"I remember it well," said the handsome star of ABC-TV's new series, Alias Smith and Jones.
"She was a good girl, and she couldn't understand why I would just pick up and leave. But I have to keep moving...keep looking for something keep growing!
"It's some deep-seated psychological thing which I don't pretend to understand," Ben said, almost apologetically. "Nothing is ever perfect--you have to keep moving. That doesn't mean you will ever find perfection, but there is so much to learn.
"You know, the other side of that coin is that maybe you will never be totally happy, either, because you will never totally accept what you're doing as final. But I think you can make a peace--a compromise between the two--so that you can constantly grow and yet be happy in the process of growing."
Ben's constant search for "the new" took him to Mexico City--on one of the oldest and slowest trains imaginable. "I was not quite sure whether I was ever going to get there," he laughed. But, eventually, he did.
On his arrival, he registered at the University of the Americas--a fine English-speaking school--for courses in Spanish, history and political science. At that time, he was not yet interested in drama, and had not thought of becoming an actor.
He happily settled into a room in a little pension which was run by a little old Spanish woman who had come over during the Spanish civil war. He ate Mexican food, and began learning Spanish in the streets more than in class.
Ben had already attended several different colleges in his constant search for "something better," but for the time being, at least, he was content in Mexico City.
"It was beautiful," he exclaimed. "You wake up in the morning and there are mountains all around and clear air. And remember, you are at 7,000 feet when you're in Mexico City--so one drink and you're on your way! Then there is that feeling you have at high altitudes--you sleep better, and the pace of life is more leisurely. I loved it there."
And then one day Ben met the girl who would become the most important romance of his young life, a girl named Ginny, though he pronounces her name "Jenny".
"I met her in school one day," Ben recalled. "She was a blonde, blue-eyed, all-American girl--happy, spontaneous, effervescent. She loved life and just radiated that kind of glow.
"I first saw her in a big lunchroom. I spotted her across the room and right away I asked her to have Thanksgiving dinner with me. She said she was busy, but after that we dated once or twice before Christmas.
"I remember we went to the Hilton Hotel once. They have a ballroom on top of the hotel, and we danced there. I remember taking her home in a cab--and she wouldn't let me kiss her.
"I didn't really get to know Ginny until Christmas vacation. She lived in Detroit, and I lived in Chicago, so she invited me to visit her home over the holidays.
"During that vacation, my father gave me an old car--a 1954 Chevy--which I drove back to college, while Ginny took a plane.
"We really got into it in January and February, though. We used to take off together in this old car. We would go with another couple or just by ourselves, and we would travel on weekends and holidays through all the little towns in Mexico. We would get both the Mexican holidays and the American holidays, so we always had a lot of vacations!
"We would take off to the obvious places--like Acapulco and Vera Cruz, visit all the little towns, too--places of archaeological interest or just tiny villages. We hopped around the country like that all year.
"We had a very nice, full romance. How serious was it? I guess I loved Ginny more than any other girl I have known in my life. That was seven years ago, and I never forgot her."
As for Ginny's feelings toward Ben, he said, "She liked me at the time. But mine were much deeper, because even then, Ginny realized that we were both much too young.
"We had our traumas, like everybody else. We had our fights--over nothing, really. Basically, they were caused by my insecurity and immaturity...and sometimes by jealousy. But we never stopped seeing each other that year. We lived very close to each other. Ginny lived in a pension, too, with about three of four girls. It was a private home that was rented out to American students."
What happened to the romance? Ben's face reflected sadness as he told me about it: "When we returned to the United States, in June of 63, we came back together in my old car with a couple of other people. Then Ginny went to a summer camp to be a counselor, and I had a summer job with the railroad. We saw each other during the summer, but the relationship disintegrated rapidly.
"There was just no communication any more. Ginny already knew that she had to move on; she had things in her life that she wanted to do. She wanted to join the Peace Corps and work with children overseas, which she eventually did. And so she finished her senior year in Ohio, and I finished mine in Illinois. And during that year we just drifted apart.
"I went to visit her in Ohio, in October of 63, and that was the last contact we ever had. Our break-up was very emotional. I didn't want to let her go, because she was my security. She was like everything to me. She was my guide. She really taught me a lot.
"I learned a lot from that woman, because she had a lot to give and to teach. And so I didn't really want to break the apron strings with her, so to speak, although it was something that had to be done. And, in retrospect, I'm glad I did, because I am where I am today as a result of that relationship.
"Ginny taught me how to love, how to feel toward life, how to have a positive attitude toward life. She made me want to relish every moment... to make myself useful in life, as a positive force ... to find something that I wanted to do in life, and do it for the good of all concerned.
"And so, out of that grew my acting--as a means of self-expression, and as a means of being a positive influence. And that's why Ginny started it all, really. She made me the man I am, through her own influence as a woman."
Significantly, it was during the months immediately following his romance with Ginny that Ben Murphy began acting. It happened at the University of Illinois, where he spent his senior year. He had previously attended several colleges in his search for a goal in life, but only after he had known Ginny did that goal become clear.
Ben was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, 28 years ago, and first attended school in nearby Memphis. When he was eight, his parents moved to Chicago; he was raised in and around that city.
In high school, he was known as something of a loner--preferring the company of a good book to that of his classmates. School...and life itself ... bored him--drove him to attend a total of nine colleges in eight years.
At one college, Ben tried to spend a year as a fraternity man. It was a year given over largely to booze and girls. But he tired of that, too, and moved on. Then came the year in Mexico, and the girl who changed his life.
At the University of Illinois, following his break-up with Ginny, Ben did his first acting with the university drama group. He had noticed a casting call in the college paper.
He acted in several college plays that year, beginning with a bit in Julius Caesar, and found that he enjoyed acting very much. So, after graduation, he enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse. An agent spotted him while he was doing a play in Los Angeles, with Lurene Tuttle, and sent him around to the studios for auditions.
His first movie role was a two-line bit in The Graduate, followed by a bigger part in Yours, Mine and Ours. Then he was signed to a Universal contract. He spent two years as Robert Stack's sidekick in The Name of the Game, before winning one of the title roles in Alias Smith and Jones.
Does he know what became of Ginny? Indeed he does. "The last I heard of her, she had gone to Turkey with the Peace Corps and married a Turkish citizen. She still lives there," Ben noted.
There have been many girls in his life since then, but none who meant as much to him as his first real love.
"I broke up with a chick last year whom I cared for a lot," Ben told me, "but not as much as I did for Ginny."
When asked to elaborate, he admitted, "Well, I went with this chick off and on for a year, and she stayed with me off and on. In this case, the girl was immature. I liked her anyway, but she wasn't ready for a mature relationship.
"I think I learned more about myself as a result of the relationship than I learned from her. She only taught me in the sense that I learned how I reacted to her.
"I did learn that I am capable of getting hung up, of getting off to a negative trip, of getting off my positive track. I used to think that I could just be totally positive, that nothing could get me down. Well, it can! It can happen--people can drag you down.
"Yes, she dragged me down--by her vibrations. 'Vibrations' is an overused word, but I can't think of anything else. She did it just by not being totally behind me--not loyal--not really involved in making me happy. Not that she had to be totally involved in making me happy, but...it's hard to explain!"
One of the ways the girl "hung Ben up" was by living with him, he revealed with a smile, "because my apartment is too small! It's a one-bedroom apartment near Universal.
"The experience taught me that I am going to have to have a very big home, with a room for myself that nobody can get into. I'm going to have to preserve my own private area as a male, always. I have to."
He admitted that the girl also had suffered from living in such cramped quarters. Perhaps, that's one of the reasons she walked out on him.
"These are the only two chicks who have split on me--Ginny and this one," he said. "It hurt when she left a year ago, but a lot of that was ego hurt. I let her go, because I figured that if she had to do what she was going to do, then it was best for her to go and do it."
Ben eased his hurt by skiing. "I skied all the time, and so a lot of my dates after that were with girls that went skiing with me. That's the way I got over that relationship--I just skied and skied and skied!" He smiled at the memory.
Despite the unhappy outcome of the affair, Ben still believes in young people living together before--or without--marriage.
"I believe in it because I live in California and that is really the accepted social style here," Ben said. "I believe in anything that helps two people get the greatest benefit out of each other. I mean that in a very positive sense. You know, there are just different social customs for different times. If marriage was good for a certain time in history--fine! But now it is right to live with someone first."
But he sees living together as leading to marriage, at least in his own case. "Naturally, I want to get married someday," he said. "I mean, I want to have the ceremony and all that--I really do. But if I feel it's necessary to live with a chick, then I'll live with her."
I asked Ben what he thought about people having children without getting married. His answer was:
"The only thing that is relevant to me is that two people are capable of taking care of the child and giving it the love it needs. I don't care if a man and a woman who are living together have a child without being married, or whether a woman brings up a baby by herself or whether it's an unmarried man who raises a child--as long as the child is given love and raised to be a well-balanced human being.
"Because, God knows, there are a lot of married couples who can really mess up a child! So whoever can do the job right, I am all for them having children--and for those who can't do the job right, not having children!"
Ben doesn't believe that having unmarried parents can in itself harm a child. "I don't think that children relate that way," he explained. "I don't think that kind of thing is important to them."
At the moment, Ben isn't living with anybody, but he is dating a great many girls.
"I see a lot of people. I have a lot of really good girls whom I date. I call them up or just drop in. I will drop in at two or three in the morning sometimes.
"As far as appearance goes, I like all types of girls. I used to think that I liked blondes, but I'm beginning to learn that I like all women," he said with an appreciative grin.
Nevertheless. Ben has certain preferences as far as personality goes, and he was quick to talk about them. "I like a chick who is very positive. I guess that's the key word: She has to be very positive and love life. If there is the least little negative thing, I will pick it up immediately and shy away. However, that doesn't mean she has to be glowing and effervescent all the time. Also, I value honesty."
The girls Ben dates are seldom actresses. "I have nothing against actresses," he explained. "I guess I just don't meet many."
In fact with Ben's good looks and friendly personality, women usually find him.
"I don't really approach them, they usually approach me," he told me. "A woman has a way of letting you know she's interested without walking up to you and saying, Hey, do you want to come home with me for tonight? And once I pick up the signal, which I am always on the lookout for, then I go pick her up."
One actress Ben does occasionally date is Monica Peterson, a talented young performer who was formerly under contract to 20th Century-Fox and was a Deb Star representing that studio a few years ago.
Monica is black, and Ben is a boy from the Deep South--but their friendship has easily hurdled racial barriers.
However, he pointed out, "Monica and I are just friends. We ran into each other at the Golden Globe Awards about two years ago. And as we were standing there, photographers ran up and snapped pictures.
"Monica is out of town a lot--in Europe or somewhere--so whenever she gets in, she will ring and say, Hi.' If she's invited to some function and is not going with anybody--you know, not involved with anyone--she will usually ask me."
When Ben was asked what he and Monica talk about, he smiled and said, "Gee, I remember sitting down and talking to Monica once about real estate! Her family has property back in Virginia. My family has land, too, and I have always been interested in it. So we spent one whole evening talking about land--and about our families."
Although Ben was born in the South, he said he didn't have to overcome any prejudice in himself before dating a black girl.
"I was never aware of any prejudice as I was growing up. You see, I left Arkansas when I was eight," he pointed out. "It takes a while for adults to ruin a child. I just wasn't aware of prejudice."
He smiled wryly as he added, "To show you how racist they were in Arkansas, in the county where I grew up there were no Negroes, they weren't even allowed in the county! As a result, I was never aware of any prejudices. Plus my mother and father never had them. I was very fortunate that they didn't."
Ben and Monica have attended a number of Hollywood functions together, including the premiere of Scrooge and the Photoplay Gold Medal Awards party. But he says he has never heard any criticism of their dates.
As for his own feelings about interracial dating in today's world: "I don't really think about it, that's how I feel. I could care less! That's up to whatever people want to do. It's freedom of choice."
But he stressed again that Monica is not a romance, anyway. She is a friend. And his emphasis upon the word showed that he truly values her friendship.
Although Ben is not seriously involved with any woman at the moment, he insists that "the man-woman relationship is really the whole basis of my life. It's as if my life has been an attempt to adjust to it, to make that relationship a happy one. All the growth that I have gone through has been so that I could have a happy man-woman relationship. To me, that's what it's all about!
"I had childhood problems that had to be worked out. I was a loner who never did things the way other people did them. I never took the same road other people took--which is good in some ways, except it makes you think you're a little freaky. You keep wondering why you're not like other people. That used to bother me when I was younger.
"I found it difficult to communicate with people. And there was a lack of feeling, which comes from the fear of being hurt. I wouldn't reach out to people emotionally. But acting helped that. It taught me to feel...if I get hurt, I get hurt. I learned that from women, too, of course! That's where you get hurt the most--in a love relationship.
"But I know now that it's better to feel as much as you can feel. If you really feel for people and really take a chance in a relationship, especially a man-woman relationship, then you can't really get hurt. You can get disappointed, but you can't really get hurt. Because you've done what you have to do. You have loved someone, and if they don't return it, it may be too bad--but you have done your part."
Ben smiled. "Giving and loving is really a state of mind, you know. If one person rejects it, there will be somebody else that will accept it--that's for sure!"
Now Ben is looking for that "someone." Some of the women in his life have rejected him, while he has rejected others. But he is ready to give his love willingly to the right woman, even if it means taking a chance on being hurt.
Meanwhile, he's playing the field--not
because he's afraid of love, but because he's looking for it...waiting
for it to come back into his life. And when it does, he'll be
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