January 17, 2020

Oscar-Nominated Writer Buck Henry, 89

Buck Henry, an actor, comedian, director and producer who was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay for “The Graduate,” died from a heart attack on Jan. 8 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 89.

Henry left his comedic fingerprints on the small as well as the big screen in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and beyond. He was a cast member on “The New Steve Allen Show” and “That Was the Week That Was” in the early to mid-1960s.

He wrote for “The Garry Moore Show” and was a co-creator — with Mel Brooks — and writer for the spy-spoof sitcom “Get Smart” (1965-70), before transitioning to the big screen. He wrote the screen adaptation of Joseph Heller’s darkly satirical World War II novel “Catch-22” (1970), which starred Alan Arkin, Martin Balsam and Richard Benjamin, about a man desperately trying to be declared insane so he can be kicked out of the military instead of having to serve.

He shared an Oscar nomination with Calder Willingham for “The Graduate” in 1967, adapted from Charles Webb’s novel of the same name. He won a BAFTA (British Oscar) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) awards for “The Graduate,” a seminal dark comedy about youth disillusionment in the turbulent 1960s.

He wrote the screenplay for the Barbra Streisand-George Segal vehicle “The Owl and the Pussycat” (1970), an adaptation of Bill Manoff’s Broadway play; and co-wrote “What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) — another screwball comedy starring Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. The latter earned him another WGA Award.

He adapted Joyce Maynard’s novel “To Die For” (1995), which starred Nicole Kidman.

“I can write in anybody’s voice, which is why I am so successful at adapting books and plays,” Henry told Variety in a 2009 interview.

He co-directed “Heaven Can Wait” (1978), a remake of 1941’s “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” that starred Warren Beatty as a Los Angeles Rams quarterback snatched from his body by an overly-eager angel before he was meant to die. Beatty and Henry earned an Oscar nod for direction.

Henry co-wrote the star-studded vehicle “Town & Country” (2001).

He also created the short-lived sitcoms “Captain Nice” (1967) and the science fiction-themed “Quark,” about a spaceship garbage scow and its crew.

He appeared in more than 40 films, including “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Eating Raoul,” “Defending Your Life,” “Short Cuts” and “Grumpy Old Men.” Later in his career, he appeared on the hit TV shows “Murphy Brown,”  “Will & Grace” and “30 Rock.” In the show’s early days, Henry hosted “Saturday Night Live” 10 times from 1976-80.

Born Henry Zuckerman on Dec. 9, 1930 in New York, he made his professional acting debut at age 15 in a Broadway production of “Life With Father.” He earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Dartmouth College and, after graduation, enlisted in the Army during the Korean War. He didn’t see combat, however, instead touring in Germany with a military theater troupe.

He also appeared in a Broadway revival of “Mornings at Seven” in 2002.

Henry is survived by his wife, Irene, who was by his side when he died. He had no children.