An examination of a post–war novelist, actor, and playwright whose personal life parallels his award-winning works
Understanding James Leo Herlihy is the first book-length study of one of America's most neglected post–war writers. Herlihy (1927–1993), an occasional actor, made his professional mark in life as a playwright and novelist. Herlihy produced a significant body of work, which includes numerous plays, two collections of short stories, and three novels. His best-known novel, Midnight Cowboy, was later adapted into a screenplay by John Schlesinger. It was the only X-rated movie to receive an Academy Award—three, in fact, in 1969: best picture, best director, and best adapted screenplay.
In Understanding James Leo Herlihy, Robert Ward examines Herlihy's writing with reference to its historical, cultural, and personal contexts. Ward portrays Herlihy as a product of his environment, influenced by the 1950s and 1960s culture, including the youth rebellion, the erosion of the traditional family, and the increasing sexual liberation. Herlihy's award-winning novels, plays, and short stories display persistent themes of displacement, alienation, and the loss of innocence—all themes that Ward views as parallel to Herlihy's personal life.
Understanding James Leo Herlihy offers a detailed analysis of Herlihy's key works and their relation to his personal life. Through a biographical introduction, a detailed discussion of the major novels, plays, and short stories, and a substantial bibliography, Ward details the writer's critically and commercially successful works.
Robert Ward received a B.A. in English humanities at the University of Glamorgan, Wales, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American literature from the University of Leeds. He currently teaches English at Brown University and Emerson College.
"Robert Ward's Understanding James Leo Herlihy is an appealing introduction to this neglected gay American author. Talented and charismatic, Herlihy told sympathetic stories of outsiders and pushed the envelope of acceptable material on the stage and page. Herlihy journeyed through the U.S. Navy, Black Mountain College, Pasadena Playhouse, Broadway, Key West, hippie communes, and Los Angeles, and on the way befriended luminaries Anaïs Nin, Tennessee Williams, and Tallulah Bankhead. This first book on Herlihy incisively discusses his work within its socio-cultural contexts and positions Herlihy in dialogue with his better-known contemporaries such as James Purdy, Carson McCullers, and Williams. Robert Ward's thoughtful and concise monograph represents a notable contribution to the study of post-World War II and gay American literatures."—Michael Snyder, PhD, Professor of English at Oklahoma City Community College