October 4, 2007


40 Years Later, Larry Turman Reflects On His Iconic Production

By James Tella

The original 1967 movie poster.
In 1967, a movie review in The New York Times described The Graduate as a film “you'll have to see—and maybe see twice to savor all its sharp satiric wit and cinematic treats.” Forty years after its debut, not even the movie’s producer Larry Turman could have imagined how the film would not only be watched over and over, but also still resonate with audiences worldwide.

“It would be presumptuous of me to know why the film has achieved its reputation, but it clearly hit the zeitgeist of the times then and that seems operative in today’s world,” said Turman who has been the director of the Peter Stark Producing Program for 16 years. “Follow your bliss, follow your heart. That theme got me right around the throat.” 

Based on the novel by Charles Webb, directed by Mike Nichols and written by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, The Graduate revolves around Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman), a young man worried about his future who finds himself seduced into an affair by the wife of his father’s business partner—the infamous Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), while unexpectedly falling in love with her teenage daughter (Katherine Ross).

Instantly drawn to Webb’s book and its theme of materialism versus following one’s heart, Turman—already a successful producer of films such as The Young Doctors (1961) starring Fredric March and I Could Go On Singing (1963) with Judy Garland—optioned the rights with his own money. With no major studio interest, and questions surrounding the film’s worth and comedic elements, Turman “slogged forever to get the financing.” 

Larry Turman, Director Mike Nichols, and Dustin Hoffman at the premiere of The Graduate.
After watching Nichols’ Broadway hit Barefoot in the Park—a production “just oozing good direction,” Turman knew the “modern and hip humor” of the future Oscar-winning director was the perfect quality he was looking for in the person at the picture’s helm.

“We were smart and lucky both,” reminisced Turman when asked about the film’s star cast and how he and his team considered over 200 young men for the role of Benjamin. “It’s an uphill climb if an actor is not right for a role. Casting is an essential responsibility for any producer.”

The Graduate’s filmmaking process was collaborative in every sense of the word with Turman working with everyone from the writers to selecting Simon and Garfunkel for the film’s classic soundtrack with Nichols. The producer was “always accessible. If there was a problem that required my attention, I was there in 30 seconds.”

In today’s times, where the producer credit has become negotiable and fungible and a plethora of names scroll across movie screens, Turman said it is still important to never devalue a person’s role.

“It all begins because one person said ‘I want to make this into a movie and I know how,’” observed Turman. “No matter what, the producer got that picture made.”

Buck Henry, Turman, Katherine Ross, Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Mike Nichols at a special 1993 screening.
Harking back to how Westwood theater owners sought to book The Graduate only after the picture was a hit, Turman says it’s important to realize that with the exception of blockbuster franchises such as Spider-Man and Harry Potter, predicting what will score big at the box office is a mystery.

“No one knows how to chase the money,” he said. “It’s a wonderfully exciting high-stakes crap shoot.”

And with The Graduate’s ruby anniversary shining a brighter light on the film listed as number seven on AFI’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Movies, Turman is proud that his project has held up over time.

“Recently, there was a double truck ad in Variety that likened Knocked Up to The Graduate,” Turman said. “Forty years later, people are still calling it a great picture and evoking it when discussing today’s films. It means nothing in the great scheme of things, but it’s a warm and gratifying feeling.”