Charles Webb, the novelist behind The Graduate, died on June 16 at age 81. The book, inspired by Webb's own experiences, was published in 1963 and remains a classic. It inspired the equally classic 1967 film of the same name, starring Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock. Webb died of a blood condition in Eastbourne, London, his friend, Times of London journalist Jack Malvern, said Saturday, reports The Associated Press.
Webb was just 24 when he published The Graduate, a fictionalized story based on his own experience growing up in Southern California, going to Williams College in Massachusetts, and seeing how his world changed when he returned. Benjamin was not pleased with the materialistic world his parents lived in and began an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the mother of the woman he eventually fell in love with, Elaine Robinson.
"The Graduate was about going to college and then, well actually it was a lot of things – I got interested in the wife of a good friend of my parents and realizing it might be better to write about it than to do it," Webb said in a 2006 interview with the site Thoughtcat. When asked if he thought the book "launched" his career, Webb dismissed that idea. "It was very useful, people's reaction to the success of the film was a very useful thing for me... over the years people would react to me in a certain way. So that was interesting," he said.
The Graduate was not an immediate success, only selling about 20,000 copies when it was first published. However, it came to the attention of producer Lawrence Turman and Embassy Pictures. Webb reportedly sold the film rights for only $20,000. Broadway director Mike Nichols was picked to direct. When the film opened in 1967, The Graduate became an instant success and touchstone of the era. Hoffman became a star, Anne Bancroft added another legendary performance to her resume as Mrs. Robinson and Nichols won the Best Director Oscar.
The book has gone on to overshadow the rest of Webb's career, even though some of his other novels became films as well. His third book The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker was turned into a film in 1971, with a script Webb wrote himself. His 2002 novel New Cardiff became Hope Springs with Colin Firth. His final published work was 2007's Home School, the long-awaited sequel to The Graduate.
Webb was married to Eve Rudd, who died last year, and is survived by their two sons. The two divorced in protest of U.S. marriage laws but remained together. They left California behind because they chose to home-school their sons, despite state laws against that at the time. At one point, they reportedly ran a New Jersey nudist camp. They moved to England in 2000.