I guess because it doesn't quite gibe with his irreverent comedy style or, as Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield put it, his status as a "1970s New Hollywood renegade", I was surprised to learn Buck Henry had come from a show biz background. At least one half of a show biz background. His mother was silent film actress Ruth Taylor, who married a stockbroker when talkies became popular and moved to New York City. Still, she must have retained some ties to her old profession, as her son got to meet Humphrey Bogart on the set of The Maltese Falcon when he was about ten years old. Henry's own show biz debut was right after World War II in a New York City-area touring production of Life With Father, playing one of the sons (don't know which one, as there were four) when he was 15. After high school, Henry went to Dartmouth College. Though he wrote for the campus humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, upon graduation he went back into acting, but not for long, as he was drafted. An Army aptitude test decided he could best serve his country as a helicopter mechanic in West Germany, but after a year of that, he managed to get a transfer to Special Services, the entertainment arm of the military branch. There he wrote, directed, and starred in a musical titled Beyond the Moon, about a couple of servicemen who are accidentally rocketed to a planet full of beautiful women (the movies Cat-Women of the Moon, Abbot and Costello Go to Mars, The Queen of Outer Space, and Fire Maidens of Outer Space all have similar plots. Obviously there was a whole generation of horny heterosexual young men who saw the rocket ship as a phallic symbol.)
After he left Get Smart, Buck Henry created the superhero parody Captain Nice, but it fared poorly as as it was scheduled against another superhero parody Mr. Terrific, the potential audience for each show canceling each other out (plus, people were starting to get tired of Batman, which had inspired these parodies.) But it didn't hurt Henry any as he was about to get the biggest break of his career. A comedian-turned-stage director-turned-filmmaker named Mike Nichols, whom had been a childhood friend, enlisted Henry to write a film adaptation of a novella by Charles Webb about a recent college graduate who has an affair with the wife of his father's law partner. Since Webb's novel was almost entirely dialogue, Henry's screenplay followed it pretty closely, though he did add the famous "one word: plastics", a suggestion to young Benjamen Braddock as to how he should spend the rest of his life. The Graduate (also the name of Webb's novel) was a huge hit at the box office, ushered in a whole new style of Hollywood filmmaking (though not a whole new style of filmmaking, period. All of Nichol's cinematic tricks--long takes, fragmented editing, point-of-view visuals, use of zoom lenses, hand-held camera work--had earlier been used by the Italians and the French.) But Henry's screenplay, especially the first half, was funny enough that it could have been filmed in a more conventional manner and still been a box office hit. However, that doesn't necessarily make Henry the unsung hero of The Graduate. As I said, there was the original source material, as well as a first draft of the script by Calder Willingham. Henry claimed never to have read Willingham's version, and Nichols backed him up on that, but Willingham nevertheless brought a complaint before the Writers Guild of America-West Arbitration Committee. That committee did indeed see similarities between the two scripts, which Henry argued was simply because each was based on the same novel. Unswayed, one of the arbitrators told Henry he should have changed the names of the characters. Here's to you, Mrs. Peterson. And the onscreen credit ended up reading "Screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry" (Henry once mused that it may have been a good thing that the screenplay lost out at the Oscars as it saved him the awkwardness of having to go onstage and accept the award alongside Willingham.) I read Charles Webb's original novel years ago but can no longer remember what was what. The know the general consensus is that if there's something in the film that's not in the book, then either Buck Henry or Mike Nichols put it there. Shared credit notwithstanding, The Graduate became the cornerstone of Henry's writing career. From 1968 until the end of the century, he would be a highly sought-after, and highly-paid screenwriter. Along with two more films for Nichols, Catch-22 (1970) and The Day of the Dolphin (1972), Henry also wrote Candy (1968), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), Heaven Can Wait (1978; he also co-directed with Warren Beatty), First Family (1980, also directed), To Die For (1995), and Town & Country (2001; one of many writers on a troubled production that took two years to film, but, according to some accounts, Henry walked away with a cool $3 million.)
apologized to anybody who may have had a real-life Uncle Roy as a child.) Surprisingly, this wasn't the Henry sketch that generated the most angry mail. That instead was skit where played a stunt coordinator involved in a movie about child, in fact infant, abuse. Right before the moment of violence is to be filmed, the "star" baby is taken away and replaced by a stunt double, who is then thrown against the walls and furniture. No real infant was actually harmed while performing the sketch. Both the star baby and the stunt baby were obviously dolls, but it was still a bit too much for some people watching at home. A sketch that wasn't controversial but may have caused Henry a bit of grief anyway involved John Belushi's Samurai character. These were a series of skits where combined Japanese martial techniques with mundane jobs such as being a motel desk clerk or operating a delicatessen. In a sketch titled "Samurai Stockbroker", Henry, as Mr. Dantley, leans a bit too closely to hear some stock tips and gets hit by a sword. This wasn't in the script. I'd like to think Belushi's sword was nothing more than a prop, but can't actually confirm this. Real or not, Henry did get a cut on the head, and had to spend the rest of show wearing a bandage. Though it wasn't meant to happen and this was live TV, Chevy Chase made it one of his news items on Weekend Update. Furthermore, for the rest of the night, various cast members began popping up in sketches wearing bandages. As Henry said goodbye at the end, all the Not Ready for Prime Time Players stood behind him swathed up in a show of first aid solidarity. How's that for improv theater?
Here's my guess. In one episode that Henry is credited with writing, a grizzled, one-legged sea captain reminisces about the time he did battle with the Great White Whale.
Pointing to the wooden leg, Maxwell Smart asks, "Did the Great White Whale do that?"
"No," the sea captain replies. "That was done by a Small Blue Convertible."
Reality bites. Maybe that was Buck Henry's personal statement