Today is the birthday of the amazing Buck Henry (Henry Zuckerman, b. 1930). He first came into my consciousness — and I’ll wager the consciousness of most Americans — in the mid 1970s as a popular Saturday Night Live guest. By that point he was already a very successful screenwriter and television writer, but who knows the names of screenwriters?
The story actually begins with his mother Ruth Taylor, who was hired by Mack Sennett to play a blond in a Harry Langdon comedy in 1925 and remained with his comedy factory for two years. She ascended to star status as the original Lorelei Lee in Anita Loos’ Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1928). She starred in five more films and then retired from film in 1930 to marry.
Henry’s career seems kind of charmed. After attending Choate and Dartmouth (where he made a name for himself on the college humor paper), he became a cast regular on The New Steve Allen Show (1961) and a writer on That Was the Week That Was (1964-1965). With Mel Brooks, he co-created the comedy classic Get Smart (1965-1970). He also created the short-lived super hero spoof Captain Nice (1967). From here he went into a counter-culture phase, writing or co-writing the screenplays for The Graduate (1967), Candy (1968), The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) and Catch-22 (1970). The hot streak continued with What’s Up Doc (1972) and his third film with Mike Nichols, The Day of the Dolphin (1973) (one of the first movies I ever saw in a cinema!) In the late 70s there was his awesome Star Trek parody Quark (1978), the re-make of Heaven Can Wait, which he co-directed (1978), and the notorious Bob Newhart vehicle First Family (1980), which he also directed. In 1984 he was writer and cast member on Lorne Michaels’ short-lived The New Show and wrote the Goldie Hawn vehicle Protocol. In recent decades he has concentrated more on acting and many guest appearances in films and on tv shows, dozens or scores of them over the years. He also penned one of the Duchess’s favorite comedies To Die For (1995), starring Nicole Kidman.
But this is the him I remember with affection:
For more on the history of comic cinema don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.