Ben Murphy threw back his head, laughter ringing out across the room to bounce off the walls in time to catch his next big guffaw. It was a sound of sheer, unbridled delight and joy, with something in it, indeed, of a boy who's found his wildest dreams of childhood coming true. Just like a kid in a candy shop...pick and choose, taste and toss... feel and discard...but Ben Murphy is NOT a boy, and he is in no candy shop. He is, instead, sharing the co-star spot with Roger Davis in Alias Smith and Jones on television. And he isn't having a ball with jawbreakers, either, but with girls...a fact he candidly confesses and frankly is enjoying thoroughly.
Then, still laughing, Murphy stopped and tried to get serious for a second. "All of which indicates I still have some problems to solve before even trying to settle down, right?"
The seriousness could not he maintained, and even as he recognized that this bouncing ball attitude might be just a bit juvenile, Ben clearly could not care less. He is having too much fun.
Every young, handsome, fast-rising male star in Hollywood has had the experience, once he has a "hit" show on his hands, of becoming suddenly extremely popular with women. As Paul Newman or Elliott Gould... or any man who's been through the leading-man scene. He might have been a guy to whom only three females had ever spoken before--one of whom was his own mother--but that alters almost instantly. Almost overnight, as if drawn by some unseen magnet, women seem to pop out of the woodwork and into the fellow's arms.
To some men, this has proved extremely frightening. To others, it has been like some exotic drug, to which they become so addicted they can never give it up. One of Hollywood's saddest scenes is that of the over-fifty, toupee-wearing star who still sees himself as the object of every young girl's desires. There are a lot of thosemen who never seem to be able to form a satisfactory, lasting relationship with one woman. They are the ones who end up in the divorce courts four, five, or half a dozen times.
Murphy, clearly, has more insight into his own situation than most. He has no intention, at least any time soon, of getting caught up in the usual Tinsel town marital rat race. He isn't even looking for anything "serious". Not now.
Actually, just the day before I interviewed Ben, another magazine had quoted him as saying, "I don't intend to marry until I'm sixty." That seemed a bit late, even for a man of Ben's candy-store propensities, and he reacted with disbelief and dismay when the story was brought to his attention.
"Hey!" he exclaimed, real alarm showing in his eyes. "I don't EVER recall saying anything like that at all. That's dumb. Not that I sometimes don't say dumb things, but not THAT dumb. If you're gonna sit around that long, why even bother at all. And I'm just not sure I ever will bother at all," he continued. There was a second of silence, then he said simply, "You see, theoretically, I think marriage is an outmoded institution."
Well, there it is, out there in plain sight. Was this another of these lengthy-lecturing exponents of "meaningful relationships"not marriagewith the opposite sex? If so, it was going to get dull.
No, as it turned out, that was not what Ben was. No big lines about "that little white paper means nothing" or "Man was not meant to love one person alone." Interestingly enough, what seemed to emerge from Ben's big concern wasmoney. Or so it sounded.
Money? Yes. Money and red tape. "Here's the way it works," he explained earnestly, leaning forward to emphasize the point. "You get married, and that costs money and you have to go through red tape with judges, etc. You get divorced and that REALLY costs money. But who gets rich? Why, lawyers, judges, and the end effect is the same. You're going to break up. At least half are, right? It's a fact that 50% of the people are divorcing. All I'm saying is, let's make it easier on the people getting a divorce, from an economicas well as emotionalpoint of view. We need to have a whole restructuring of marriage."
Money. That was a new angle from so young a man. Somehow dismaying. Ben, seeming to sense my unspoken surprise, grinned and added, "I have a fluctuating sense of values. Money is important to me because it means security to mebeing able to go to Arizona and buy a ranch and get away and live there if I want to.
"I don't go for just possessing physical things, as such," he went on. "I drive an old car that my mother gave me. I have an apartment that's largely unfurnished, with a few books and records around, and that's probably because my family was kinda poor and worked their way up."
Why, then, all the wariness? On the surface, Ben's life has had in it no tragic traumatic experiences to explain such jumpiness every time the subject of marriage arises. His own parents' union is, he insists, happy.
"It's the INSTITUTION, and the way it's handled," he tried again. "It's not just that so many couples I see are not helping each other grow...aren't being good for each other. That is an individual thing, and it is not a result of marriage. It's a personal weakness.
"But from the legal point of view, it's a problem; it's society's problem. And it's set up where just some people make money from other's failures. And divorceugh! That gives me a great distrust. That's why I'm distrustful of getting married in the first place. Because I'd hate to have it break up and have someone, first of all, take my children. And then take my money, too. I mean," he growled, "I think I might get mad enough to kill at that. And I'd get off cheaper, too," he snorted cynically.
"Then, too," Ben said in some sadness, "I don't think you should ever go into a relationship thinking it's going to be permanent or expecting it to be."
Again, Ben stopped, as if mustering his forces, then said, "I think you should go into it for what it is right then, and let the future take care of itself. If it's meant to be, it will. If you take care of the day-by-day, it will take care of itself and keep going forever. But you can't go into it expecting it, because you come into this world alone, and you're going to go out of it aloneperiod."
That's a defeatist attitude unusual in a man so young who's never been married even once. It displays a distrust of all those girls he dates that seems odd. "I DON'T trust women," Ben said bluntly, "but it's not just that. I don't trust human nature and institutions."
Then, quickly, he changed courses with "I do trust individuals," but hardly had it out of his mouth before he was right back with, "And, yet, I don't because you can never really trust. People change. But yet, I do think there is a way you can learn to trust without being naive. I've done some pretty stupid things in my life, and I've learned."
Once again, as if deliberately shying away from depth, Ben began to chortle. "Besides," he opined gleefully, "I'm having just too much fun right now to want to settle down into anything more. I LIKE being able to pick and choose. I like being able to afford that."
Ah, yes, Murphy was back to money again...or was he? Probably, at least partially. And why not? It must be fun, when one has had to be on a budget for most of one's life, to be able to order anything he wants. Why not have a flingor five? Why not?
Yet, even as he talked, there lurked somewhere a deeper insight. It wasn't all just ya-hoo and wariness and eagerness for the good times. There was something else, and Ben seemed to recognized that he'd been skirting it. Finally he stopped and faced the matter.
"I realize that I have much growing yet to do," he admitted. "And this, I have decided, is my time for doing that. Not just professionally, though certainly that is part of it. My ego is fine, but I can see I still have a lot to learn about my own craft.
"I see, too," he continued in a muted tone, "that there are a lot of things I need to discover about myself. I'm trying to use this chance I have to expand in every way. I'm taking singing lessons, and guitar.
"And," he suddenly confided in unusual candor, "I'm also starting some therapy in order to become a better person. Because I firmly believe that if I become a better person, I'll become a better actor. Or maybe it will be the other way around. Whichever leads which, it still will be all right.
"Because, you see, I recognize that before I can quit the merry-go-round sort of thing and settle down at all, I must work out those conflicting things within myself. My attitudes are very conflicting in many areas. And I realize that you don't just have to walk around with all that wariness. You still can trust and yet know how life is.
"You have to be willing to risk and know what the risk is and accept it," he said sturdily. "You have to be willing, before you get married, to risk that someday that woman could turn on you. You have to be willing to risk maybe giving up your children and half your fortune. You have to be prepared.
"And I ain't in that situation yet," he chuckled wryly.
No, and by his own analysis, not very likely to be until he can come to terms within himself to the dangers he envisions. Right now, obviously, the risks are far too much for Ben Murphy to accept. He just is not willing to put himself that far out on a limb.
Someday, however, he may well be willing...after he learns a bit more about trust. Or maybe after he can quit worrying with such force about his pocketbook, a thing which he apparently worries about nowadays more than he does his heart.
But then, as he says himself, this is his time to grow. He's honest enough to admit he needs to, and smart enough to start working at it.
In the meantime, though, he's just having
the finest time of his life. Girls, girls, girls. Just like a
honey bee from flower to flower; or a kid in a candy store. For
an attractive, single, male star in his second (almost third)
decade of life, Hollywood is some candy store!
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