On this day in 1967, the movie The Graduate premiered in New York. If not quite what Charles Webb, author of the 1963 novel, had in mind, and if not still ranking as “the biggest success in the history of the movies” (The New Yorker, 1968), the film made careers, fortunes, and hit songs and temporarily turned a generation away from careers in plastics. In “Here’s to You, Mr. Nichols,” included in Vanity Fair’s Tales of Hollywood, Sam Kashner describes the game-changing moment as Dustin Hoffman experienced it:
Hoffman saw the film for the first time at a sneak preview on East 84th Street, in New York. “I was sitting in the balcony,” he recalls, “and suddenly it was like a train gaining momentum, and by the time we were halfway through, the film was having a wild response. By the time I’m running to the church [at the film’s climax], the audience was just standing up, screaming and yelling. It was a profound experience — I was literally shaking through the whole film.”
When the movie ended, Hoffman and Anne Byrne, his girlfriend, whom he would soon marry (and divorce in 1980), waited until everybody had left. “The thought of being recognized? I was traumatized. Everyone left, and we went downstairs, and a woman [gossip columnist Radie Harris] walking with a cane, slower than everyone else, saw me. She pointed her cane at me and said, ‘You’re Dustin Hoffman, aren’t you? You’re the Graduate.’ I’d never been recognized in public before. She said, “Life is never going to be the same for you from this moment on.”
Life was certainly never the same for author Webb and his wife, Fred, who dropped out in more persistent ways than any Benjamin and Elaine. Webb sold his film rights to The Graduate for $20,000, gave away his copyright on the novel, declined his inheritance, and moved into a series of campgrounds and trailers, taking jobs as a gardener, dishwasher, and the like. The Webbs are currently living on social assistance in England, where one of their sons is a performance artist — one of his performances being to cook and eat, with cranberry sauce, a copy of The Graduate.
The sons were homeschooled, as are the kids in Home School, Webb’s 2007 sequel to The Graduate. The sequel has Mrs. Robinson still blowing smoke in one-night-stand hotels, though now a grandmother.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.