James Leo Herlihy

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James Leo Herlihy

James Leo Herlihy (/ˈhɜrləhi/; February 27, 1927 – October 21, 1993) was an American novelist, playwright and actor.

Herlihy is known for his novels Midnight Cowboy and All Fall Down, and his play Blue Denim, all of which were adapted for cinema. Other publications include The Season of the Witch and several short stories.[1]


Herlihy was born into a working-class family in Detroit, Michigan in 1927. He enlisted with the Navy in 1945 but never saw combat due to the end of the war. He attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina for two years, where he studied sculpture. He then relocated to California and attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of the Theater.[1]

Plays he wrote include Streetlight Sonata (1950), Moon in Capricorn (1953), and Blue Denim (produced on Broadway in 1958).[1] He directed actress Tallulah Bankhead in a touring production of his play Crazy October in 1959.[2] Three of his one-act plays, titled collectively Stop You're Killing Me were presented by the Theater Company of Boston in 1969.[3] According to author Sean Egan in his biography of James Kirkwood, Jr., Ponies & Rainbows, Herlihy co-wrote the play UTBU with Kirkwood but demanded his name be taken off the credits.[4]

He wrote three novels: All Fall Down (1960), Midnight Cowboy (1965), and Season of the Witch (1971).[5] His short stories were collected in The Sleep of Baby Filbertson and Other Stories (1959) and A Story That Ends in a Scream and Eight Others (1967), a collection which also included plays.[1]

He acted in the movie In the French Style (1963) with Jean Seberg. He acted in Edward Albee's play The Zoo Story in 1963 in Boston and Paris.[1]

In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments as a protest against the Vietnam War.[6]

He acted in the 1981 movie Four Friends directed by Arthur Penn.[1]

Herlihy committed suicide at the age of 66, by taking an overdose of sleeping pills in Los Angeles.[1][7]




  • Streetlight Sonata (1950)
  • Moon in Capricorn (1953)
  • Blue Denim (1958)
  • Crazy October (1959)
  • Stop, You’re Killing Me: Three Short Plays (1969)


  • The Sleep of Baby Filbertson and Other Stories (1958)
  • A Story That Ends with a Scream and Eight Others (1967)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Grimes, William (October 22, 1993), James Leo Herlihy, 66, Novelist Who Wrote 'Midnight Cowboy', New York Times, retrieved February 11, 2010 
  2. ^ Special Collections Department (October 1997), James Leo Herlihy Papers, University of Delaware 
  3. ^ Theater: Laughing in the Dark, Time, March 28, 1969, retrieved February 11, 2010 
  4. ^ Egan, Sean (2011) “Ponies & Rainbows: The Life of James Kirkwood" Bearmanor Media, ISBN 1-59393-680-X, page 204
  5. ^ Houston, Levin (April 17, 1971), Herlihy Captures Reader, The Free Lance-Star - Apr 17, 1971, retrieved February 11, 2010 [dead link]
  6. ^ “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  7. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (October 23, 1993). "J.L. Herlihy; 'Midnight Cowboy' Author". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 

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