The 50th Anniversary of the UK Cinema Release of John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy".
Today is the 50th anniversary of the UK cinema release of the great British director John Schlesinger's movie "Midnight Cowboy". It starred Dustin Hoffman as "Ratso" Rizzo and Jon Voight as Joe Buck. The film won three Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director.
The British Entertainment History Project has an 147 minute interview with John Schlesinger recorded on the 30 th March 1994. It covers his early career at the BBC in the 1950s. He talks eloquently about directing such classics as "A Kind of Loving" "Billy Liar" "Far From The Madding Crowd" and "Marathon Man". You can find the interview at
In this excerpt he talks to interviewer Norman Swallow about the making of "Midnight Cowboy"
John Schlesinger : "Onto the next. And so started a rather wonderful winter, my first in LA on the beach and we rented a house in Malibu and we worked from there. It was great fun. And the script was sort of gradually coming together.
Norman Swallow: This is Waldo Salt
John Schlesinger: Waldo Salt, yes. Wonderful. He hated writing, he was a wonderful writer but he hated the actual act, of facing the blank sheet of paper and he would put off all the time actually committing to paper. We had to in the end ring him and say tomorrow you're delivering 10 pages, yes. Yes, yes I promise. And the following morning dawned and we were all waiting at Malibu and no Waldo, we'd ring. Are you coming, yeah, well it's all in my head. Well
is it on paper. No, it isn't on paper yet. And that's the way we had to get it out of him, by deadlines.
Norman Swallow: He obviously got it in the end.
John Schlesinger: He certainly did,
Norman Swallow: And well worth getting out too
John Schlesinger: Absolutely. None of us knew it was going to have the effect that it did. We just felt free to make, I'd read the book on the advice of a very interesting painter living in London, an America painter called Kaffe Fassett whose since become a very well known for embroidery and tapestries and things like that and had an exhibition at the V & A. And Kaffe was a friend of mine and I wish I'd listen to his advice more often, because afterwards he said, after recommending that I read Midnight Cowboy, he said there's a book called The Elephant Man you should read. I didn't take his advice. I read it but I didn't do it. Anyhow that was how Midnight Cowboy came about.
And you know I was there for the first time in America, no strings , I was beginning to get well known here but I was totally unknown over there except for Darling and so it started, so started this American connection. Yes.
Norman Swallow: Forgive me for interrupting, you had a marvellous cast again.
John Schlesinger: Wonderful cast
Norman Swallow: Again your superb relationship with actors and getting them to give their very best.
John Schlesinger: It's very interesting, Hoffman was the first cast. I'd only see The Graduate and I thought he's not right for Ratso Rizzo, but Jerry Hellman the producer said I've seen him in Henry Living's A off Broadway and he's a wonderful character actor and you should meet him. And he had the good sense to dress in a dirty old raincoat and we wandered around 42n d Street and all those areas and he blended in perfectly. By the end of the evening there was no question he wasn't the right man for it.
And Voight followed much, much later. We thought we'd found our cowboy. We tested him and the casting director said you
must see John Voight. We said we've seen his photograph and he isn't our idea of the cowboy at all, this kind of round, Dutch, big nostrelled, blond face. No. But she said just meet him, so we did, and he read for us and we added him to the list of people being tested and he still didn't get the role. Nor did the man we all thought did would, but there was another actor, a Canadian actor called Michael Sarrazin. And what you do when you're testing is that you make pre test deals with agents and studios, meaning if they get the part this is the fixed price that we're going to pay. And he was under contract to Universal, Michael Sarrazin, and we did the test, decided much against the casting directors will who much preferred Jon Voight that we would go with him and Jon Voight had already rung me and said thank you, it was a very fair test, I hope we get to work some day.
Sarrazin came in for costume fittings. And then Universal, his representatives, tripled the asking price and got so greedy that Jerry said fuck them. And we went back to the tests again and decided that Jon Voight's every bit as good, if not better. It was terrible for poor Michael Sarrazin and Jon got the role
Norman Swallow: It worked out well in the end John Schlesinger: It worked very well in the end.
Norman Swallow: That got an Oscar as the Best Picture, or you got the Oscar
John Schlesinger: It got 3 Oscars. Writer, director and best picture.
Norman Swallow: And Dustin Hoffman was nominated
John Schlesinger: Nominated, and so was John Voight. But sentimentally I think out of, John Wayne got it for True Grit. I think they were more generous at the BAFTA awards. I think they got awards here.
Norman Swallow: A very great film
John Schlesinger: It's just been revived, 25 years. They've reissued it, we remixed it and stereo phonically
Norman Swallow: Did you
John Schlesinger: Oh yes, I had a lot to do with it. It's on now.
John Schlesinger: It would never get made today, Midnight Cowboy
Norman Swallow: Really
John Schlesinger: Never, not in the present climate, they would show us the door.