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's body of work 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.
Through a biographical introduction and a detailed discussion of the major novels, plays, and short stories, Ward details the writer's successful works.