Speed Reads

In Memoriam

Buck Henry, screenwriter of The Graduate, Get Smart co-creator, and SNL legend, is dead at 89

Over a long and storied career in TV and film, Buck Henry co-created the TV show Get Smart with Mel Brooks, wrote the screenplay for The Graduate (1967), played Tina Fey's father on 30 Rock, and hosted Saturday Night Live 10 times in its first five seasons, playing several memorable roles. Henry died Wednesday at age 89. His wife, Irene Ramp, said the cause was a heart attack.

Henry, born Henry Zuckerman in 1930, was the son of a prominent stockbroker and silent film star Ruth Taylor. The Graduate, directed by his childhood friend Mike Nichols, was Henry's first screenwriting job. It got him the first of two Oscar nominations, followed by a directing nod for the 1978 Warren Beatty movie Heaven Can Wait. Henry also wrote scripts for 1968's Candy, Nichols' 1970 adaptation of Catch-22, the hit Barbra Streisand comedy What's Up, Doc? (1972), and 1995's To Die For, starring Nicole Kidman. He won a writing Emmy in 1967 for a double episode of Get Smart.

Nichols wrote himself small roles in many of his movies and often played wry straight men on TV, as in his recurring SNL role alongside John Belushi's Samurai character.

Henry was "the funniest and most serious guy I'd ever met — simultaneously," said Nichols, who died in 2014. "He wasn't a screenwriter when I asked him to write the screenplay" for The Graduate, Nichols told Vanity Fair in 2008. "He had not, to my knowledge, written anything. And I said, 'I think you could do it; I think you should do it.' And he could, and he did." Nichols, who took over the project from screenwriter Calder Willingham, got much of his dialogue from the Charles Webb novella, but he came up with some of the most memorable lines on his own, like the generation-defining advice about "plastics."

"Off camera," The Washington Post reports, "Henry cultivated a reputation as a dry-witted comedian-intellectual." You can watch him talk about writing dark comedy below. Peter Weber