By Maureen Lee Lenker
January 10, 2020 at 09:45 PM EST
United Artists

“Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”

It’s this query — amidst a script of iconic lines that include “Plastics” and “Are you here for the affair?” — that helped propel a then-unknown stage actor, Dustin Hoffman, to fame. He starred as Benjamin Braddock, the disaffected college grad who begins an affair with the married Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) in the midst of post-university isolation and confusion.

But the man behind the words of Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate played a large part in crafting just what made the film so memorable. Buck Henry, who died Wednesday, helped secure his place in Hollywood history with his adaptation of the 1963 Charles Webb novel. By then, he’d co-created spy comedy series Get Smart with Mel Brooks and was still to earn an Oscar nomination for co-directing 1978’s Heaven Can Wait and feature prominently in early seasons of Saturday Night Live.

But it’s perhaps The Graduate, which he also played a small role in as a hotel clerk, that will endure as the most significant part of his legacy. Hoffman, who says he last saw Henry at a party not long ago, remembers the joys of acting opposite the screenwriter in their brief exchange in the film when Hoffman’s Benjamin attempts to secure a hotel room under a fake name. He describes a set where improvisation was welcomed, allowing for plenty of surprises and unscripted moments.

“My first memory with Buck Henry was [during that hotel scene],” Hoffman tells EW. “He hit the bell, and it scared me. Then I hit it, and then he hit it on top of my hand and it was accidental. I remember Nichols laughing next to the camera, and we had to do it again.”

As fans of the film will note, a version of the happy accident ended up in the final cut. So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson Buck Henry.

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