Robert Benton


Director, Screenwriter

About

Also Known As
Robert Douglas Benton
Birth Place
Waxahachie, Texas, USA
Born
September 29, 1932

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 partne...

Family & Companions

Sallie Benton
Wife
Painter, illustrator. Married October 20, 1964.

Bibliography

"Don't Ever Wish for a Seven-Foot Bear"
Robert Benton, Alfred A. Knopf (1972)
"Extremism: A Non-Book"
Robert Benton and David Newman, Viking (1964)
"The Worry Book"
Robert Benton and Harvey Schmidt, Viking (1962)
"Little Brother, No More"
Robert Benton, Alfred A. Knopf (1960)

Notes

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

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 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.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Appointment in Samarra (2011)
Director
Feast of Love (2007)
Director
The Human Stain (2003)
Director
Twilight (1998)
Director
Nobody's Fool (1994)
Director
Billy Bathgate (1991)
Director
Nadine (1987)
Director
Places In The Heart (1984)
Director
Still of the Night (1982)
Director
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
Director
The Late Show (1977)
Director
Bad Company (1972)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

A Great Day in Harlem (1995)
Himself

Writer (Feature Film)

Appointment in Samarra (2011)
Screenplay
The Ice Harvest (2005)
Screenplay
Double Jeopardy (1999)
Screenplay
Twilight (1998)
Screenplay
Nobody's Fool (1994)
Screenplay
Nadine (1987)
Screenwriter
Places In The Heart (1984)
Screenplay
Still of the Night (1982)
Screenplay
Still of the Night (1982)
From Story
Still of the Night (1982)
Story By
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
Screenplay
Superman:The Movie (1978)
Screenplay
The Late Show (1977)
Screenwriter
Bad Company (1972)
Writer
What's Up, Doc? (1972)
Screenwriter
Oh! Calcutta! (1972)
Screenwriter
There Was a Crooked Man ... (1970)
Screenwriter
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Writer

Producer (Feature Film)

The Ice Harvest (2005)
Executive Producer
The House On Carroll Street (1988)
Executive Producer

Art Department (Feature Film)

The War Between Men and Women (1972)
Set Decoration
Hammersmith Is Out (1972)
Set Dresser
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
Set Decoration

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

A Great Day in Harlem (1995)
Other

Cast (Special)

Paul Newman - Bravo Profile (2001)
Homeward Bound (1994)

Music (Special)

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman (1975)
Music

Life Events

1953

Served in the U.S. Army; painted dioramas at Fort Bliss; discharged with the rank of corporal

1960

Became art director of Esquire

1961

First worked with future collaborator David Newman at Esquire; 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

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

Photo Collections

The Late Show - Movie Poster
The Late Show - Movie Poster

Videos

Movie Clip

What's Up, Doc? (1972) - I Don't Think Of You As A Woman In San Francisco for the musicology convention, Howard (Ryan O’Neal) from Iowa prepares with his fianceè Eunice (Madeline Kahn) to meet the philanthropist offering a big research grant, Peter Bogdanovich directing from the screenplay by Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton, in What’s Up, Doc?, 1972, starring Barbra Streisand.
What's Up, Doc? (1972) - We've Almost Got That Stammer Cured Already detained by rival Simon (Kenneth Mars), panicked musicologist Howard (Ryan O’Neal) meets Larrabee (Austin Pendleton), provider of the grant for-which they’re competing then, aided by Randy Quaid, finds mischievous Judy (Barbra Streisand) impersonating his fianceè, in What’s Up Doc, 1972.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) - I'm Leaving You Ad man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) comes home to wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) in their Manhattan apartment, about to announce that she's leaving, their first scene together, early in Robert Benton's Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) - Is He Gonna Lose His Eye? The big action sequence, as divorcing dad Ted (Dustin Hoffman) is chatting with Margaret (Jane Alexander) and Billy (Justin Henry) has an accident, on a Manhattan playground in Robert Benton's Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979.
What's Up, Doc? -- (1972) -- (Original Trailer) Director Peter Bogdanovich joins stars Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal for this full-on tongue in cheek trailer for the 1972 comedy hit What's Up, Doc?, also the feature debut of Madeline Kahn.
What's Up, Doc? (1972) - There Was A Plaid Overnight Case Opening with the storybook from the screenplay by Buck Henry, Robert Benton and David Newman, we meet Michael Murphy, followed by Phil Roth, then Ryan O’Neal and Madeline Kahn at San Francisco International, then Barbra Streisand, apparently by happenstance, in Peter Bodganovich’s hit rom-com, What’s Up, Doc?, 1972.
What's Up, Doc? (1972) - As Time Goes By Baffled musicologist Howard (Ryan O’Neal), ejected from his San Francisco hotel for hijinks the night before, winds up on the roof, and meets the perpetrator, the still-sexier Judy (Barbra Streisand), who has news about his grant, director Peter Bogdanovich with a big wink to Casablanca, in What’s Up Doc, 1972.
What's Up, Doc? (1972) - He Falls Down A Lot Sent by his bossy fianceè to fetch aspirin at the San Francisco hotel, nerdy musicologist Howard (Ryan O’Neal) has his first in-person encounter with Judy (Barbra Streisand), though we’ve no idea why she’s interested, early in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc, 1972.
Places In The Heart (1984) - I'll Shoot You Myself Texas, 1934, newly widowed Edna (Sally Field) visits her sister (Lindsay Crouse) sort of looking for work, then receives Moze (Danny Glover), an able farm hand who stole from her, and deputy Jack (Jerry Haynes) in Places In The Heart, 1984.
Places In The Heart (1984) - Try To Make A Good Impression Denby (Lane Smith), whose bank holds her mortgage and who has counseled newly-widowed Edna (Sally Field) to sell, arrives with an unexpected proposition, and his brother-in-law (John Malkovich, his first scene), in depression-era Texas, in Robert Benton’s Places In The Heart, 1984.
Late Show, The (1977) - They Did It Better Back Then Old-school LA private eye Ira (Art Carney) has figured out that ex-actress freelance whatever Margo (Lily Tomlin) didn’t tell him she had already hired his partner, since shot and killed, to find her cat, when she asked him to take the job, in writer-director Robert Benton’s The Late Show, 1977.
Late Show, The (1977) - How Do You Feel About Cats? From the opening scene we know that Art Carney is retiring LA private eye Ira Wells, working on a memoir, when his partner arrives fatally wounded, and now at the funeral where we meet Charlie (Bill Macy) and Margo (Lily Tomlin), in writer-director Robert Benton’s The Late Show, 1977.

Trailer

Family

Ellery Douglas Benton
Father
Telephone company employee.
Dorothy Benton
Mother
John Benton
Son

Companions

Sallie Benton
Wife
Painter, illustrator. Married October 20, 1964.

Bibliography

"Don't Ever Wish for a Seven-Foot Bear"
Robert Benton, Alfred A. Knopf (1972)
"Extremism: A Non-Book"
Robert Benton and David Newman, Viking (1964)
"The Worry Book"
Robert Benton and Harvey Schmidt, Viking (1962)
"Little Brother, No More"
Robert Benton, Alfred A. Knopf (1960)
"The In and Out Book"
Robert Benton and Harvey Schmidt, Viking (1959)

Notes

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