Late in 1966, movie director Mike Nichols was trying to cast the role of Benjamin Braddock, hero of The Graduate. Nichols told Vanity Fair, “I interviewed hundreds, maybe thousands, of men.” He tested Robert Redford and Charles Grodin, among others. Producer Larry Turman’s list also included Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, George Peppard, George Hamilton, Tony Perkins, Keir Dullea, Brandon De Wilde, and Michael Parks. But those are the names we recognize because they became stars (and in some cases were on the rise already).
Among those many other Hollywood hopefuls was Burt Ward, who in 1965 had won the dual role of Dick Grayson and Robin the Boy Wonder in the Batman television series. That show became a huge hit in early 1966, making him unavailable for The Graduate.
For folks who loved the movie’s countercultural vibe, the idea that a producer or studio wanted to cast Ward showed how out of touch those people over thirty were. For Ward and his fans, his inability to pursue the role showed the irony of missed opportunities, or the tyranny of typecasting. But despite the tales from both sides, I haven’t found evidence that Ward was ever on anyone’s short list.
The Graduate would have been quite different with Ward as the lead, of course. Artistically, the movie benefited from audiences not recognizing the actor who played Benjamin. By the summer of 1966 Ward was a star; that would have thrown off the dynamic, just as casting Redford would have.
The movie also benefited from Dustin Hoffman’s acting. He underplayed most of his lines but was convincingly passionate at the end. To be charitable, the Batman show didn’t ask Ward to display that range.
Still, it’s interesting to consider how the movie could have been…different.
Benjamin: Look, Dad, Could you explain to them that I have to be alone for a while?
Mr. Braddock: These are all our good friends, Ben. Most of them have known you since, well, practically since you were born.
Benjamin: I’m just…
Mr. Braddock: Worried?
Mr. Braddock: About what?
Benjamin: I guess about my future.
Mr. Braddock: What about it?
Benjamin: I don’t know…I want it to be…
Mr. Braddock: To be what?
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: For God’s sake, Mrs. Robinson, here we are, you’ve got me into your house. You give me a drink. You put on music, now you start opening up your personal life to me and tell me your husband won’t be home for hours.
Mrs. Robinson: So?
Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me... Aren’t you?
Room Clerk: The Singleman party, sir?
Benjamin: Ah, yes, the Singleman party.
Mrs. Robinson: You what?
Benjamin: This is all terribly wrong.
Mrs. Robinson: Do you find me undesirable?
Benjamin: Oh no, Mrs. Robinson. I think, I think you’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends. I mean that.
Benjamin: Why don’t I just drag you off? All right, I will. Right after we get the blood tests.
Elaine: I have to see Carl first.
Benjamin: Carl who?…Carl who?
Elaine: Carl Smith. He’s a medical student. We’ve known him for years.
Benjamin: Who, that guy at the zoo?
Benjamin: Why do you have to see him?
Elaine: Well, I said I might marry him.