Getting the green light from Hollywood movie studios can be difficult, especially when nobody wants the project they’re being offered.

In October 1963, movie producer Lawrence Turman read a New York Times review of The Graduate, the debut novel by writer Charles Webb. Turman read the book, optioned it, and embarked upon a two-year hassle to get the film made.

Lawrence admired the sharp wit of Broadway comedy star Mike Nichols. When Turman asked Nichols to direct his project, the New York icon jumped at the chance. But sizable obstacles lay ahead.

Turman recalled, “No one thought the book was funny, and no one in Hollywood had heard of Mike Nichols.”

Movie producer Joseph E. Levine eventually opted to back the venture; he disliked the story but was desperate for a hit for his struggling Embassy Pictures company.

For the script, Turman hired comedy writer Buck Henry, who, with Mel Brooks, had co-created the TV series Get Smart. Henry, in his first movie script, lifted about 85% of the screenplay’s dialogue verbatim from Webb’s novel.

Anne Bancroft portrayed Mrs. Robinson, the movie’s seductive older woman. At age 35 (but playing someone a decade older), Bancroft signed on to star in what appeared to be a low-budget sex comedy.

“Everybody was telling me it was beneath me and that I shouldn’t do it,” Bancroft told talk-show host Charlie Rose. “[But] I loved the script; I thought it was absolutely wonderful.”

Mel Brooks, Bancroft’s husband, persuaded his wife to take the part primarily because he adored Buck Henry’s script.

Several young Hollywood hunks were considered to play the primary character of Benjamin Braddock, age 21. In the end, though, Nichols and Turman decided that Braddock should be depicted by little-known Dustin Hoffman, age 29.

Impressive in Broadway stage work, he brought the naïve goofiness to the part that Turman wanted.

Hoffman, though, disagreed: “This is not the part for me. I’m not supposed to be in movies.”  

Turman and Nichols eventually convinced him otherwise.

With the help of expertly applied makeup, skillful lighting, well-placed camera angles, and superior acting, Bancroft and Hoffman appeared to be a generation apart, not separated, as they were, by only six years in real life. (Bancroft’s screen daughter, Elaine, played by 27-year-old Katharine Ross, was just eight years younger than her movie mother.)

The film focuses on Benjamin as a young overachiever who has sailed through college, only to find himself adrift when he returns home to visit his parents. He is haplessly drawn into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the aggressive wife of his father’s business partner.

Later, Benjamin falls for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, which ignites her mother’s savage wrath and spells trouble for Ben.

Fueled by the best-selling Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack album, The Graduate became the highest-grossing film of 1968 and garnered seven Academy Award nominations, which left Nichols ecstatic.

“There’s nothing better than discovering, to your own astonishment, what you’re meant to do!” he gushed. “It’s like … it’s like falling in love.”


Although Randal C. Hill’s heart lives in the past, the rest of him resides in Bandon, Ore. He can be reached at

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