AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Private Benjamin
Director: Howard Zieff (Dir)
Release Date:   1980
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles and New York openings: 10 Oct 1980
Production Date:   3 Dec 1979 -- 12 Mar 1980 in Los Angeles, Burbank and Paris
Duration (in mins):   110
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Cast:   Goldie Hawn (Judy Benjamin)  
  Starring Eileen Brennan (Capt. Doreen Lewis)  
    Armand Assante (Henri Tremont)  
    Robert Webber (Col. Clay Thornbush) as
    Sam Wanamaker (Teddy Benjamin)  
    Barbara Barrie (Harriet Benjamin)  
    Mary Kay Place (Pvt. Mary Lou Glass)  
    Harry Dean Stanton (Sgt. Jim Ballard)  
  [and] Albert Brooks (Yale Goodman) as
  and - in order of appearance: Alan Oppenheimer (Rabbi)  
    Estelle Marlov (Vocalist at wedding)  
    Everett Covin (Band leader)  
    Robert Hanley (Arnie)  
    Lee Wallace (Mr. Waxman)  
    James Dybas (Photographer)  
    Gretchen Wyler (Aunt Kissy)  
    Maxine Stuart (Aunt Betty)  
    Lillian Adams (Mrs. Goodman)  
    Sandy Weintraub (Harvey Goodman)  
    Tim Haldeman (Stanley Goodman)  
    Kopi Sotiropulos (Limo passerby)  
    Stu Nahan (Newscaster)  
    J. P. Bumstead (Induction officer)  
    Hal Williams (Sgt. L. C. Ross)  
    Toni Kalem (Pvt. Tina Gianelli)  
    Damita Jo Freeman (Pvt. Gloria Moe)  
    Alston Ahern (Pvt. P. J. Soyer)  
    P. J. Soles (Pvt. Wanda Winter)  
    Craig T. Nelson (Capt. William Woolridge)  
    James R. Barnett (Drill instructor)  
    Ray Oliver (Red Team soldier)  
    Robin Hoff (Red Team soldier)  
    Ed Lewis (Red Team soldier)  
    Carrol Davis Carson (Referee)  
    Clayton D. Wright (Helicopter pilot)  
    Danny Wells (Slick guy)  
    Keone Young (Kim Osaka)  
    George Roberts (Johnny Rourke)  
    Helen Baron (Selma Lemish)  
    Paul Marin (Leo Lemish)  
    Mimi Maynard (Liz Lemish)  
    Alice Hirson (Mrs. Thornbush)  
    Wil Albert (Lt. Rahmi)  
    Richard Herd (General Foley)  
    Sally Kirkland (Helga)  
    Denise Halma (Gabrielle)  
    Lilyan Chauvin (Mrs. Tremont)  
    David Olivier (Jean Claude)  
    Elie Liardet (Mayor)  

Summary: At a Jewish wedding, Judy Benjamin and lawyer Yale Goodman pledge their vows and dance with family and friends. Leading Judy away from the party to the limousine, Yale complains of a headache and asks Judy to relieve it with oral sex. Later, Judy’s parents, Teddy and Harriet Benjamin, present the couple with a sizeable dowry. That night, Yale dies as he makes love to Judy, and, after the funeral, Judy is inconsolable. When she overhears her parents discussing what to do with her, Judy runs away to a motel. Talking on air to a radio talk show host, Judy confesses she has never been alone and a man calls the station, offering assistance. When Judy meets with the caller, she realizes he is Sergeant Jim Ballard, an army recruiter. Showing her a picture of yachts at Fort Ord in Monterey, California, Jim promises Judy that she will find a glamorous job in the service, possibly in Europe, with free housing and a paid vacation. When Jim assures Judy that she can quit at any time, she takes a pledge of allegiance and enlists. At Fort Biloxi in Mississippi, drill instructor Sergeant L. C. Ross finds Judy asleep on the bus and punishes her with push-ups. Later, in the barracks, Captain Doreen Lewis commends Private Wanda Winter’s tidy locker and feigns amusement at Judy’s complaints. After Judy points out that the toilet is unsanitary, Lewis orders her to spend the night cleaning it with her electric toothbrush and before she can sleep, Ross wakes the recruits for an announcement by post commander Colonel Clay Thornbush. As Judy struggles through training, her friends warn it is impossible to quit the army. That night, Judy is beaten by Private Tina Gianelli, a fellow trainee who chose the military over a prison sentence, and Judy decides to run away. When Ross alerts Lewis to Judy’s attempted escape, he finds his superior in an intimate embrace with Captain William Woolridge. As punishment for Judy’s infraction, Lewis orders the platoon to march circles in the rain and when Judy whines, the other recruits repudiate her. Ross calls Judy into a day room, where Teddy and Harriet wait for their daughter, angry that she disappeared for eight days. When Teddy suggests Judy is not competent to make her own decisions, she refuses to sign Lewis’s release form and remains in the army. Back in training, Judy displays a new commitment and gains the respect of Gianelli. Sometime later, Thornbush announces the start of the Biloxi war games and Ross assigns Judy and her team to guard a swamp. After getting lost, the girls build a campfire, smoke marijuana, and talk about sex. Judy confesses she has only experienced one mediocre orgasm and tells her friends about Yale’s death. The following morning, Judy’s group stumbles upon the rival team’s headquarters and seize control. They discover Lewis’s lover, Woolridge, making love to Winter, Lewis’s favorite recruit, and hold them as prisoners. Judy deceptively announces that the game is over, encouraging rival soldiers to come out of hiding, and wins the mock war by capturing them. Judy then exposes Woolridge and Winter, half dressed, to Lewis as the recruits cheer. Commending Judy for the victory, Thornbush offers her team a ride back to the fort in his helicopter and introduces them to his paratrooper “Thornbirds.” Later, as the girls celebrate with Ross, Lewis arrives at the barracks drunk, angry about her humiliation, and announces that she has been assigned to a new post. That night, Judy sneaks blue dye into Lewis’s showerhead and the next day at graduation, the captain is covered with makeup to conceal the color on her face. On leave, Judy and her friends go to a bar where she runs into an old friend, Selma Lemish, and is introduced to a handsome French gynecologist named Henri Tremont. Charmed, Judy leaves the bar with Henri and when they make love, she has an orgasm. Back at the fort, Judy learns that she has been appointed as the first female Thornbird. When Judy is afraid to make her first parachute jump, she is ambushed by Thornbush’s sexual advances, and leaps from the airplane. Later, Thornbush transfers Judy to a desk job in Greenland. Threatening to expose Thornbush’s indiscretion, Judy negotiates for a “procurement” job in Paris, but soon discovers that Captain Lewis is working at the same office and is withholding Judy's security clearance so she cannot advance in her position. Meanwhile, Judy renews her relationship with Henri, who has recently ended an affair with a woman named Claire, and learns that he joined the Communist Party for a week to impress her. After Lewis interrogates Judy about Henri’s suspicious party affiliation, General Foley says she will be released from the military if she continues to associate with Henri. Choosing to marry Henri, Judy calls her parents and prepares for her wedding. Henri notices Claire on the street in Paris, but later assuages Judy’s jealousy by telling her that he wants to have a baby. However, when Henri asks her to sign a prenuptial agreement, Judy questions his faith in their marriage and begins to resent her role as a housewife. After meeting her parents at the airport, Judy discovers the maid’s necklace in her bed and accuses Henri of having an affair. Henri complains that Judy no longer respects him and she apologizes. On their wedding day, however, Henri arrives late, claiming that he had to comfort Claire after she was beaten by her new boyfriend. Although Judy goes ahead with the ceremony, she remembers the dominating men in her life, including Yale and her father, and breaks up with Henri at the altar. When Henri admits to a one-night stand with the maid, belittles Judy’s service in the army, and calls her stupid, she punches him, throws off her veil and walks down the road to a new life. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures (A Warner Communications Company)
Production Text: A Hawn-Meyers-Shyer-Miller production
A Howard Zieff film
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures (A Warner Communications Company)
Director: Howard Zieff (Dir)
  David Silver (Unit prod mgr)
  Henri Jaquillard (Prod mgr, French unit)
  Juliette Toutain (Unit mgr, French unit)
  Jerry Sobul (Asst dir)
  Louis Pitzele (1st asst dir, French unit)
  Ross Brown (2d asst dir)
Producer: Nancy Meyers (Prod)
  Charles Shyer (Prod)
  Harvey Miller (Prod)
  Goldie Hawn (Exec prod)
Writer: Nancy Meyers (Wrt)
  Charles Shyer (Wrt)
  Harvey Miller (Wrt)
Photography: David M. Walsh (Dir of photog)
  Bob Edesa (Cam op)
  Norman Harris (Gaffer)
  Richard Moran (Best boy)
  John Shannon (Stills)
Art Direction: Robert Boyle (Prod des)
  Serge Douy (Art dir, French unit)
  Jeff Howard (Asst art dir)
Film Editor: Sheldon Kahn (Film ed)
  Lois Freeman (Assoc ed)
  Joe Mosca (Asst ed)
  Donah Bassett (Negative cutter)
Set Decoration: Arthur J. Parker (Set dec)
  Bill Macsems (Prop master)
  Paul de Santis (Asst prop master)
  Harold Broner (Const coord)
Costumes: Betsy Cox (Cost des)
  Victoria Snow (Women's cost)
  Jim George (Men's cost)
Music: Bill Conti (Mus)
  Eugene Marks (Mus ed)
Sound: Martin Bolger (Sd)
  Hal Whitby (Boom op)
  Vern Poore (Re-rec mixer)
  Dick Alexander (Re-rec mixer)
  Andy MacDonald (Re-rec mixer)
  William L. Manger (Supv sd ed)
  Charles Moran (Sd eff ed)
  Milton C. Burrow (Sd eff ed)
  Jimmie Bullock (Sd eff ed)
Special Effects: Robert Peterson (Spec eff)
  Wayne Fitzgerald (Titles)
  Pacific Title (Opticals)
Make Up: Tom Case (Makeup artist)
  Ricardo Romero Jones (Makeup artist)
  Kathryn Blondell (Hair stylist)
  Rita Bordonaro (Hair stylist)
Production Misc: Jessica Overwise (Casting)
  Wally Nicita (Casting)
  Betty Chaplin (Scr supv)
  Gene Fioramonti (Loc mgr)
  Patrick Meunier (Loc mgr, French unit)
  Lt. Colonel Dennis R. Foley (U.S. Army tech adv)
  Master Sgt. Jim Barnett (U.S. Army tech adv)
  Deloris Claris Horn (Asst to Ms. Hawn)
  Lynne Coke (Asst to the prods)
  Bridgette Kelley (Asst to the prods)
  Lee Stitch (Prod coord)
  Edouard Garrouste (Prod coord, French unit)
  John Woodward (Transportation coord)
  Joan Eisenberg (Unit pub)
Stand In: Glynn Rubin (Stunt coord)
  Gina Picerni (Stunt double)
Color Personnel: John Walker (Color tech)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Brothers, Inc. 9/12/1980 dd/mm/yyyy PA87713

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Technicolor®
  Lenses/Prints: Lenses and Panaflex® Camera by Panavision®

Genre: Comedy
Subjects (Major): Housewives
  Military education
  Military service, Voluntary
  United States. Army
Subjects (Minor): Bars
  Cultural elitism
  Death and dying
  Impersonation and imposture
  Military education
  Paris (France)
  Practical jokes
  Radio programs
  Snobs and snobbishness

Note: The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Emily Barton, a student at Oregon State University, with Jon Lewis as academic advisor.

The film begins with the following text: “When Judy Benjamin was eight years old, she confessed her life’s desire to her best friend. ‘All I want,’ Judy whispered, ‘is a big house… nice clothes, two closets, a live-in maid, and a professional man for a husband.’ Today, all of Judy’s dreams come true.” The end credits conclude with: "Special Thanks to Sally Gutnick; Jerome A. Sheill, M.D."
       According to a 2 Mar 1980 LAT article, producer-writer Nancy Meyers conceived Private Benjamin for her business partner, actress Goldie Hawn, while driving. As noted in an 8 Oct 1980 NYT article, Hawn threatened Warner Bros. Pictures executives that she would make the film at another studio if they refused to produce it and, when Warners agreed, Hawn took on the role of executive producer. A 1979 DV news item announced that the film marked Hawn’s debut as a feature film producer, even though she served as an uncredited “ex-oficio producer” of The Girl from Petrovka (1974, see entry). DV noted that writers Charles Shyer, who was also Meyers’s husband, and Harvey Miller would be credited as producers and the film represented Nancy Meyers’s screenwriting debut. While Hawn told DV that the picture was budgeted between $6 and $7 million, LAT later stated that the budget was increased to $9.2 million.
       A 29 Aug 1979 Var news item announced that Arthur Hiller was set to direct the picture, which was scheduled to begin principal photography on 22 Oct 1979. On 29 Nov 1979, HR reported that Sam Wanamaker, who had subsequently been hired to direct, was instead cast in the role of “Teddy Benjamin.” Although a 30 Nov 1979 HR news item stated that actor Dabney Coleman was contracted to co-star in the picture, he did not remain with the project. A 3 Dec 1979 DV news item reported that principal photography began that day with Howard Zieff directing at The Burbank Studios in Burbank, CA. On 26 Feb 1980, HR noted that the production was moving to Paris, France, for its final two weeks of filming and on 12 Mar 1980, HR announced that the film had wrapped after a twelve week shoot.
       The 2 Mar 1980 LAT article stated that a U.S. Army obstacle course was constructed in Newhall, CA, behind Magic Mountain theme park, and active members of the U.S. Marines were hired as extras. Hawn’s stunt double, Glynn Rubin, was credited as the film’s stunt coordinator, marking the first time a woman held that position in a feature film, according to LAT .
       Although a 23 Aug 1980 Billboard news item stated that Paul Williams was contracted to compose lyrics for Bill Conti’s Private Benjamin theme song, he is not credited in the film.
       Despite the film’s mixed reviews, a 29 Oct 1980 Var news item announced that the film grossed over $18 million in the first seventeen days of its release and noted it was “particularly outstanding for this time of year.”
       Private Benjamin was adapted as a television series for Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1981 and ran for two seasons. Actress Eileen Brennan reprised the role of “Captain Doreen Lewis” in the series.
       As stated in a 5 Oct 2011 HR news item, a remake of Private Benjamin was in development at New Line Cinema.
       The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in the categories of Actress in a Leading Role (Goldie Hawn), Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Brennan) and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen). Private Benjamin ranked number eighty-two on AFI’s list of America’s 100 Funniest Movies.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Billboard   23 Aug 1980.   
Daily Variety   3 Dec 1979.   
Hollywood Reporter   29 Nov 1979.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 Nov 1979.   
Hollywood Reporter   26 Feb 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   12 Mar 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   7 Oct 1980   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Oct 2011.   
Los Angeles Times   2 Mar 1980   Section O, p. 30.
Los Angeles Times   10 Oct 1980   p. 1.
New York Times   8 Oct 1980   Section B, p. 8.
New York Times   10 Oct 1980   p. 6.
Variety   29 Aug 1979.   
Variety   8 Oct 1980   p. 20.
Variety   29 Oct 1980.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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