Good news! Thursday at the Main Library there will be a free screening of the iconic “The Graduate.” It will be followed by a discussion with Beverly Gray, author of a terrific book that coincides with the golden anniversary of the film’s release.
Bad news. If you saw the movie in the theater, we’re no longer spring chickens. (Thankfully, I heard an expression recently, “old is twenty years older than you currently are.”)
Ms. Gray is a longtime Santa Monica resident whose father was a 1932 Samohi grad. Other Santa Monica connections: the Oscars, during which Mike Nichols won “Best Director,” was held at the Civic.
Lastly, Dustin Hoffman attended SMC and was a fundraiser for The Broad Stage. (Reportedly there was talk of naming the Broad after Hoffman who suggested bathrooms be named after him because “there are never bathrooms for actors.”)
As revealed in Ms. Gray’s page-turner, “The Graduate” was the right message at the right time. It garnered seven Oscar nominations and a staggering $100,000,000 domestic box office. A few years earlier, it’s shocking theme of a 21-year-old’s affair with his father’s law partner’s wife twice his age, might not have worked. (FYI, in real life, Anne Bancroft was only 6 years older than Hoffman.)
A few years later and “The Graduate” would have dealt with Vietnam not exactly great comedy fodder. Explaining the film’s remarkable success, Nichols observed, “We hit some wind that was circling the earth, something that nobody could have predicted.”
A story editor for twelve years for Roger Corman, “King of the B Movies,” Gray was seemingly destined to write this book. A baby boomer, she was a college senior when “The Graduate” debuted. She was deeply affected by Benjamin Braddock’s angst of what to do with his life, other than “be different” from his parents.
In her fast-paced tome, Gray covers how many key choices, how much talent and, perhaps, how much luck went into making the film such a success. In many ways “The Graduate” changed how movies were made.
Dustin Hoffman, an unknown, was the unlikeliest leading man. Jewish, 5’6,” and some thought homely, he was no Gable, Dean or Brando. Even Hoffman told Nichols he was not right for the part.
Robert Redford would have been a far safer Benjamin Braddock as Nichols had directed him in the Broadway hit, “Barefoot in the Park.” But when Nichols asked about the heartache of a woman leaving him, Redford responded earnestly, “What do you mean?”
Nichols felt no one would buy Redford as a loser. He hoped, however, they could see Hoffman had far more inside.
As Gray notes, Hoffman’s success opened doors for other unconventional leading men: Charles Grodin, Richard Benjamin, Elliott Gould, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. In 2000 in the New Yorker, Hoffman commented, “There is no casting in the twentieth century more courageous than putting me in that part.”
The vast number of interviews Gray conducted tell rich and interesting stories of almost everyone involved in “The Graduate.” These include Lawrence Turman, the fledgling producer who saw merit in first time novelist Charles Webb’s book, hardly noticed by reviewers and the public.
Buck Henry, the screenwriter (shared credit) added great humor to the film. One of he most memorable lines was just the word “plastics.” A friend of Benjamin’s father tells Ben plastics is the future, the opposite of what boomers were seeking.
Gray weaves interviewees personal histories as to what brought them to “The Graduate” and how the movie’s success impacted their lives for good and ill, even decades later.
After the delightful “Seduced by Mrs. Robinson” I had to see “The Graduate” again. (As hopefully you will see on Thursday, Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson was amazing! Even the character actors were terrific.)
Spoiler alert, at the end when Benjamin and Elaine run off together, fifty years ago I cheered. This time and to my horror, I thought, “They hardly know each other.” I felt really old until I remembered “really old” is twenty years older than I am.
The Main Library is at 601 Santa Monica Blvd. On Thursday, 12/28, from 6:15 to 8:30 p.m. “The Graduate” screens followed by a discussion with Beverly Gray. Book sales and signings will follow. Jack is at: Jackdailypress@aol.com.