Midnight Cowboy (novel)
First edition cover
|Author||James Leo Herlihy|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
Midnight Cowboy is a 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihy that chronicles the naïve Texan Joe Buck's odyssey from Texas to New York City, where he plans on realizing his dream of becoming a male prostitute servicing rich women.
The book opens with would-be stud-for-hire Joe Buck getting ready to leave his rural Texas town, recalling the events that set him upon his sordid path.
Joe's mother, who might or might not have been a prostitute, frequently leaves him with a succession of blondes, either his aunts or other whores, until he is about 9 and she drops him off to live with his grandmother, Sally Buck. During these years he becomes sexually attracted to fleshy blondes.
During his mid-teens Joe loses his virginity to Annie, a girl who would regularly take on six boys at a time on a dirty mattress behind a movie theater screen, each waiting patiently in line for his turn. Joe was the first boy she ever enjoyed having sex with, leading to a secret relationship that is squelched when one of Annie’s many jealous “users” alerts her father to his daughter’s activities and he swiftly institutionalizes her.
Upon Sally's death while Joe is serving in the army, he loses all sense of direction and security. Joe befriends a local hustler named Perry, a beautiful young man who schools Joe in the art of dominating one’s “tricks” and gets him stoned on marijuana for the first time. It is very clear that Perry wants to have sex with Joe — and that Joe is attracted to Perry but is confused and dishonest with himself about how to handle it. Perry eventually takes Joe to a Tex-Mex whorehouse. While Joe is having spirited sex with an underage Mexican whore, he realizes that his efforts are being watched by the house’s madam, her fat gay half-Indian son, and Perry. They try to coax Joe into continuing, but a furious Joe attacks Perry, only to be pulled off the hustler by the big gay man, at which point Joe is raped by both the fat man and Perry. Joe is so traumatized by the rape that he now no longer cares whom he has sex with, male or female.
Once in New York, Joe proves a failure as a hustler, and soon finds himself barely surviving while serving a mainly gay clientele. Out of desperation, he takes up with Rico "Ratso" Rizzo, a crippled con man and Joe's would-be pimp. The two form a tenuous friendship, but they still fail to make any money. Their dire poverty and Rizzo's rapidly-failing health soon force Joe to rob a client in order to afford a bus ticket to Florida, where Rizzo has always dreamed of going. But Rizzo dies of pneumonia on the bus to Miami, leaving Joe completely alone in the world.
In 1969, the novel was made into the movie Midnight Cowboy starring Dustin Hoffman as Ratso and Jon Voight as Joe. The film, by director John Schlesinger, succeeded commercially and critically, winning three Academy Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Director and Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). Both Hoffman and Voight received nominations as Academy Award for Best Actor, but lost out to John Wayne in True Grit.
Schlesinger explained the great success of the film as its exploration of loneliness. The movie, which was adapted by screenwriter Waldo Salt, was not entirely faithful to the book, omitting or altering some aspects of Joe's early life.
- Goldstein, Patrick (February 27, 2005). "'Midnight Cowboy' and the very dark horse its makers rode in on". Los Angeles Times.