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Robert Benton

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Also Known As: Robert Douglas Benton Died:
Born: September 29, 1932 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Waxahachie, Texas, USA Profession: screenwriter, director, producer, painter, magazine editor, author

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Writer-director Robert Benton began his career in the literary world. The Texas native settled in NYC and found work in various editorial capacities at ESQUIRE magazine. He also co-wrote two books with college chum Harvey Schmidt and penned a children's book as well. While working at ESQUIRE, Benton became acquainted with David Newman, another editor, and the pair formed a writing partnership that included "Extremism: A Non-Book" and the libretto for the stage musical "It's a Bird . . . It's a Plane . . . It's Superman" (1996) before they segued to features. The pair scored a huge success and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Story and Screenplay with their first effort, "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), which director Arthur Penn put into production after it had been rejected by over a dozen producers. Benton was encouraged to move into directing in 1972 by Stanley Jaffe, then president of Paramount, and has, despite a number of misfires, made a number of fine films, several of which have enjoyed considerable critical and popular acclaim. His very first film was a minor gem. "Bad Company" (1972) got lost amid the many other revisionist Westerns of the period but boasted grim humor and compelling...

Writer-director Robert Benton began his career in the literary world. The Texas native settled in NYC and found work in various editorial capacities at ESQUIRE magazine. He also co-wrote two books with college chum Harvey Schmidt and penned a children's book as well. While working at ESQUIRE, Benton became acquainted with David Newman, another editor, and the pair formed a writing partnership that included "Extremism: A Non-Book" and the libretto for the stage musical "It's a Bird . . . It's a Plane . . . It's Superman" (1996) before they segued to features. The pair scored a huge success and garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Story and Screenplay with their first effort, "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), which director Arthur Penn put into production after it had been rejected by over a dozen producers.

Benton was encouraged to move into directing in 1972 by Stanley Jaffe, then president of Paramount, and has, despite a number of misfires, made a number of fine films, several of which have enjoyed considerable critical and popular acclaim. His very first film was a minor gem. "Bad Company" (1972) got lost amid the many other revisionist Westerns of the period but boasted grim humor and compelling detail in its story of drifters in the Old West. Benton received an Oscar nomination for his offbeat script for the amusing and clever detective story "The Late Show" (1977), which he also directed, and enjoyed the popular reception of his work on the screenplays for "What's Up Doc?" (1972, written with Buck Henry and Newman) and "Superman" (1978, written with Mario Puzo, Newman and Newman's wife Leslie). He then hit the jackpot with "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), which completed a trend away from macho male stars to sensitive, family-oriented men. A straight forward, sober account of a divorce custody battle told from the father's point of view, the film won Oscars for both Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, and Benton himself copped two awards for his direction and screenplay. The film itself also took Best Picture.

Not a prolific filmmaker, Benton did not come out with another film until 1982's disappointing mystery muddle, "Still of the Night" (1982), which starred Streep. He had rather more luck with his original semi-autobiographical Academy Award-winning screenplay for "Places in the Heart" (1984), and he guided Sally Field to an Oscar for her portrayal of a resolute farmwoman in Depression-era Texas. The comedy thriller "Nadine" (1987) passed by without garnering much notice, however, and Benton suffered a much larger setback with his expensive but unpopular production of "Billy Bathgate" (1991). Returning to the Depression to tell the story of a young boy who rises up in the mob scene with the help of gangster Dutch Schultz, the film boasted a handsome production and fine period detail, but viewers didn't seem to warm sufficiently to either the story or the performances.

Benton did score a modest success with and earned a seventh Oscar nomination for his script for "Nobody's Fool" (1994). An adaptation of Robert Russo's novel about an irresponsible sixtyish man drawn into a family crisis, the film featured a strong central performance by Paul Newman and wonderful character turns from Jessica Tandy, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Bruce Willis. Benton and Newman reteamed for "Twilight" (1998), a contemporary--and too conventional, considering the talent involved--detective thriller co-starring Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon and a pre-fame Reese Witherspoon. After a lengthy hiatus, Benton recruited a powerhouse (if slightly miscast) ensemble of actors--Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris and Gary Sinise--when he helmed the film adaptation of novelist Phillip Roth's "The Human Stain" (2003), a complex tale that the director crafted with a clear and confident feel for the emotional themes involved though the picture didn't quite capture the raw passion and anger of Roth's source material.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
3.
  The Human Stain (2003) Director
4.
  Twilight (1998) Director
5.
  Nobody's Fool (1994) Director
6.
  Billy Bathgate (1991) Director
7.
  Nadine (1987) Director
8.
  Places In The Heart (1984) Director
9.
  Still of the Night (1982) Director
10.
  Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Great Day in Harlem, A (1995) Himself
2.
 Paul Newman - Bravo Profile (2001) Interviewee
3.
 Homeward Bound (1994)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1953:
Served in the U.S. Army; painted dioramas at Fort Bliss; discharged with the rank of corporal
:
Roomed with college chum Harvey Schmidt, with whom Benton wrote two books
:
Freelance writer and artistic associate with <i>Esquire</i>
:
Served as graphics editor with <i>Esquire</i>
1960:
Became art director of <i>Esquire</i>
1961:
First worked with future collaborator David Newman at <i>Esquire</i>; reportedly Benton and Newman developed the magazine's annual college issue and its Dubios Achievement Awards
1964:
Short film co-directing and co-producing debut (with Elinor Jones), "A Texas Romance"; also created paintings
:
Was a contributing editor to <i>Esquire</i>
1966:
With David Newman, wrote the book for the Broadway musical "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman"
1967:
Feature film co-writing debut (with Newman), "Bonnie and Clyde"; earned first Oscar nomination for script
1969:
Contributed sketch material to the stage musical "Oh! Calcutta"
1972:
Feature directing debut, "Bad Company"; also co-wrote
1979:
Breakthrough feature as writer-director, "Kramer vs. Kramer"; film starred Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep; Benton won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay
1982:
Directed Streep in the thriller "Still of the Night"
1984:
Wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical "Places in the Heart"; earned Oscar nomination as Best Director; won Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay
1988:
First feature as producer (co-executive), "The House on Carroll Street," directed by Peter Yates
1991:
Directed Dustin Hoffman in film adapatation of E L Doctorow's "Billy Bathgate"; first time directing film he did not write; initial collaboration with Nicole Kidman
1994:
First screen collaboration with Paul Newman, "Nobody's Fool", adapted from Richard Russo's novel; also marked final screen appearance of Jessica Tandy
1998:
Again directed Newman in the contemporary detective story "Twilight," co-starring Stockard Channing, Gene Hackman, and Susan Sarandon
2003:
Adapted the screen version of Philip Roth's novel "The Human Stain," featuring Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins; also directed
2005:
Co-adapted Scott Phillips's "Ice Harvest," starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton
2007:
Helmed "Feast of Love," a film based on the novel by Charles Baxter and featuring an ensemble cast
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Education

Columbia University: New York , New York -
University of Texas at Austin: Austin , Texas - 1953

Notes

Not to be confused with veteran set decorator Robert Benton (a.k.a. Robert R Benton).

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Sallie Benton. Painter, illustrator. Married October 20, 1964.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Ellery Douglas Benton. Telephone company employee.
mother:
Dorothy Benton.
son:
John Benton.

Bibliography close complete biography

"The In and Out Book" Viking
"Little Brother, No More" Alfred A. Knopf
"The Worry Book" Viking
"Extremism: A Non-Book" Viking
"Don't Ever Wish for a Seven-Foot Bear" Alfred A. Knopf
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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