The Truth Behind the Famous ‘I’m Walkin’ Here’ Scene in Midnight Cowboy

Most people who are reading the title of this article are wondering what is this famous “I’m walkin’ here” scene is all about. Based on the YouTube counters it’s been at least 4 years since anyone paid attention. But as books are written and new details of old movies are revived and recalled, there are bound to be controversies to be discussed and settled. Before we get to the scene in question, here is a clip that is a more modern version of the scene – with a twist:

Yes, that is a “younger” Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality with her famous “I’m gliding here” scene. If you remember the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy you are very likely to remember the “I’m walkin’ here” moment. Midnight Cowboy was the first and only X-rated movie in the history of the Oscars to win an Academy Award. What earned the movie the infamous X rating was its general theme about a male prostitute trying to make a go of it in the big city. It won Best Picture on a budget of just $3 million.

Here is the cinematic moment that is the topic of discussion:

There are multiple versions of how this scene came to be. One is advanced by Dustin Hoffman, who maintained that the budget of the film limited retakes, so the scene was rehearsed to time the walk across the street with the normal signals used by everyday people. Hoffmann called it a “stolen shot” and the driver of the cab actually cut in front of him while shooting the scene. The driver was not an actor, and Hoffmann’s lines were kept within the character of the script, even though he wanted to say something saltier to the cab driver.

The other explanation came from the producer of the movie, Jerome Hellman, who said in the Director’s Cut of the movie that he doesn’t remember any improvisation occurring. There was an extra in the cab who was used to create the scene. Director John Schlesinger echoed Hellman’s recollection of the scene, extending the scene to where it was done several times.

So what actually happened? When you take into account both stories, and the way movies were made at the time, both stories are likely to be true. You can go back a decade from when Midnight Cowboy was made and found directors allowing actors to do entirely unexpected things that were unscripted yet left into the final cut of the movie. Hoffmann probably did improvise the dialog, while the cab driver actually was an extra who ended up becoming famous in a scene starring a pair of soon-to-be famous actors in Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffmann.

Now if we return to Miss Congeniality the same scene with a slight change in the dialogue begs a couple of questions. First, was it inserted in honor of the 1969 movie? This seems more likely than not because movie critics and aficionados would immediately have jumped on the movie once the connection was made and it in any way mocked the original.

The second question is, what does this say about the character of Gracie Hart who is now Gracie Lou Freebush, Miss New Jersey? Was this inserted to make a connection between the original Miss New Jersey who lost her position because of her starring role in the porn film Arma Get It On? This seems almost a sure thing given that Hart was an FBI undercover agent, and the effeminate Victor Melling, played brilliantly by Michael Caine, was the one who was out of harm’s way in the scene. While in the 1969 version people just kept on walking, in the modern imitation people turned to look at what was going on. But it seems clear that this scene was a direct reference to the 1969 movie. Also, here the cab driver remains unknown and has no chance to steal the scene as this is all scripted out.

Now that you have added to your knowledge base of movie lore, put your headphones on, sit back, and take 3 minutes to relax with the Midnight Cowboy movie theme song:

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