Charles Webb, author of The Graduate (an identity that dogged and bedeviled him his whole life). died a few days ago at age 81. I met Charles in early 1970, shortly after the release of his second novel, The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker. I was waiting for my own novel to come out that summer and decided as a way to stop obsessing about it I would help promote the work of some other writers whose work I admired. Like nearly everyone of my generation, I had been hypnotized by the movie of The Graduate, and when I read the novel I realized all the producers of the movie had to do for a script was transcribe the dialogue of the novel (not an ordinary formula.)
The sale of Webb’s novel to Hollywood was modest, and after it became one of the biggest grossing films of its time, I was told that director Mike Nichols had sent Webb a check for $5,000. Novelist and screenwriter John Gregory Dunne told me when he reported that tidbit: “that was like giving Charles Webb a tip.” Other writers would have screamed, or sued. But Webb didn’t want the money anyway.
I called Webb and his wife Eve answered, explaining it would take a few moments to get Charles to the phone.
“He’s outside on the front lawn,” she said, “eating the grass.”