I just a minute ago saw that Buck Henry has passed on at the age of 89. so let’s give him a proper tribute.
Lots of sites are going to talk about his major accomplishments: writing The Graduate, Catch-22, The Owl and the Pussycat, and What’s Up, Doc?, creating Quark, co-creating Get Smart, his many appearances in the early years of Saturday Night Live, and some might even mention his many contributions to the revolutionary and still-influential Steve Allen Show (which later became the Tonight Show).
What a lot of them might miss is his contribution as a wry satirist of modern culture and deadpan prankster of the media. But we won’t.
Back in the 1950s, Buck Henry had the unique ability to get on TV, say completely insane things with a straight face, and be taken completely seriously as he pulled the nation’s leg. Hell, he damn near yanked it off at the hip.
Working with notorious prankster Alan Abel (the ’50s equivalent of SoCal shenanigan-meister Obvious Plant), Henry got all over the TV as G. Clifford Prout, Jr., the spokesperson for SINA, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. SINA was allegedly an organization that sought to put pants on both wild and domesticated animals, because “a nude horse is a rude horse” and “decency today is morality tomorrow.” Thousands of people signed up to support the mission, including one lady from Santa Barbara who sent a check for $40,000. (They sent it back.)
This prank ran for about five years and included a newsletter, staged protests, and several TV news appearances by G. Clifford Prout, Jr. Finally, after an interview with Walter Cronkite, somebody at CBS noticed that Prout bore an astonishing resemblance to CBS employee Buck Henry. The jig was up. But from 1959 through 1963, Henry and Abel had mercilessly trolled the moral crusaders of Eisenhower’s America, demanding that any animal that “stands higher than 4 inches or longer than 6 inches” needed to be decently attired so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of upstanding people, presenting illustrations of bermuda shorts for kangaroos and other absurdities.
Even if Buck Henry hadn’t written brilliant screenplays and created great TV series, hadn’t been the first person to host SNL ten times (in 5 years!), that level of commitment to satirical hoaxing would be worthy of an obituary tribute all by itself.
So long, Buck, and thanks for all the laughs. Atomic Junk Shop salutes you.