Hellman was behind the only X-rated film to win a Best Picture Oscar.

By Jolie Lash
May 28, 2021 at 05:16 PM EDT
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Jerome Hellman, the Hollywood producer behind 1969's Midnight Cowboy and 1986's The Mosquito Coast, has died at 92.

Elizabeth Empleton Hellman, his wife, confirmed he passed away on May 26, telling Deadline, "we will miss him terribly." 

Hellman took home the Best Picture Academy Award at the 42nd ceremony for Midnight Cowboy -- the first and only X-rated film to nab the top prize. According to Vanity Fair, after the film took Best Picture, Hellman and director John Schlesinger were allegedly asked to make edits to get it to an "R" rating, something they passed on doing. (It did, however, end up with an "R" rating in 1971).

MIDNIGHT COWBOY
Credit: Everett Collection

Hellman opened up about how he and British director Schlesinger came to make Midnight Cowboy -- where the Texas-bred dishwater played by Jon Voight becomes a male prostitute -- in a documentary released on the MGM Blu-ray release of the film in 2011. 

"I got a call from him one day. He said, 'Look, I've read a book. You're gonna hate it, maybe,' but he said, 'I really think we can make a wonderful movie out of the book,'" Hellman recounted. "I read the book and we had two or three transatlantic conversations and it was clear that we were on the same page. We talked about certain fundamentals -- uncompromised, that the only way to do Midnight Cowboy was to really deal with it." 

Hellman told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 he "didnt' even prepare a speech," for the Oscars, not expecting to win. So, when he took the stage, he didn't thank Schlesinger, the actors, or his parents. 

"All I remember is going to the Governors Ball and seeing [screenwriter] Ernie Lehman, who ran up to me and said, 'Tonight, you're the king.' It was just one of those special times when the academy somehow recognizes greatness," he said at the time.

Jerome Hellman
Jerome Hellman receives the Best Picture Oscar (also pictured: Elizabeth Taylor)
| Credit: Everett Collection

Born on Sept. 4, 1928 in New York, Hellman, was a producer on many notable films from the mid 1960s, through the mid 1980s.

Coming Home, starring Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, and Bruce Dern, and set during the Vietnam War, was a Best Picture nominee for Hellman. The film took home three of its eight nominations -- Best Actor for Voight, Best Actress for Fonda, and Best Screenplay.

His film The Mosquito Coast (which is now an AppleTV+ series starring Justin Theroux) starred Harrison Ford as a man who moves his family to Central America. It also starred Helen Mirren and a young River Phoenix.

The Academy shared its condolences on Twitter on Friday, writing, "As a producer, Jerome Hellman had an eye for challenging material that resonated with audiences. He won the Best Picture Oscar for "Midnight Cowboy" in 1970 and was nominated a second time for the post-war drama "Coming Home" in 1979. He will be missed."

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