I can’t think of a single Buck Henry appearance or writing credit on TV or at the movies that didn’t make whatever it was better.
That includes Captain Nice, an otherwise wretched series from 1967. The silly superhero spoof, created by Henry and starring a young William Daniels, made me laugh. What do you want, I was 10.
Henry died Wednesday in Los Angeles at 89. Heart attack is believed to be the cause.
That same year of 1967, Henry co-wrote and appeared in the ’60s masterpiece “The Graduate.” How could anybody write both Captain Nice and “The Graduate” in the same year? Even that is funny.
His wry screenplay for the feature film, directed by his childhood friend Mike Nichols and starring a then little-known Dustin Hoffman, pulled the pants down on the ’60s. One word, “Plastics,” is all you need write on Henry’s tombstone.
Thanks to a memorable cameo in “The Graduate,” Henry could have made a nice living just playing stuffy desk clerks. Instead he was an early master of droll, ironic comedy, a precursor and obvious influence on Dave Letterman. Mock, make a point, move on; nothing is sacred or off limits.
He was also pre-SCTV, able to zero in on the ridiculous in the every day. His shtick was invariably palatable to all because even his borderline offensive comedy observations aimed straight for the funny. His cross the line approach would make him both unwelcome and heroic today.
This made him a perfect host those first five seasons of Saturday Night Live when he made 10 appearances. Henry was a ready for prime time player by then but still live and dangerous enough to stand opposite John Belushi and take a Samurai sword to the noggin’.
He also made being a writer look cool. He had the smirk of a nerd with attitude and played well with some of the smartest and funniest people in entertainment: Steve Allen, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Lorne Michaels and many others.
If all he ever did was co-create (with Mel Brooks) the ’60s spy spoof Get Smart! he’d be celebrated here. Add writing/directing efforts on “Catch 22,” “Heaven Can Wait” and 1995’s “To Die For” (starring a young Nicole Kidman) and you’ve got one of the biggest comedy influencers of the second half of the 20th century. (Oh to have Henry lampoon “influencers.”)
Not bad for somebody who once described himself as “moderately lazy” and “interested in much too large a list of things other than my career.”