R.I.P. Buck Henry of Get Smart and Saturday Night Live fame
Image: The Everett Collection
The "Five-Timers Club" of Saturday Night Live is a pinnacle of comedic stardom. Fewer than two dozen performers have hosted the sketch series five times. Even rarer is the Ten-Timers Club. Just four people can claim membership to that elite society. You might guess three of the names — Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and John Goodman. The fourth is Buck Henry.
The New York native was a regular fixture in SNL's early years, as all his hosting gigs fell between the years 1976 and 1980. He appeared on the show so often, he was practically a cast member. Henry had recurring characters on the show, most memorably as the father of Bill Murray's character Todd in "The Nerds" skits… and as the straight man to John Belushi in his unpredictable "Samurai" sketches.
It was the "Samurai Stockbroker" skit that led to an improvisational highlight in SNL's second season. Wildman Belushi took a chunk out of Henry's forehead with his katana blade by accident. Henry sportingly bandaged his bleeding head and carried on with the show. In solidarity (and comedy), the other cast members began to appear in scenes with bandages, as well. You can watch the episode here.
By that point, Henry was an acclaimed writer and performer. The Dartmouth graduate had been nominated for an Oscar in 1968, thanks to his screenplay for The Graduate (he would again earn a nomination for his Heaven Can Wait script).
Henry made his name in the Sixties, first as a cast member on The New Steve Allen Show (1961) and That Was The Week That Was (1964–65).
In 1965, Henry teamed with Mel Brooks to create one of the brilliant TV comedies of the decade, Get Smart. Henry was the mind who came up with "the cone of silence." The success of that spy spoof would lead Henry to craft two more parody series, Captain Nice (1967), a send-up of superhero shows, and Quark (1978), which poked loving fun at space adventures. Both shows were cult favorites but short-lived.
Henry's other film writing credits included The Owl and the Pussycat, What's Up, Doc?, Catch-22. He also regularly appeared as a character actor on the big screen, in wonderful comedies like Defending Your Life and Grumpy Old Men.
On January 8, Henry passed away from a heart attack, his wife told The Washington Post. He was 89.