Buck Henry, Who Helped Create ‘Get Smart’ and Adapt ‘The Graduate,’ Dies at 89

An unassuming screenwriter and actor, Mr. Henry thought up quirky characters with Mel Brooks and inhabited many more on “Saturday Night Live.”Buck Henry delivering a monologue on “Saturday Night Live” in 1979. He hosted the show 10 times in its early years.Credit…Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty ImagesJan. 9, 2020Updated 1:01 p.m. ETBuck Henry, a…

An unassuming screenwriter and actor, Mr. Henry concept up quirky characters with Mel Brooks and inhabited many extra on “Saturday Night time Are living.”

Credit score…Alan Singer/NBCU Picture Financial institution, by the use of Getty Photographs

Dollar Henry, a creator and actor who exerted an continuously overpassed however potent affect on tv and film comedy — growing the crazy prime-time undercover agent spoof “Get Sensible” with Mel Brooks, writing the script for Mike Nichols’s landmark social satire “The Graduate” and teaming up with John Belushi within the well-known samurai sketches on “Saturday Night time Are living” — died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was once 89.

A chum, Dianne V. Lawrence, mentioned Mr. Henry’s spouse, Irene Ramp, had known as her to inform her of the demise. Ms. Ramp instructed The Washington Submit that the motive was once a middle assault. The leisure information web site Cut-off date mentioned he died at ‎Cedars-Sinai Clinical Middle, mentioning an unidentified circle of relatives member.

As a character and a performer, Mr. Henry had a delicate and unassuming side that was once most often by contrast with the pungently satirical or widely slapstick subject material he gave the impression in — and continuously wrote. Others within the room at all times appeared to make extra noise.

Certainly, for just about 50 years he was once a Zelig-like determine in American comedy, a ubiquitous if underrecognized presence no longer most effective in grand successes but in addition in grand screw ups. He wrote the screenplays for “Catch-22” (1970), an earnest however unwieldy adaptation, directed by way of Mr. Nichols, of Joseph Heller’s corrosively comedian antiwar novel; and for “Sweet” (1968), which grew to become a singular by way of Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg — a riotous sendup of “Candide” set throughout the sexual revolution — right into a leaden and star-studded bomb. (Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Walter Matthau and Ringo Starr all gave the impression as vamping lechers.)

His running companions have been amongst Hollywood’s brightest lighting, if no longer after they labored in combination then later. They incorporated no longer most effective Mr. Nichols, Mr. Brooks and Mr. Belushi, but in addition Warren Beatty, with whom he directed the plaintive drama about mortality “Heaven Can Wait” (1978), for which he was once nominated for an Academy Award; and Barbra Streisand, for whom he wrote two cockeyed romantic comedies: “The Owl and the Feline” (1970), tailored from a level play by way of Invoice Manhoff, and “What’s Up, Document?” (1972).(for which Robert Benton and David Newman additionally gained screenplay credit score).

He wrote “Protocol” (1984), a automobile for Goldie Hawn, and “To Die For” (1995), a grimly satirical take at the energy of famous person, tailored from a Joyce Maynard novel (itself derived from a real information tale) and directed by way of Gus Van Sant, which introduced out a star-making efficiency by way of Nicole Kidman as a would-be newscaster who overtly induces 3 hapless youngsters to homicide her husband.

He additionally wrote, anomalously, the screenplay for “The Day of the Dolphin” (1973), a science fiction mystery in keeping with a singular by way of Robert Merle, additionally directed by way of Mr. Nichols.

“I will write in anyone’s voice,” Mr. Henry mentioned in 2009 in an interview for the Archive of American Tv, “which is why I’m maximum a success making screenplays from books and performs.”

His maximum enduring paintings, “The Graduate,” even though additionally an adaptation (of a singular by way of Charles Webb), was once his maximum non-public.

Like “To Die For,” which predated the technology of truth presentations however addressed the doubtless toxic attract of reputation as most effective tv can confer, “The Graduate” (1967) captured a second of unease within the American zeitgeist.

Set amid the affluence and sunshine of mid-1960s suburban Los Angeles, the place medicine, intercourse, rock ’n’ roll and the threat of the Vietnam Warfare had but to rend the material of an older era’s social expectancies, the movie stuck the alienation of the American younger who sensed, lengthy prior to their folks did, that the arena they have been coming into was once a complete new position.

The movie presented a tender actor named Dustin Hoffman because the identify persona, Benjamin Braddock, whose anxiousness and paralysis are dramatized when he has an affair with the spouse of his father’s industry spouse, Mrs. Robinson, then falls in love together with her daughter, Elaine.

Mr. Henry’s screenplay, which was once nominated for an Oscar, appropriated a lot of Mr. Webb’s discussion however softened the arrogant, ugly edge evinced by way of Benjamin within the novel. And it was once marked by way of plenty of awkwardly comedian exchanges that pointedly illustrated what was once then changing into referred to as the era hole:

“I simply need to say one phrase to you, only one phrase,” a pal of Benjamin’s father says to Benjamin, corralling him at his commencement celebration.

“Sure, sir.”

“Are you listening?”

“Sure, I’m.”


Bringing in record-breaking younger audiences, “The Graduate” was once the No. 1 film in The us for months in 1968 — it was the third-highest-grossing film in historical past as much as that point, at the back of most effective “Long past With the Wind” and “The Sound of Song” — and helped herald an technology during which Hollywood fascinated with making films for other people of their teenagers and 20s.

“I feel it was once a movie made by way of and for a era that hadn’t had movies made for it,” Mr. Henry mentioned in an interview with the magazine Cineaste in 2001. “We have been simply looking to make a movie about one thing we understood. Via we, I imply Mike Nichols; Larry Turman, the manufacturer; and me.”

Calder Willingham, who wrote an early model of the script, additionally gained screenplay credit score, but it surely was once Mr. Henry’s that was once the foundation of the movie, even though the 2 shared an Academy Award nomination for best possible tailored screenplay.

“When Nichols requested me to learn the guide, they’d already thrown away 4 scripts,” Mr. Henry recalled. “Nichols, Turman and I all concept we have been Benjamin. That’s how the guide affected us. Nichols and Turman noticed the conduct and occasions within the movie as reflecting what they felt at Benjamin’s age. So did I.”

Dollar Henry was once born Henry Zuckerman in New York Town on Dec. 9, 1930, to Paul and Ruth (Taylor) Zuckerman. His father was once a stockbroker and an Military Air Corps pilot; his mom was once a Ziegfeld Follies performer and an actress in silent movies. He was once named for his grandfather, additionally a stockbroker, obtaining his nickname, Dollar, within the procedure. (Within the 2009 archive interview, he mentioned he didn’t legally alternate his title to Dollar Henry till the 1970s.)

Mr. Henry attended non-public colleges in New York and attended Dartmouth, the place he joined the theater crowd in campus productions. He recalled in an interview with Dartmouth Alumni Mag in 2013 that 3 drama professors have been the one ones “I actually cared about.”

After graduating, he was once drafted and spent the Korean Warfare years traveling Military bases in Germany with an appearing corporate, acting in a musical revue he wrote and directed. When he returned, he lived most commonly in New York Town, auditioning for appearing jobs and sending off writing samples, to little avail.

Then, in 1959, he joined forces with a pal, Alan Abel, who had created a hoax group, the Society for Indecency to Bare Animals, which was once devoted to placing pants — or no less than undershorts — on canines, horses and cows as a reaction to society’s obtrusive ethical decline.

[Learn the obituary for Alan Abel right here.]

Mr. Henry was the general public face of SINA, because the group was once identified, taking part in the function of its president, G. Clifford Prout, giving interviews to newspapers and magazines and showing on tv, the place he would argue that zoos must be closed down till the animals may well be correctly attired.

The hoax wasn’t totally unmasked till 1965, however till then many of us — hundreds of thousands, most likely — have been hoodwinked. Amongst them was once Walter Cronkite, who featured a phase on SINA in August 1962 at the “CBS Night Information.” He by no means forgave Mr. Henry after finding out that it have been a comic story.

Within the early 1960s Mr. Henry carried out with the Premise, an Off Broadway improvisational troupe. With Theodore J. Flicker, a fellow troupe member, he wrote his first film, “The Troublemaker” (1964), a lampoon of town paperwork a couple of guy looking to open a espresso space. He additionally landed a handful of tv jobs, writing for Steve Allen and Garry Moore and for the satirical information program “That Was once the Week That Was once,” on which he additionally gave the impression.

The manufacturer Daniel Melnick put Mr. Henry at the side of Mr. Brooks to create the spoof of undercover agent films that was “Get Sensible.” It was once an concept born out of trade, a high-concept melding of huge hits — “Goldfinger” meets “The Crimson Panther.”

“I am going to his workplace someday, and he says, ‘I need to provide you with guys an concept,’” Mr. Henry recalled of Mr. Melnick. “‘Right here’s the item. What are the 2 greatest films on this planet these days? James Bond and Inspector Clouseau. Get my level?’”

The display, each a parody and a satire, starred Don Adams because the spectacularly inept undercover agent Maxwell Sensible, a.ok.a. Agent 86, and it was a landmark tv comedy. Introducing the shoe telephone, the cone of silence and different cockamamie undercover agent gadgetry, and contributing to the preferred lexicon a number of of Max’s signature locutions — “Sorry about that, Leader!”; “Would you consider …?”; “Neglected it by way of that a lot!” — the display ran from 1965 to 1970, its outlandish silliness serving because the prototype temper for innumerable sitcoms and sketches to observe.

Mr. Henry, who gained an Emmy Award with Leonard Stern for exceptional comedy writing at the collection, attempted to copy his “Get Sensible” triumph, growing two different spoofy sitcoms: “Captain Great” (1967), starring William Daniels (who performed Benjamin Braddock’s father in “The Graduate”) as a mild-mannered reluctant superhero, and “Quark” (1977), a “Megastar Trek” sendup with Richard Benjamin because the Kirkish captain of an intergalactic rubbish scow. Neither lasted past its first season, however Mr. Henry extra effectively plumbed the tv veins of satire and slapstick on “Saturday Night time Are living,” on which he was once a visitor host 10 instances throughout the display’s early years, from 1976 to 1980.

Mr. Henry was once an keen player in “Saturday Night time Are living” sketches. He gave the impression as a member of the Nervous circle of relatives, each and every of whose individuals had a hairpiece that flipped up in horror on the maximum mundane incidence. He created the nature of Uncle Roy, a comically creepy, lascivious babysitter. And together with his preternaturally gentle means, he was once the easiest foil for John Belushi’s more than a few incarnations as a samurai — a samurai deli guy, a samurai tailor, a samurai optometrist. In a single well-known incident throughout a “samurai stockbroker” cartoon, Mr. Belushi by chance struck Mr. Henry together with his sword, taking a piece out of his brow.

As an actor, Mr. Henry gave the impression in small, an important and continuously exquisitely comedian roles in nearly the entire movies he wrote — he was once the resort clerk who supplied the room key to Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” — and plenty of others but even so. His film credit come with “Taking Off” (1971), “The Guy Who Fell to Earth” (1976), “Consuming Raoul” (1982), “Protecting Your Existence” (1991) and “The Participant” (1992), a Hollywood satire during which he performed himself pitching a film thought to a studio govt: “The Graduate: Phase 2.”

Later, Mr. Henry gave the impression in numerous tv presentations, together with “30 Rock,” during which he performed Dick Lemon, the daddy of Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, and “Scorching in Cleveland.”

His most up-to-date screenwriting credit score was once for “The Humbling” (2014), which he and Michal Zebede tailored from a singular by way of Philip Roth.

Whole knowledge on survivors was once no longer straight away to be had.

A particularly ordinary side of Mr. Henry’s profession was once that as a screenwriter he would spend time at the set. Even so, he recalled in 2001, the screenwriter’s lot is in the end one in all helplessness.

“If you find yourself a part of the method, what is completed all alongside the way in which turns into what your principle of the movie is,” he mentioned. “Whether it is wildly a success, you might be positive it was once performed precisely as you meant.

“I do not know now what I assumed ‘The Graduate’ would seem like. I’m no longer positive I had a powerful imaginative and prescient of it to start with, and if I did, it wasn’t anything else like what’s at the display. However should you inquire from me these days, I feel, ‘Sure, this is how I noticed it.’”

Maria Cramer and Aimee Ortiz contributed reporting; Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.