This article was originally on the Plotpoints Podcast
Buck Henry sounds like a name to be feared. It intimates a man of giant stature, powerful and muscle hard.
And he was - just not physically. The name was Henry's way of both honoring his grandfather, who was also a Buck, but also an enduring statement about perceptions.
Henry Zukerman aka Buck Henry, was an award-winning actor, writer, and director. It’s doubtful that anyone was more accomplished in the facets of entertainment than the ones Buck Henry pursued.
Like many of his peer group at the time, Henry was born and raised in New York city, cutting his teeth on high school plays. Unlike those of his time, however, Henry was a paid actor on Broadway at the age of 15 with a production of "Life With Father."
Henry came to the entertainment world naturally. His mother, Ruth Taylor, was a silent film star, and his father, a brigadier general and stockbroker, provided a nice cushion for Henry to pursue his dreams.
During a stint in the Army during the Korean War Henry continued to act and write plays for an Army repertory company. After the war he did improvisational comedy with a well-known comedy troop in New York.
In an odd bit of real-life farce, and I’m going to quote this directly from Wikipedia because I won’t get it right if I don’t.
“From 1959 to 1962, as part of an elaborate hoax by comedian Alan Abel, henry made public appearances as G. Clifford Prout, the quietly outraged president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, who presented his point of view on talk shows. The character of Prout wished to clothe all animals in order to prevent their 'indecency', using slogans such as "A nude horse is a rude horse". The character played with deadpan sincerity was often presented as an eccentric, but was otherwise taken seriously by the broadcasters who interviewed him. "Prout" received many letters of support from TV viewers, and even some unsolicited monetary donations, all of which were invariably returned, as neither Henry nor Abel wanted to be accused of raising money fraudulently.”
Legendary comedy shows like The Garry Moore Show, The New Steve Allen Show and That Was The Week That Was showcased Henry’s comedic genius as he wrote and acted in both.
But the world truly took notice of him for "Get Smart" starring Don Adams as Agent 86 and Bardon Feldon as Agent 99 which he co-created and wrote with the legendary Mel Brooks. The show was a spoof of the James Bond series (which at the time was only 3 movies in and wildly popular) and lasted five seasons nominated for and winning many Emmy Awards.
"The Graduate" starring Dustin Hoffman made Henry a legend as he shared an Oscar nomination with Calder Willingham for the screenplay of the disaffected college graduate played by Dustin Hoffman.
By the way, in the movie "The Player," Henry played himself pitching a sequel to "The Graduate" to Tim Robbins and he actually garnered some interest from studios based on that fake pitch.
Some people just can’t lose.
Beside "The Graduate," here are some notable Buck Henry’s films:
"The Owl and the Pussycat" and "What's Up, Doc?" Both starring Barbra Streisand.
The brilliant "Catch-22" which I hear is being remade.
And he co-directed "Heaven Can Wait" with Warren Beatty for which he received a second shared Oscar nomination, for Best Director.
Buck Henry has too many credits to list from Broadway, TV, and the movies but in this century, as an actor, he was still knocking them dead on "Will & Grace" in 2005 and in 2007, he was the Senior, Senior Correspondent on "The Daily Show." And also played Liz Lemon's father, Dick Lemon, on "30 Rock," and was featured in the show "Hot In Cleveland."
He’s notable for even more acclaimed television in that he hosted "Saturday Night Live" 10 times. For many years in the 70's and 80's the last show of the season was hosted by Buck Henry.
Buck Henry all together had 30 Writing Credits, 63 acting credits, and 4 directing credits.
He was nominated for and/or won just about every award there is in entertainment from just about every organization that gives them.
He passed away on January 8th this year at the age of 89.