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Robert Benton Papers

Identifier: SWWC-096

Scope and Contents

The Robert Benton Papers document the filmmaking career of the Oscar-winning writer and director from 1969-1994. The collection is arranged in six series: personal papers (1940s, 1987 and 1984); produced works (1972-1994); unproduced works (1969-1988); works by others (including works from Walter Bernstein and Naomi Foner); photographs; artwork (storyboards, posters, and set designs); and framed photoprints. The bulk of the collection represents some of Benton’s most seminal works including screenplays, notes, publicity, and other production material from his produced films, Bad Company, Kramer vs. Kramer, Still of the Night, Nadine, Places in the Heart, Billy Bathgate, and Nobody’s Fool. The papers also include the screenplays, scripts, and notes from some of Benton’s unproduced works including “Hubba-Hubba or Will the Big Bands Ever Come Back?,” “The Coast,” “Stardust,” “Magic Hour,” and the manuscript for Benton’s unpublished novel, “Lover – A Novel of Suspense.” Photographs, contact sheets, publicity stills, and color slides from Benton’s produced films provide visual documentation of the filmmaking process, as do numerous story boards from Nadine and Places in the Heart, movie posters from nine of Benton’s projects, set designs from Billy Bathgate, and framed photoprints of Benton on set with actors such as Dustin Hoffman and Bruce Willis.


  • 1969-1994


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws.

Biographical Note

Writer and director Robert Douglass Benton was born on September 29, 1932, in Waxahachie, Texas.  He is the son of Ellery Douglass and Dorothy (Spaulding) Benton.  Benton attended The University of Texas at Austin and received a BFA in 1953.  His classmates included Jayne Mansfield and Rip Torn, an actor he would direct in the 1987 film Nadine.  While serving in the U.S. Army from 1954-1956, Benton painted dioramas at Fort Bliss.  He was discharged with the rank of corporal.  He enrolled at Columbia University to study Art History but dropped out after one semester.  Benton would then begin his professional career as a freelance writer and artistic associate at Esquire.

Benton remained with Esquire for several years where he worked in various editorial capacities.  Here he would meet future collaborator David Newman.  The pair published Extremism:  A Non-Book (1959) and wrote the libretto for the Broadway musical It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman (1966).  Benton’s first film industry success was with Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a screenplay he co-wrote with Newman.  Starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, the film was critically acclaimed and Benton and Newman received an Oscar nomination for best story and screenplay.  His other early writing credits include There Was a Crooked Man (1970), What’s Up Doc (1972), and Oh! Calcutta! (1972).

Paramount president Stanley Jaffe encouraged Benton to move into directing.  He made his directorial debut in 1972 with Bad Company, a wild west adaptation of Dickens’ Oliver Twist starring Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, and David Huddleston.  Benton directed The Late Show in 1977 and wrote the screenplay for Superman (with Mario Puzo and David and Leslie Newman) in 1978.  His next directorial role was with the 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer.  A box office hit and critical success, the film won the Oscar for Best Picture while Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep also won Oscars for their performances.  Benton won Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

1982’s Still of the Night saw Benton direct Meryl Streep again in a starring role.  Benton directed and wrote the screenplay for Places in the Heart (1984), a semi-autobiographical film starring Sally Field.  The film was honored with two Oscars; Benton won Best Screenplay while Field won Best Actress.  He wrote and directed Nadine in 1987 and directed Billy Bathgate, an adaptation of an E.L. Doctorow novel, in 1991.  It was the first film that Benton directed but did not write.  Benton directed Paul Newman in the 1994 adaptation of Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool.  A friendship was forged and Benton and Newman worked together again on Twilight (1998).  Benton directed the 2003 adaptation of Phillip Roth’s The Human Stain.  His most recent work as a director is the 2007 film Feast of Love.  Benton is currently working on the screenplay for North of Cheyenne, slated for a 2011 release.


24 Linear Feet

45 boxes ( Plus items in map case, framed art case, and oversized.)

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

  • The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.


The Robert Benton Papers document the filmmaking career of the Oscar- winning writer and director. Works represented include Kramer vs. Kramer, Still of the Night, Nadine, Places in the Heart, Billy Bathgate, and Nobody’s Fool. Materials include scripts, notes, production and publicity materials, photographs, and set designs for films Benton wrote and/or directed.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use:

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Robert Benton, 2001

Guide to the Robert Benton Papers
Amy Esdorn, Devlin Flanary, Lara Hall, and Marilyn Wade
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Katie Salzmann

Repository Details

Part of the The Wittliff Collections Repository

601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA