Jerome Hellman, Producer of ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ Dies at 92

Jerome Hellman, who produced “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), the one X-rated movie ever to win the very best image Academy Award, and who went on to solidify his repute with different tough-minded dramas, just like the Oscar-winning “Coming Home,” died on May 26 at his residence in South Egremont, Mass., within the Berkshires. He was 92.

The dying was confirmed by his spouse, Elizabeth Empleton Hellman.

Almost nobody at the 1970 Academy Awards ceremony anticipated “Midnight Cowboy” to win. The film was the gritty city story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a younger, good-looking, naïve and never notably vibrant Texan who decides to begin a brand new life in New York City as a male hustler catering to rich older girls, and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a grubby Bronx con man with a debilitating limp who turns into Joe’s unlikely ally.

Shot with an preliminary funds of solely $1 million, the film included simple however removed from pornographic depictions of straight and homosexual intercourse, prostitution and gang rape. The movie’s score was later upgraded to R.

Vincent Canby’s evaluation in The New York Times appeared hesitant to overpraise the movie, which was based mostly on James Leo Herlihy’s 1965 novel of the identical identify. It was “tough and good in important ways,” Mr. Canby wrote, “slick, brutal (but not brutalizing)” and “ultimately a moving experience.”

Mr. Hellman didn’t even hassle to put in writing an acceptance speech.

“I probably only said 10 words” after Elizabeth Taylor handed him the trophy, Mr. Hellman informed The Los Angeles Times in 2005. “It must have been the shortest speech in the history of the Oscars.”

Mr. Hellman’s complete film producing profession consisted of seven movies, however they earned him six Academy Awards, to not point out a further 11 nominations. Three Oscars had been for “Midnight Cowboy”; John Schlesinger additionally gained as finest director and Waldo Salt for finest tailored screenplay.

The different three — for finest actor, finest actress and finest authentic screenplay — had been for “Coming Home” (1978), an formidable drama directed by Hal Ashby. Mr. Voight and Jane Fonda starred within the movie, he as a paraplegic Vietnam War veteran with a social conscience, and she or he as a navy spouse who turns into his lover whereas her conservative straight-by-the-book husband is deployed in the identical struggle.

Jon Voight, left, and Dustin Hoffman in a scene from the 1969 movie “Midnight Cowboy,” the one X-rated movie ever to win the very best image Oscar.Credit…United Artists

Between these two successes, “The Day of the Locust” (1975), additionally directed by Mr. Schlesinger, was one other story altogether. Based on Nathanael West’s novel, set on the fringes of 1930s Hollywood, it was a miserable story of a seductive however tainted promised land the place some individuals got here to fail and a few to die. William Atherton, Donald Sutherland and Karen Black starred, respectively, as an Ivy League designer, a sexually repressed accountant and an untalented starlet.

Many critics discovered the movie off-putting, and it didn’t do effectively at the field workplace. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker mentioned it had “no emotional center.” Although Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times beloved Mr. Sutherland’s efficiency, he discovered most of the characters too clearly doomed to care about.

But Mr. Canby wrote in The Times that the movie was “in many ways remarkable,” declaring its topic a metaphor for the decline of Western civilization and “second-rateness as a way of life.”

Judith Crist, then the acclaimed founding film critic for New York journal, praised “The Day of the Locust” in a full-page evaluation. “So brilliant is” this movie, she started, “so dazzling and harrowing its impact, so impotent are the superlatives it evokes” that you just nearly need to keep away from wanting at it instantly, like a photo voltaic eclipse. She concluded, “To call it the finest film of the past several years is to belittle it.”

The National Board of Review named it one of the 12 months’s 10 finest movies.

Jerome Hellman was born on Sept. four, 1928, in Manhattan, the second little one of Abraham J. Hellman, a Romanian-born insurance coverage dealer, and Ethel (Greenstein) Hellman. After highschool, he served two years within the Marine Corps, then started his working life as a messenger within the New York workplace of Ashley-Steiner, a expertise company.

He rose via the ranks and based his personal company in 1957, earlier than he was 30. But he bought that enterprise in 1963 and have become a full-time film producer, starting with George Roy Hill’s comedy “The World of Henry Orient” (1964). Peter Sellers performed the title function, a New York live performance pianist who’s making an attempt to provoke an affair with a married girl however is being stalked by two adoring adolescent ladies. The movie was each effectively reviewed and a success.

His different movies as producer had been Irvin Kershner’s “A Fine Madness” (1966), starring Sean Connery as a poet with author’s block, and “Promises in the Dark” (1979), starring Marsha Mason as a physician treating a teenage most cancers affected person. It was the one movie that Mr. Hellman ever directed, and solely as a result of Mr. Schlesinger, who was scheduled to take action, had dropped out.

Mr. Hellman’s final movie was “The Mosquito Coast” (1986), directed by Peter Weir from Paul Theroux’s novel about an inventor who strikes to a tropical island together with his household, tries to create a utopia and fails. Harrison Ford starred.

Mr. Hellman in 2009. At one level he described his earlier movies as “unique, different, fraught with risk, problematical.”Credit…Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Mr. Hellman was married to Joanne Fox from 1957 to 1966 and to Nancy Ellison, a photographer, from 1973 to 1991. In addition to his third spouse, a movie promoter whom he married in 2001, his survivors embrace a son, J.R.; a daughter, Jenny Hellman; and a grandson.

Authors and commentators thought of Mr. Hellman a driving drive within the creation of what some referred to as the New Hollywood of the 1970s, the place energy shifted from big-studio committees to unbiased filmmakers with goal. But the period didn’t final lengthy. In 1982, in an interview with The New York Times, he described the movies he had made as much as that time as “unique, different, fraught with risk, problematical.”

“People just can’t believe that after the success of ‘Coming Home,’ I couldn’t just do what I wanted,” Mr. Hellman noticed. But the studios, he mentioned, had been now run by enterprise sorts who wanted each movie to be a blockbuster.

“All that my success has won me is the luxury of immediate access to top executives,” he mentioned.