Author Beverly Gray Looks Back On 50 Years Of 'The Graduate' In Her Latest Book

Nov 9, 2017
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Whether you saw the movie five years ago or 50 years ago, it doesn't take much to evoke "The Graduate."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GRADUATE")

WALTER BROOKE: (As Mr. McGuire) Just one word.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Ben Braddock) Yes, sir.

BROOKE: (As Mr. McGuire) Are you listening?

HOFFMAN: (As Ben Braddock) Yes, I am.

BROOKE: (As Mr. McGuire) Plastics.

HOFFMAN: (As Ben Braddock) Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me.

ANNE BANCROFT: (As Mrs. Robinson, laughter).

HOFFMAN: (As Ben Braddock) Elaine, Elaine, Elaine...

(SOUNDBITE OF SIMON AND GARFUNKEL SONG, "MRS. ROBINSON")

SIEGEL: Advice to the new college graduate Benjamin Braddock, the moment that he's seduced by his parents' friend and the moment Ben gets the girl. It has been 50 years since "The Graduate" hit movie theaters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MRS. ROBINSON")

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: (Vocalizing).

SIEGEL: Entertainment writer Beverly Gray has written a new book called "Seduced By Mrs. Robinson: How 'The Graduate' Became The Touchstone Of A Generation." And she joins us from NPR West. Welcome to the program.

BEVERLY GRAY: I'm very happy to be here.

SIEGEL: You and I are of an age where we went to the movie theater to see "The Graduate." I was a senior in college, and I remember that night very clearly. It was a terrific movie, but I'm still wrestling with the idea that it was a touchstone for my generation. It wasn't as politically subversive as "Dr. Strangelove." It wasn't an epic like "Lawrence Of Arabia." Why is it a touchstone for our generation?

GRAY: "The Graduate," aside from being a very entertaining movie, came out at a time when young people like you and me I think were starting to wonder what was going on in our world. We had the usual anxieties about leaving college, but we also had a lot of other things to think about like, for example, the Vietnam War, which was becoming a bigger and bigger facet in the life of every young man in particular and every girl who loved every young man because graduate school deferments were being eliminated. So there was a lot of stress and strain there. We were also a generation that had lost a president who most of us were very fond of - a handsome, young president. So we were a very nervous bunch.

SIEGEL: You write this about how the movie "The Graduate" helped transform Hollywood. You write, (reading) it contributed to the downfall of the antiquated studio system by showing that major commercial success was possible without reliance on the Hollywood studios' vast web of resources. By conveying a frank sexuality and revealing that beds could be used for something other than sleeping, it hastened the demise of prim, romantic comedies in the Doris Day mold - changed American movies.

GRAY: This was made outside of the studio system. It was made by a young director, Mike Nichols, very early in his directing career who was influenced by some of the great movies that were coming out of Europe in that era. So a lot of the elaborate camera moves and all of the self-consciousness of the filmmaking which was so exuberant and so much fun - those were things that Hollywood wasn't doing. Hollywood was known for, in its heyday, as having an invisible style where you didn't really pay attention to what the camera was doing. You just watched the movie and were sucked into the story. Mike Nichols was flashy.

And of course by today's sexual standards, it's very, very tame. There's a teeny, teeny bit of nudity by Anne Bancroft's stand-in. Most of the time in these bedroom scenes, people are very covered up, which is mild for our day. But I think it's also thematically appropriate. These are covered-up people. These are people who may have sexual congress with one another but don't really communicate with one another. They're not having intercourse in any meaningful way, and that's part of the point of the story.

SIEGEL: There's a lot of blurring of personal alienation and political developments of that time, which - I think more in hindsight than they were then. But I guess that was a time when we got a lot of generation gap writing at that very moment.

GRAY: Yeah, absolutely. One thing that interests me - there had been generation stuff at the movies previously, but it was usually young men jumping on motorbikes and riding off into the distance. And of course we still continued to have that in films like "Easy Rider."

But this was - the reason I think so many of us identified was this is the polite, well-educated, middle-class kid who wants to do well but is still stuck realizing that his parents' world is not the world he wants. And he's not about to be rude or unpleasant about it, but he's got to get out. And Benjamin Braddock of course gets out in the most unusual of ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIMON AND GARFUNKEL SONG, "MRS. ROBINSON")

SIEGEL: That's Beverly Gray. Her new book is called "Seduced By Mrs. Robinson: How 'The Graduate' Became The Touchstone Of A Generation." Beverly Gray, thanks a lot.

GRAY: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MRS. ROBINSON")

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: (Singing) And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.