A pale, fair-haired, lanky performer, William Atherton first distinguished himself in the theater. After becoming the youngest member of the Long Wharf Theater Company (New Haven, Connecticut) while still a high school student, he went on to off-Broadway where he originated the part of Ronnie Shaughnessy in John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves," as well as the title roles of David Rabe's "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel" (both 1971) and David Wiltse's "Suggs in the City" (1972). That year also saw him make his Broadway debut in the short-lived "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" and his feature debut in "The New Centurions." Often cast as weaklings or high-strung characters, Atherton attracted attention as the likably charismatic escaped convict husband of Goldie Hawn in Steven Spielberg's "The Sugarland Express" (1974) and struck the correct balance of ambition and bewilderment as the aspiring art director whose perceptions of Hollywood shape John Schlesinger's "The Day of the Locust" (1975). He also turned up as a persistent suitor of Diane Keaton in "Looking For Mr. Goodbar" (1977), his last feature for seven years.