Buck Henry, the legendary screenwriter behind The Graduate and What’s Up, Doc? who also co-created Get Smart and was a regular presence in the early years of Saturday Night Live, died tonight of a heart attack at Cedars-Sinai Health Center in Los Angeles.
Henry got his start writing for Steve Allen and Garry Moore’s TV shows in the 1960s before penning the script for The Graduate, Mike Nichols’ seminal film starring Dustin Hoffman, Katharine Ross and Anne Bancroft. The film focused on the generation gap of the later 1960s and includes a number of memorable scenes and lines.
Who could forget Hoffman’s college-age Benjamin Braddock telling Bancroft’s older character, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.” Later, after she asks Benjamin, “Do you find me undesirable?” he tells her, “Oh no, Mrs. Robinson, I think you’re the most attractive of any of my parents’ friends.”
The film — which was adapted from Charles Webb’s book and featured the timeless-but-Oscar-ineligible Simon & Garfunkel hit “Mrs. Robinson” — scored seven Oscar noms including Best Picture, with Nichols winning Best Director. The pic made the top 10 in the AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies list in 1998.
Henry scored a pair of Oscar nominations — one for his and Calder Willingham’s adapted screenplay for The Graduate and another for directing with Warren Beatty the 1978 movie Heaven Can Wait. He also won a writing Emmy in 1967 for Get Smart, the spy spoof he created with Mel Brooks, among many other accolades.
Get Smart, starring Don Adams as the bumbling yet somehow effective Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, debuted on NBC in 1965. Driven by the popularity of the James Bond films, the CONTROL-vs.-KAOS sitcom was an early hit, finishing the season No. 12 among all primetime programs. Co-starring Barbara Feldon and Edward Platt, it moved to CBS for its fifth and final season in 1969-70. Along with one of TV’s greatest opening credits, a number of the show’s catchphrases would become pop-culture lore: “Missed it by that much,” “I think it’s only fair to warn you …,” “Sorry about that, Chief,” “I demand the Cone of Silence” — and the list goes on.
Adams would reprise his iconic role for the 1980 feature The Nude Bomb, and — would you believe … — Steve Carrel starred in a 2008 Get Smart movie.
In his TV Foundation interview, Henry recalled how he and Brooks got the idea for Get Smart. “Nobody seems to remember it but me,” he said. “I go to [Talent Associates partner Danny Melnick’s office], and he says, ‘I want to give you guys an idea: What are the two biggest movies in the world today? James Bond and Inspector Clouseau. Get my point?’ … It’s parody and satire.”
ABC paid for the Get Smart pilot but passed on the series. Melnick then took it to NBC titan Grant Tinker, who was looking for a project for his contract actor Adams.
Henry would focus his screenwriting on the big screen during the 1970s, co-penning the Barbra Streisand starrer What’s Up, Doc? and writing or co-writing book-to-screen adaptations for such films as Catch-22, The Owl and the Pussycat, and The Day of the Dolphin.
He became a familiar face to a new generation of TV viewers by hosting Saturday Night Live several times during its first five seasons. He might be best remembered as John Belushi’s foil in the classic “Samurai” skits.
Henry will be miss but his contributions to the industry of film and television will continue to live on!
We at CritiX would like to send our condolences to the friends and family of the legend who is Buck Henry. He was 89 years old.