JAMES LEO HERLIHY was an American novelist, playwright and actor, who died on this date (b: 1927). He was known for his novels Midnight Cowboy and All Fall Down, and his play Blue Denim, all of which were adapted include The Season of the Witch and several short stories.
Herlihy was born into a working-class family in Detroit, Michigan, in 1927. He enlisted with the Navy in 1945 but saw no action due to the end of World War II. He attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina for two years, where he studied sculpture. He then moved to southern California and attended the Pasadena Playhouse College of the Theatre.
Herlihy was a close friend of playwright Tennessee Williams, who served as his mentor. Both spent a significant amount of time in Key West, Florida. Like Williams, Herlihy had lived in New York City. Apart from Key West, the primary home of Herlihy was in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. He was also close to novelist Anais Nin, who also served as a mentor to the young writer.
Plays he wrote include Streetlight Sonata, Moon in Capricorn, and Blue Denim (produced on Broadway in 1958). He directed actress Tallulah Bankhead in a touring production of his play Crazy October in 1959. Three of his one-act plays, titled collectively Stop, You’re Killing Me were presented by the Theater Company of Boston in 1969. 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.
Herlihy wrote three novels: All Fall Down (1960), Midnight Cowboy (1965), and The Season of the Witch (1971). 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 included plays. Herlihy appeared as a guest star in “A Bunch of Lonely Pagliaccis,” a 1962 episode of the TV series Route 66. He acted in the movie In the French Style (1963) with Jean Seberg. Herlihy also acted in Edward Albee’s play The Zoo Story in 1963 in Boston and Paris, and in the 1981 film Four Friends directed by Arthur Penn.
Herlihy died by suicide at the age of 66, after taking an overdose of sleeping pills in Los Angeles.