The Leg On The Graduate Poster Belongs To A Classic TV Icon

Mike Nichols' 1967 coming-of-age comedy "The Graduate" has one of the most memorable posters. It shows the insecure college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) standing in front of a woman's outstretched leg and arm as she pulls on a stocking. This sensual image is lifted from an exact shot in "The Graduate." But the mysterious leg does not belong to Anne Bancroft, the actress who plays Ben's older lover, Mrs. Robinson. 

In an interview with Anderson Live, actress Linda Gray revealed that her leg appears on the poster. "I think [Anne Bancroft] was absent that day ... I got paid $25. One leg, that was pretty good!" she divulged. This small, one-day modeling gig made Linda Gray an enduring part of cinema history. The model-turned-actress is best known for her role as Sue Ellen Ewing on the hit 1970s television show "Dallas." Some of her other notable credits include "Melrose Place" and "The Bold and the Beautiful," and she also co-starred with Sylvester Stallone in the movie "Oscar." 

"The Graduate" poster conveys a lot about the story. Ben looks at the woman's shapely leg not with arousal but with a vacant, bewildered stare and his hands in his pocket. As he is throughout the majority of the film, Ben appears thoughtful but insecure; he's "drifting" through life, unsure of what he wants and still feeling like he's too young and inexperienced to make any solid decisions about his future.

"The placement of the leg to split Hoffman in two might suggest Hoffman is internally split. He's drowning and only his upper body or one part of his identity is afloat. These contrasting images — Hoffman and the seductive leg — invite the onlooker inside Hoffman's perspective, questioning his inner thoughts," Hayden Carey writes in his visual analysis of the poster, which unquestionably reflects one of the most important scenes in "The Graduate." 

The leg shot has a deeper meaning

"The Graduate" shot that the poster references occurs during a heated argument between Ben and Mrs. Robinson. Ben is offended when Mrs. Robinson protests his crush on her daughter, Elaine, thinking it is on the grounds that she thinks he is not good enough for her daughter. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he's sleeping with her mother?) Ben calls himself a "sick and disgusting person" for having a sexual relationship with an older, married woman and "broken-down alcoholic," then dismisses their affair as "the sickest, most perverted thing that ever happened to me." He angrily leaves their bed and declares that he is done with their dalliances, leading Mrs. Robinson to get up and put on her stocking and clothes. 

Consider this heated scene in comparison with the first time Nichols uses a similar leg shot. That occurs when Mrs. Robinson aggressively pursues the nervous Benjamin for the first time, coquettishly encouraging him to relax and have a drink because her husband won't be home for hours. In this moment, she lifts her leg and places it on the barstool next to her. Nichols moves his camera to frame Ben inside the curve of her shadowed thigh and perched leg. Ben utters the famous line, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me ... aren't you?" This bold shot encapsulates the power Mrs. Robinson has over Benjamin as an experienced, older woman and visually represents the dark, mysterious possibility of having sex with her. 

These leg shots leave an indelible mark in viewers' minds. It was the perfect choice for the "The Graduate" poster, and though she couldn't have known it at the time, Linda Gray ended up contributing to one of some of the film's most lasting imagery.