Director and screenwriter Robert Benton may not have achieved the legendary mainstream status associated with his peers Scorsese and Coppola, but this idiosyncratic filmmaker and screenwriter has had more than his share of major successes on the silver screen. Benton's best-known film as a director is Kramer vs. Kramer, the 1979 winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Direction and Best Screenplay. He has also achieved considerable fame for his screenwriting partnership with David Newman; together they have written such big-screen favorites as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and What's up Doc? (1972). By himself, Benton wrote Bad Company; in 1978 he co-wrote Superman with Mario Puzo.
A native of Waxahachie, TX, where he was born September 29, 1932, Benton began his career in 1956, when he was hired by Esquire magazine in New York. There he met David Newman, who would become his writing partner. The two collaborated for ten years before writing Bonnie and Clyde, a film that was rejected by 20 directors before it was turned into a movie classic by director Arthur Penn and earned Benton his first Oscar nomination. Benton made his directorial debut with Bad Company, but the 1972 crime Western was not a commercial success. He then directed the moderately well-received detective spoof The Late Show (1977), which starred Lily Tomlin and Art Carney.
After the great critical and commercial success of Kramer vs. Kramer, a seminal child custody drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, Benton spent much of the '80s directing a series of well-made but small-scale films such as 1982's Hitchcockian thriller Still of the Night. In 1984, he again scored big with the autobiographical Places of the Heart, which was based on his great-grandmother's struggles in Depression-era Texas. The film won an Oscar for lead actress Sally Field and was also nominated for best screenplay. Benton didn't have another great critical triumph until ten years later, when he directed the Paul Newman drama Nobody's Fool. The film won a number of awards for Newman, who gave one of his best performances in years. Newman and Benton again collaborated four years later on the suspense thriller Twilight, which also starred Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman.