Kay & McLean Productions Pty Ltd
HVK Productions Michael Coppel Presents
Perth Theatre Trust
“One of the best social satires we’ve ever had”
It’s a story that has stood the test of time for nearly 40 years. It’s been a best-selling novel and an Academy Award winning movie and now, following its sell-out success in London’s West End, the stage adaptation of The Graduate has arrived on Broadway.
Cited by The New York Times as being “one of the best social satires we’ve ever had”, The Graduate tells the story of Benjamin Braddock, a college graduate who returns to his family home, unable to decide what to do with his future. Naïve and confused, Benjamin is seduced by Mrs Robinson, the frustrated wife of his father’s business partner. They embark on a chaotic affair that begins to unravel when Benjamin falls in love with the Robinson’s daughter, Elaine.
The enduring popularity of The Graduate is due to many factors – the classic ‘generation gap’ story, the memorable movie performances (from a cast that included Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross) and the iconic imagery and dialogue. It therefore came as no surprise when, in 1998, the American Film Institute published a poll in which The Graduate was named as the seventh most popular motion picture of all time.
“A manic-depressive, neurotic kid”
When the film was released in 1967, America was experiencing the beginning of what would eventually become something of a cultural revolution. A growing number of self-conscious young people were turning their back on “the old guard” – represented by their parents, by the political establishment and by the ageing cultural leaders of the day. With a film poster that read “This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future”, The Graduate seemed destined to tap into such a growing vein of unrest.
However, The Graduate was a product of an earlier time, written by author Charles Webb in 1962 and published a year later. Webb was 23 when he penned the novel, only a year older than his central character. In a 2001 interview, Webb explained the semi-autobiographical nature of the story. “I was privileged,” he said, “but it went over my head. I was sent to prep school, then a small Ivy League college, choices made for me on the basis of how it looked. That’s partly what The Graduate was about. I was just a mess from birth – a manic-depressive, neurotic kid.” 
Despite critical acclaim for the novel, it took a meeting with independent producer Lawrence Turman to turn it into a bestseller. Turman approached Webb in 1964 with a view to working with him as a screenwriter - Webb encouraged him instead to read his novel. The book impressed Turman enough to option the rights for $20,000 – a modest amount at that time, although the later success of the movie ensured further income for the writer.
Webb wrote a handful of novels in the 60s and 70s, although none of them were able to match the success of The Graduate. “The reviews in Britain were balanced,” he said, “In the States, they came down to: ‘this isn’t The Graduate’”.  Webb returned to writing in 2001 with New Cardiff, and has a further novel in development.
SOURCES: xxx ,  Whatever Happened to Charles Webb, by David Gritten, Daily Telegraph, 2001.
“American film may never be quite the same”
In 1966, Lawrence Turman sent the book to director Mike Nichols, director of the acclaimed Broadway hit Barefoot In The Park. Fortuitously, Nichols earned similar critical praise later that same year for his film debut, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Nichols described the character of Benjamin in a New York Times interview as “a prosperous young man in contemporary America who has every desirable object he could want - a young man who has just obtained an excellent education without knowing its purpose… In the end the only thing that can save him is a uniquely personal experience - something to arouse his passion.” 
Nichols had used the same New York Times piece to draw attention to the difficulties he was experiencing in casting the lead roles. Screenwriter Buck Henry claims the team had initially conceived of the family as being closer to that of the novel: “blond, healthy, a family of surfboards.” Their fantasy casting was “Robert Redford, Candice Bergen, Ronald Reagan and Doris Day.” Doris Day allegedly rejected the part of Mrs Robinson as she felt it was offensive to her values and it was felt that Robert Redford could not convincingly pull off the ‘innocent’ role of Benjamin.
Instead, the part went to the then unknown actor, Dustin Hoffman. Nichols casting of Hoffman as the nervous and stuttering Benjamin was to prove inspirational. It not only catapulted the young actor into the limelight, but it was also a bold casting move – rejecting the traditional WASP stereotype in favour of a new breed of “ethnic” actor from New York. As Hoffman himself said: “‘I don’t think I’m right for the role”, he said. “Benjamin’s a kind of Anglo-Saxon, tall, slender good-looking chap. I’m short and Jewish.” 
The risk paid off. On release, The New Republic called Hoffman “the best American comedian since Jack Lemmon”, whilst Parade claimed “he looks like a loser - and it is precisely because of that loser image that the younger generation have made him their winner.”
In the winter of 1967, the hype surrounding the film was such that there were long queues outside New York cinemas. The critics were also quick to lavish praise – New Republic asserted that the film gave “substance to the contention that American films are coming of age”. Saturday Review proclaimed it to be “the freshest, funniest, and most touching film of the year… American film may never be quite the same again”.
The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best Actress (Anne Bancroft), Best Supporting Actress (Katharine Ross), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, although won only one award for Best Director. It has won five British Academy Awards (including Best Film and Best Direction) and five Golden Globe Awards.
The Graduate also won the 1969 Grammy for Best Soundtrack. In a move that was unique at the time, Nichols had taken the decision to utilise the music of folk duo Simon and Garfunkel, including their 1966 number one hit The Sound of Silence. One of their new songs from the film, Mrs. Robinson, went on to become number one in June 1968.
Along with Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate ignited a fuse in the heart of the Hollywood film industry. The phenomenal success of what were seen as ‘anti-establishment’ movies, whose content and format cut against traditional studio product, worried many of the older executives who felt they had simply ‘lost touch’ with cinema audiences. The time was ripe for a new generation of filmmaker to come through – one that would sow the seed for a new “golden age” of cinema throughout the Seventies and beyond.
SOURCES: Mike Nichols, Moviemaniac, by Peter Bart, New York Times, 1967.  Dustin Hoffman by Ronald Bergan, 1991.