed bodyguards to keep up “hundreds of teenage girls” from hounding him for autographs and breaking into his trailer.

Voight was a extra sturdy promote. Schlesinger wanted Michael Sarrazin, the lanky star of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” But Sarrazin was beneath contract to Universal, and that studio tripled the amount it wanted United Artists to pay to make use of him.

Jon Voight and Brenda Vaccaro in 'Midnight Cowboy'
Jon Voight (left) and Brenda Vaccaro in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ United Artists/Entertainment Pictures via ZUMA

Casting director Marion Daugherty lobbied arduous for ­Voight, an unknown from Yonkers. Schlesinger, some recall, didn’t like he seems: “I think he said Jon looked like a slightly sad little Dutch boy,” Childers talked about.

But Daugherty was adamant that they overview Voight’s show take a take a look at. When they did, they observed the angst, anger, and attraction they’d been in search of.

“If we’d gone with Sarrazin, Hoffman would have eaten him alive,” Childers says now. “He and Voight were equal sparring partners. They brought new things to the script during rehearsals, and Waldo [Salt, the screenwriter] used them all.”

That might have included Ratso’s legendary, taxi-thumping “I’m walkin’ here!” Although Hoffman claimed credit score rating for it, Schlesinger talked about the line was in Salt’s script. “It doesn’t matter,” Childers talked about, “because Dustin’s so brilliant when he hits that cab!”

“Come now, darling!”

Brenda Vaccaro says she auditioned six events sooner than being cast as Joe’s first paying purchaser, a well-heeled exec in a purple fox coat. Schlesinger insisted she play a scene in the nude, and it was costume designer Ann Roth’s stroke of genius to drape Vaccaro in fur.

“F–ked in fox!” Schlesinger cried when he observed her. “I love it!”

Filming that intercourse scene was grueling, Vaccaro remembers: “We had our clothes off and we sat in bed all day long waiting for John Schlesinger to get in the room with the camera . . . At around 4:30 or 5, he came [upstairs] and said, ‘Well, my dears, I’m terribly sorry, but I didn’t get the shot I wanted, so we’ll just have to come back tomorrow.’ ”

“Midnight Cowboy” was a highly effective film to publicize. Not solely was it rated X, Berlin says, nevertheless its topic materials was powerful — prostitution, remedy, gay intercourse, violence — and much of of its actors had been unknown.

When they lastly did shoot the scene, Vaccaro talked about, “I remember slipping off the bed and onto the floor with Jon on top of me, pumping away . . . All of a sudden, Schlesinger leaned down and said, ‘Come now, darling!’ He just wanted to end the scene.”

Sylvia Miles carried out the hardened Upper East Side matron who picks up Buck and, after their romp, hustles him into paying her. The effectivity earned her an Oscar nomination, which a “Midnight Cowboy” publicist says was an ordeal in itself.

“Sylvia had horrible clothes,” recalled Kathie Berlin, who had a designer make Miles “a fabulous dress” to placed on to the awards ceremony. Watching the Oscars on TV that evening time, Berlin screamed when the digicam mounted on Miles. “There she was, in some fringed, suede cowgirl outfit! I remember saying, ‘Please, God, don’t let her win, because then she’ll have to stand up!” (Berlin’s prayers had been answered.)

No one The Post spoke to knew what turned of Joe Buck’s fringed jacket. “I heard someone stole it,” talked about Childers. “I had the hat! I auctioned it for an AIDS [benefit] and got $8,000 for it.”

“Everybody’s talkin’ at me”

A Florida people singer named Fred Neil wrote the monitor Harry Nilsson appeared destined to sing. The filmmakers couldn’t afford the rights to “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” at first, Childers says, so Schlesinger requested Nilsson to place in writing one factor.

But “I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City” wasn’t pretty as a lot as snuff. Luckily, Childers says, after United Artists observed the film, the studio upped the funds — and Nilsson sang the monitor everyone favored.

Dylan wrote a ditty, too, Childers says. “He was our neighbor in Malibu, and he said, ‘Yeah, let me write a song for your movie.’ ”

The monitor was “Lay Lady Lay.” Childers says they obtained it two months after they’d locked in the soundtrack. The monitor later made it onto Dylan’s 1969 album, “Nashville Skyline.”

Andy’s celebration

“Midnight Cowboy” is the solely X-rated film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. (Its rating was later revised to a less-daunting R.) And whereas Bob Dylan wrote a monitor for it and Andy Warhol clamored for a cameo, future obtained of their method.

Warhol instructed the filmmakers cast his mates — Viva, Ultra Violet, Patti D’Arbanville and Taylor Meade — in the druggy celebration scene, for which Schlesinger recruited some “really crazy” others, Vaccaro says. “One girl came in with green nails, green hair and a stuffed monkey on her shoulder. She said, ‘I’m a tree, and this is my monkey.’ ” Vaccaro remembers strolling into her dressing room at Harlem’s Filmways Studio and discovering two strangers there, having intercourse: “I said, ‘Whoa!’ and got the hell out of there.”

Holender, the cinematographer, says the celebration sequence was so outrageous that one crew member offers up: “He felt his sensibility and religious beliefs were compromised.”

Warhol had no such scruples. He deliberate to put in a look himself, nevertheless when Viva known as his studio, Childers says, “We heard ‘Pop, pop, pop. ‘Andy’s been shot!’ she started screaming.”

Warhol not at all completely recovered from the wounds inflicted that day by a crazed Valerie Solanas. When Childers observed the artist about 12 months and a half later, Warhol knowledgeable him, “ ‘I wanted to be in the movie! It won three Oscars, and I could’ve been in it!’ ”

“There was kind of this shocked silence”

“Midnight Cowboy” was a highly effective film to publicize. Not solely was it rated X, Berlin says, nevertheless, it is topic materials was powerful — prostitution, remedy, gay intercourse, violence — and much of-of its actors had been unknown.

“We couldn’t get any television,” Berlin recalled. “The ‘Today Show’ didn’t want ’em, ‘The Merv Griffin Show’ and ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ didn’t want ’em. I couldn’t get Jon and Brenda and Sylvia on anything until the movie became a hit.”

The sole star the film had was Hoffman, and he, Berlin says, didn’t volunteer to do one thing.

Things modified as quickly as critics and theater householders had a take a take a look at the film. Berlin remembers the first time “Midnight Cowboy” screened in New York and the method, after the credit score rolled, “nobody left their seats — there was this kind of shocked silence.” Then, she says, they went into the lobby and started talking: about how “extraordinary” the performances had been, and the method they’d not at all seen an American film desire it, one which observed their metropolis — probably as a consequence of it was by way of a British director’s eyes — in all its glamour and grime, so clearly.

After that, Berlin says, “we never had trouble filling the theaters.”

In the end, “Midnight Cowboy” lassoed three Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Hoffman and Voight had been nominated for Best Actor, solely to lose to John Wayne for “True Grit,” the sentimental favourite.

Still, some marvel that the film was made the least bit.

“No major movie studio would ever do that movie again,” Balaban talked about. “It would have been released as an independent, little picture by a subdivision of a studio. This was a major production.”

Half a century later, “Midnight Cowboy” is that an additional: a transferring portrait of two souls who, adrift in a harsh metropolis, lastly uncover someone who cares.

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