Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Late Great Buck Henry

Buck Henry, who co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks and adapted the novel The Graduate for the big screen, died on January 8 2020 at the age of 89. The cause was a heart attack.

Buck Henry was born Henry Zuckerman on December 9 1930 in New York City. His father was an Air Force brigadier general and stockbroker, while his mother was Ruth Taylor, a former Ziegfeld Follies performer and silent movie actress. He attended Dartmouth where he wrote for the campus humour magazine and took part in campus theatrical productions. After he graduated from Dartmouth he was drafted and served in the United States Army. In the Army he was initially a helicopter mechanic before being assigned to Special Services and toured military bases with the Seventh Army Repertory Company.

It was in the Sixties that Buck Henry joined the Premise, an off Broadway improvisational comedy troupe. He was also a regular on The New Steve Allen Show, and wrote two episodes. He went onto become one of the writers on The Garry Moore Show, as well as That Was the Week That Was. He co-created the hit TV series Get Smart with Mel Brooks and served for a time as its story editor. He also created the superhero parody series Captain Nice. He regularly appeared on That Was the Week That Was and appeared on such talk shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Dick Cavett Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. Mr. Henry co-wrote the movie The Troublemaker (1964) with Theodore J. Flicker, The Graduate (1967) with Calder Willingham, Candy (1968), and Catch-22 (1970). He had cameos in the movies The Troublemaker, The Graduate, The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968), Candy, Catch-22, and The Owl and the Pussycat (1970).

In the Seventies Buck Henry created the short-lived science fiction parody TV series Quark. He also appeared in one episode of the show. He continued to appear frequently on various talk shows, as well as the late night sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. He wrote the screenplays for the movies What's Up, Doc? (1972), The Day of the Dolphin (1973), and First Family (1980). He appeared in the movies Taking Off (1971), Is There Sex After Death? (1971), The Day of the Dolphin, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Old Boyfriends (1979), Gloria (1980), and First Family (1980).

In the Eighties Buck Henry was a writer on the sketch comedy TV show The New Show. He wrote one episode of the new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Mr. Henry appeared on the TV shows The New Show, Falcon Crest, Murphy Brown, and Trying Times. He wrote the movie Protocol (1984). He wrote the movie Protocol (1984). He appeared in the movies Eating Raoul (1982), Aria (1987), Rude Awakening (1989), and Tune in Tomorrow (1990). He directed the movies Heaven Can Wait (1978) and First Family (1980).

In the Nineties Buck Henry guest starred on the TV show Tales from the Crypt. He was a guest voice on the animated series Eek! The Cat and Dilbert. He wrote the screenplay for the movie To Die For (1995). He appeared in the movies Defending Your Life (1991), The Linguini Incident (1991), Shakespeare's Plan 12 from Outer Space (1991), The Player (1992), The Lounge People (1992), Short Cuts (1993), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), Grumpy Old Men (1993), To Die For (1995), The Real Blonde (1997), 1999 (1997), I'm Losing You (1998), Curtain Call (1998), Breakfast of Champions (1999), and Lisa Picard Is Famous (2000).

From the Naughts to the Teens, Buck Henry wrote the screenplays for the movies Town & Country (2001), The Humbling (2014), and Babe West (2019). He appeared in the movies Town & Country, Serendipity (2001), The Last Shot (2004), and A Bird of the Air (2014). He appeared on the TV shows Will & Grace, 30 Rock, Hot in Cleveland, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Franklin & Bash.

There can be no doubt that Buck Henry was a genius. He had a gift for off-kilter humour and hilarious, if entirely natural dialogue. This can be seen in the best of his films, from The Graduate to What's Up, Doc? to To Die For. It could be seen in his work on television as well: Get Smart, featuring an inept secret agent, and Quark, centred on the captain of a garbage scow. Not only was Buck Henry gifted as a writer, but as a performer as well. On Saturday Night Live he appeared as such diverse characters as the sadistic stunt coordinator Howard and Mr. Dantley, the customer always coming face to face with John Belushi's samurai at various businesses. He played a wide variety of roles on film as well, everything from patent attorney Oliver V. Farnsworth in The Man Who Fell to Earth to Jack Dawn, an accountant for the mob and husband of the title character in Gloria. The word "genius" is often used, but in Buck Henry's case it was perfectly applicable.

1 comment:

J-Dub said...

There's no question Buck Henry was a genius. My favorite thing about him was he was afraid to push the boundaries. Some of the stuff he did on Saturday night Live would have got him flamed out of existence today. There's something seriously wrong about that...