“We thought it was good publicity,” Mr. Hellman said of the Esquire issue in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1999, when “Two-Lane Blacktop” finally made it to video. “In hindsight, we wouldn’t have done it. I think it raised people’s expectations. They couldn’t accept the movie for what it was.”
French film critics did, and their enthusiasm spread to the United States. As the 1970s became recognized as a golden age of independent film, the film’s reputation, and its director’s, soared. In 2005, the journal Cahiers du Cinéma pronounced it “one of the greatest American films of the 1970s.”
Monte Himmelbaum was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on July 12, 1929, and grew up in Albany, N.Y., where his father ran a small grocery store. When he was s6, the family moved to Los Angeles.
He majored in speech and drama at Stanford University, where he directed radio plays, and after graduating in 1951, he studied film at the University of California, Los Angeles. Around this time, he changed his last name.
In 1952, Mr. Hellman helped found the Stumptown Players, a summer theater troupe, in Guerneville, Calif. Carol Burnett was a member. He directed numerous productions and filled in as an actor when required.
His first marriage was to one of the theater’s actresses, Barboura Morris. The marriage ended in divorce. He was married three other times, his daughter said. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Jared, and a brother, Herb.
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