Author Charles Webb, whose debut novel The Graduate spawned the classic 1967 film adaptation, has died. He was 81. Webb died June 16 in Eastbourne, En
Webb died June 16 in Eastbourne, England according to his friend, Times of London journalist Jack Malvern, who said the cause was related to a blood condition.
The Graduate, published in 1963, was Webb’s most famous work, thanks to the Mike Nichols-directed production starring Dustin Hoffman. The book and film follow Benjamin Braddock, a young man who embarks on an affair with Mrs. Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner. Webb based the novel on his own experiences growing up in Los Angeles and returning there after graduating from an East Coast college, though he always maintained that the affair was not autobiographical.
The Oscar-winning film, which was extremely faithful to Webb’s novel down to much of the iconic dialogue (“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”), was a massive box-office success and became a touchstone for the 1960s’ disaffected youth. However, Webb tried to distance himself from The Graduate, feeling it distracted from his other work, which included the novels The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker and New Cardiff (the basis for the 2003 rom-com Hope Springs). He earned just $20,000 from The Graduate‘s film adaptation.
“Millions and millions were made from The Graduate and here I am searching around for a couple of quid to buy my sandwich — people love that,” Webb told the BBC in 2006, then facing eviction from his apartment.
Webb’s impoverished lifestyle was partly voluntary, however. He professed disinterest in wealth and materialism, donating much of his earnings and possessions. He long maintained an unconventional lifestyle with his partner Eve Rudd, with whom he had two children (one of whom, a performance artist, once cooked and ate a copy of The Graduate with cranberry sauce). The couple lived on the road for years, homeschooled their children, and ran a nudist camp in New Jersey for a time. Eve later changed her name to Fred, to express solidarity with a support group for men with low self-esteem, and the couple divorced while remaining together to protest U.S. marriage laws. Fred died last year, according to The Times.
In 2007, Webb published a sequel to The Graduate, titled Home School, apparently for largely financial reasons. But he always maintained that he was “relieved” not to have become a wealthy man.
“I count my longevity to not being swept into that,” he told the Associated Press in 2006. “My wife and I have done a lot of things we wouldn’t have done if we were rich people…I would have been counting my money instead of educating my children.”