Charles Webb: “The novel has defined my whole life. I just want to run away.”

From a Washington Post obit by Harrison Smith about “Charles Webb, whose novel ‘The Graduate,’ inspired a Hollywood classic.”:

With its Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, mordant dialogue and bursts of sexual tension, “The Graduate” was a generational touchstone, launching the movie career of Dustin Hoffman, earning director Mike Nichols an Oscar and turning a character’s one-word piece of career advice — “plastics” — into a punchline.

Based on a novel by Charles Webb, the 1967 film foreshadowed Hollywood’s turn toward a more youthful audience and made more than $100 million at the box office, drawing rave reviews for its story of a disaffected college graduate (Hoffman) who is seduced by a married woman (Anne Bancroft) and falls in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross).

But for all its success, Mr. Webb largely distanced himself from “The Graduate,” which featured a Buck Henry and Calder Willingham screenplay that lifted much of the dialogue from his book. “It’s something that I cannot shake,” he once said of the novel. “It has defined my whole life. I just want to run away.”

Mr. Webb. . .went on to write a slew of novels while championing an anti-materialist philosophy and living in poverty. He and his wife, Eve, gave away most of their possessions and worked odd jobs, moving between campgrounds, trailer parks, nudist colonies and a Motel 6 before settling in England. . . .

Mr. Webb was 24 when “The Graduate” was published in 1963. Like its protagonist, Benjamin Braddock, he had grown up in the Los Angeles suburbs and graduated from a small Eastern college — though he insisted his character’s affair with an older woman, the Mrs. Robinson character played by Bancroft, was not autobiographical.

“It was an aberrant fantasy of mine that popped out,” he told Britain’s Observer newspaper in 2005. “I was at home after college, like the character in the film. My father was a doctor and had couples over to the house to play bridge. There was a wife of one of the doctors who came over and at the sight of her my fantasy life became supercharged.”. . .

He continued working even while going 19 years without publishing a book and seemed to view literature the same way the protagonist of his novel “Booze” (1978), about an alcoholic artist who paints only oranges, viewed art.

“I know pretty well why I’m an artist, it’s the one way I can seal off my past,” Mr. Webb’s character says in the novel.

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