‘Midnight Cowboy’ producer Jerome Hellman dead at 92

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Jerome Hellman, the Oscar-winning producer of the groundbreaking 1969 film “Midnight Cowboy,” has died. He was 92. 

Over the course of his career, Hellman also worked on 1964’s “The World of Henry Orient,” 1966’s “A Fine Madness,” 1975’s “The Day of the Locust” and 1986’s “The Mosquito Coast,” all in collaboration with a variety of notable directors. 

Also notable was his work as a producer for the 1978 Vietnam War film “Coming Home,” which landed an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, as well as Best Actress and Actor Oscars for cast members Jane Fonda and “Midnight Cowboy” star Jon Voight.

The X-rated “Midnight Cowboy” is today considered representative of a turning point in Hollywood for its depiction of homosexuality and prostitution. Despite being controversially explicit, the movie ended up taking home Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture, a fate Hellman has famously admitted to doubt would ever happen. 

“I was so sure we weren’t going to win, I didn’t even prepare a speech,” Hellman told the Los Angeles Times in 2005. “I probably only said 10 words. It must’ve been the shortest speech in the history of the Oscars. I didn’t thank [director] John [Schlesinger] or the actors or my mother or father.”

The film remains the only X-rated movie in history to take home a Best Picture Oscar. (Its rating has since been downgraded to a mere R.) 

Hellman is credited with advocating for Dustin Hoffman to play the greasy sidekick character of Ratso Rizzo in the flick. Soon after seeing him in the 1966 off-Broadway play “Eh?” Hellman returned with Schlesinger. “They went backstage and immediately offered him ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ ” Schlesinger’s partner of 37 years, Michael Childers, told The Post in 2019.

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Director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman in 1969.
Courtesy Everett Collection

In 1967, “The Graduate” opened, rocketing Hoffman to such celebrity heights that “Midnight Cowboy” had to hire bodyguards to keep “hundreds of teenage girls” from breaking into his trailer, Childers said. 

Before going into producing and directing, Hellman worked as a New York talent agent. Prior to the silver screen, he also worked on live TV dramas.

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Empleton Hellman, a daughter and a son, Variety reported

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Jerome Hellman accepts the Best Picture Academy Award for “Midnight Cowboy” from Elizabeth Taylor.
Everett Collection / Everett Col

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