From the Desk of Richard Walter: Downhill Cowboy

My late and beloved Auntie Anne, single her whole life, lived in a sprawling rent-controlled 14th-floor apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. It boasted what NYC realty ads characterize as a ‘riv vu,’ a substantial swath of the Hudson visible not only from the living room but also, and especially, from the spacious outdoor terrace.

The rent: $700.

She’s now gone and we miss her every day. The apartment still rents for $700, but instead of monthly, it’s hourly.

For an oppressed young immigrant of the early 20th Century, Auntie Anne fared remarkably well, living out an authentic only-in-America success story. She served decades at legendary Local 1199, the hospital and pharmaceutical workers’ union.

Ann was a pioneer in workers’ benefits, a warrior for improved wages and working conditions, virtually inventing all by herself, for example, the entire field of dental insurance.

My sister and I happened one day to be talking with Ann about movies. We mentioned Midnight Cowboy. It remains to this day among my all-time favorite movies.

“I saw that,” she said.

“Really?” we said. “You saw Midnight Cowboy?”

We were surprised. She was a fairly straight-laced gal of another generation and not likely, it seemed to us, to have gone out of her way to take in that particular movie with its darkness and despair, its sex-for-sale, its gritty Times Square scene with porn parlors and drug shooting dens up and down the formerly sophisticated, classy, elegant 42nd Street.

“Sure,” Ann said. “Everybody’s talking about it. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”

“What did you think of it?” we asked her. “Did you like it?”

“I liked it fine,” she said, nodding, “though I was really surprised by what I saw.”

“With ‘cowboy’ in the title, did you think it was a western?”

Back then, Hollywood still made westerns.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I’d read some reviews, and I knew it wasn’t a western.”

Then Ann added, “But so much skiing! Skiing, skiing, skiing! I certainly never expected to see so much skiing!”

My sister and I pondered the statement in silence for a hefty moment.

Unlike the current era, in those days movies played in single-screen theaters. One of the nation’s very earliest multiplexes had recently opened, however, on Second Avenue in the Turtle Bay section. The complex contained all of two auditoriums; they were called Cinema I and Cinema II.

After substantial digging, we were able to determine that Auntie Ann had arrived at the theater(s) a tad late. She had arrived at her seat just after the opening title and credits.

Upstairs, Cinema I featured Midnight Cowboy.

Downstairs, Cinema II featured Downhill Racer.


Richard Walter is a screenwriter, author of best selling fiction and nonfiction, celebrated storytelling educator, associate dean, entertainment industry expert and longtime professor and chairman of the graduate screenwriting program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Professor Walter offers an exclusive online 6-week course. Here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train with the world’s most accomplished screenwriting educator. And, he’ll read your script if you complete it within 1 month of the class! Learn more at http://richardwalter.com/workshop/ and sign up for updates by joining Richard Walter’s email newsletter list: contact him at rwalter@tft.ucla.edu.

© Richard Walter 2018