December 21

This Day in History

Automotive

Dec 21, 1967:

"The Graduate" opens in New York; makes Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider famous

On this day in 1967, the film "The Graduate" opens at two theaters in New York: the Coronet on Third Avenue and the Lincoln Art Theater on Broadway. The film, based on a 1963 novel by Charles Webb, had a simple premise: As its screenwriter explained it, "this kid graduates college, has an affair with his parents' best friend, and then falls in love with the friend's daughter." (It was, he added, "the best pitch I ever heard.") In other words, "The Graduate" was an uneasy exploration of what it meant to be young and adrift at a time of extraordinary confusion and upheaval. The film was a hit: The New Yorker called it "the biggest success in the history of movies," while The Saturday Review said it was "not merely a success; it has become a phenomenon." It earned $35 million in the first six months it was onscreen (by contrast, it cost just $3 million to make) and became the highest-grossing movie of 1968.

"The Graduate" made household names out of many of its stars. Though the young stage actor Dustin Hoffman had never been in a movie before, he rocketed to stardom thanks to his brilliant portrayal of the film's protagonist, the aimless Benjamin Braddock. At the same time, a marginally famous folk-pop duo called Simon & Garfunkel sold millions of records as a result of the film, which made their songs a part of its narrative in complex and sophisticated ways. (Some of those songs had already been released; others, like the movie's title tune, were brand-new.) In June 1968, the single "Mrs. Robinson" hit No. 1 on the pop chart, and that year the film's soundtrack album won a Grammy.

The movie also made a star out of Benjamin Braddock's graduation present: a bright-red Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider. Alfa Romeo had been making racecars for decades—even Enzo Ferrari drove an Alfa before he began building his own racers—but had never sold very many in the United States. (American customers preferred larger cars, and when they did buy smaller sports cars they tended to buy them from British manufacturers like MG and Triumph.) But the 1967 Duetto Spider, a two-seat convertible roadster, was a real beauty: It had a sharp nose and a rounded, tapered rear end, glass-covered headlights, and what designers called a "classic scallop" running down the side. It handled well, could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 10 seconds, and got 23 miles per gallon of gas.

Though the Duetto Spider was a great car and a pop-culture icon, Americans still weren't interested in buying it. The model—with new names like the Spider Veloce, the Quadrifoglio and even the Graduate—stayed on the market until 1994, without much sales success. In 2007, the company's CEO announced that he might reintroduce the Duetto for Alfa Romeo's 100th anniversary in 2010.

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