LONDON LETTER: Here’s to you Mrs Robinson

LAST week was the 50th anniversary of The Graduate, a movie that at the time affected me more than any other that I can remember.

Okay, the ‘effect’ was superficial, even by my low standards.

I fell hopelessly in love with the heroine Katherine Ross and suffered acute audio-ecstasy listening to the score, Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel.

And I discovered with astonishment that older women could be seductive, as Anne Bancroft showed in her sublime portrayal as the sultry, world-weary Mrs Robinson.

I don’t think that was the intention of the movie. Instead, it was a satirical comedy that caught the zeitgeist of the ‘60s – mainly post-college malaise and the confusion of baby-boomers struggling to adapt to a world their parents created.

The cuckolded husband Mr Robinson, for example, is a plastic manufacturer. Symbolic, hey?

I was in matric at the time and only managed to see the movie thanks to a short-sighted usher. The age limit was 21, due to a scene where Anne Bancroft famously disrobed.

As a vertically challenged teenager with acne, on any other day I would not have got past the popcorn counter.

Once inside the cinema, they would’ve needed a crowbar to yank me out.

From the moment the haunting chords of Sounds of Silence started as the credits rolled, I was mesmerized.

For months afterwards I dreamed of bringing Katherine Ross out to Africa and marrying her.

It’s a wonder I even passed my exams – although not all, as I had to have two shots at maths.

I even bought the LP, which cost two months’ pocket money, and played Sounds of Silence, Mrs Robinson and Scarborough Fair until the vinyl wore thinner than my credit card is today.

I was not alone. The movie grossed three-quarters of a billion dollars in today’s cash. It is the 22nd most popular movie of all times. And it’s now back on screens to celebrate its 50th birthday.

The movie is based on a book by a real graduate called Charles Webb, whose own life is too weird even for a movie.

A wife called Fred

He called his wife ‘Fred’ to show solidarity with a support group for men suffering from low esteem, rather than her real name Eve.

That was until he divorced ‘Fred’ in solidarity with a support group for those against the concept of matrimony.

But it doesn’t end there. Although Webb and ‘Fred’ disavowed their vows, they didn’t split up.

Instead, they opened a nudist colony in New Jersey, before moving to Eastbourne in the UK to do … well, I don’t know.

All I do know is that I have been to Eastbourne, and believe me there are no gorgeous Katherine Rosses or sultry Mrs Robinsons there.

But I suppose Webb has good reason for feeling aggrieved and supporting creepy support groups.

He only got paid $20,000 for the rights to one of the globe’s most famous movies.

However, like Webb, The Graduate does not have a happy ending for me.

I saw the movie again a decade after leaving school, and couldn’t remember what all the fuss was about.

The plot is bleakly basic, portraying indulgence, infidelity and privilege at its cynical worst.

I even fell out of love with Katherine Ross, and now find the Simon and Garfunkel tracks middle-of-the-road rather than edgy.

Then, a couple of years after we moved to England, The Graduate came to London’s West End.

I’m not a theatre fan, but management thought she could persuade me to take her as the beautiful Linda Gray was playing Mrs Robinson.

I was offended – how dare she think that?

Anyway, I went along, and once again was hugely disappointed, not counting the scene with Linda Gray showing a shapely stockinged leg.

Without Hollywood props, the plot was even more superficial than my juvenile infatuation as a schoolboy had been.

As we know, everything in life is fleeting. The zeitgeist shifts with its own momentum.

Anne Bancroft has died; Dustin Hoffman – The Graduate – turns 80 this year, while Katharine Ross is 77. She has aged gracefully, which I think means she looks very old.

So much for nostalgia.

  AUTHOR
Graham Spence

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