Although Ben is a star in his own television series, often at the mercy of mobs of adoring fans, he remains, by his own admission, obsessed by loneliness, a characteristic for which Dean is still remembered.
"Whatever artistry there is in my work," says Ben, "is due entirely to my loneliness. It's a force that prompts me to turn to creative self-expression because I am unable to establish the relationships most people enjoy."
This seems completely out of character for the youthful, virile star who was recently described in a press release as "the world's greatest lover."
Ben dismisses such a title as part of studio press agentry. The superfluous phrase obviously does not give full credit to the inner convictions of his complex, thoughtful personality, but he has come to realize that in many respects a television star is a commodity to be used for promotional and business purposes by agents, studios, and publicists. He accepts this as a part of the price he must pay for the chance to act.
Photo Caption: Ben relishes his solitary moments because they remind him that in his business, the fans of today can be gone tomorrow.
"I can't think of anything I'd rather do than act," he explains. "It gives me a chance for the self-expression that I must exercise. Acting lets me turn on to humanity while I'm still struggling to establish a meaningful one-to-one relationship that has evaded me to this point in my life.
"That's why I haven't married yet," he continues. "Marriage requires that a sound, mutual relationship be established, and I'm not capable of doing that with any woman at this time."
Now 30 years old, Ben was a teenager himself when James Dean was tragically killed in an automobile crash.
"I was like a lot of other kids...James Dean's death really affected me," he says.
Perhaps one of the reasons Ben was so affected was that as a youth, he too suffered loneliness, and his identification with an idol provided him with the same type of emotional outlet that young people now find with him.
As the death of James Dean was to affect him, so later was another death--the suicide of Peter Duel, his original partner in the series. Peter's death has influenced Ben's life--and the character of the show.
"I just refuse to talk about how Peter's death affected me personally," he remarks. "It is just too personal a thing to discuss, and I don't share those parts of my life.
Photo Caption: The handsome, debonair bachelor was a lonely, awkward teenager who stayed home nights when others were dating.
"But it has helped transform the show into something of an institution among its fans.. especially in Europe, where Smith and Jones has taken on the characteristics of a 'cult audience.'
"I recently visited Norway, and the reaction of fans there was overwhelming. The public television system is only on the air from six o'clock until midnight, so if your show is on there, everyone sees it. And they are rabid fans."
Often, a public appearance for him can present a great personal risk to him. He is mobbed by his fans. At one recent charity "walk," for example, thousands of young girls nearly crushed him. Ben, however, keeps a proper perspective on their reactions.
"A lot of it is the 'mob hysteria' action that is created by having a large group of people together and then announcing that there is a television star in the middle of them. Of course, in my case, the association with the show and its characters helps a lot. To kids, we seem omnipotent, able to solve all problems. And the characters of Smith and Jones are engaging ones. They aren't trite western heroes found in some series, and as a result, the kids have really picked us up.
Photo Caption: He is constantly seen around Hollywood with different girls, in this case, columnist Marvene Jones, but no romance has developed.
"I realize that we don't have the widest audience in the country. But we have a good show with good characters, and as a result, we have a devoted following. It's a lot like the Star Trek series--not the biggest audience, but a strong one."
Ben understands his youthful fans who over-react to his presence in public places. They are simply attempting to communicate with someone. "I was much the same way as a kid. Being a teenager isn't always an easy thing, and kids need someone they can identify with."
His observations were borne out during the charity walk in which he participated to raise money for crippled children. After the initial excitement of his presence wore off, the young adults set out on their hike. Throughout the 20-mile walk, the teenagers would approach Ben, talk to him, ask him questions, and, after a short while, move on. Always, Ben was thoughtful, courteous and attentive. Watching him, it seemed impossible that this was the young man who had said he could not establish a meaningful one-to-one relationship.
One poignant example came during the march where a young girl, too shy to walk with the other marchers, was introduced to Ben by the police escort. Ben took her by the hand and walked and talked with her for 30 minutes, sharing something of himself with her. Often she would smile at something he'd say, but only she could hear... Ben was speaking softly, intending the conversation to remain between them.
Later, when an observer commented that Ben had given the girl a special memory, he remarked, "she had given me something warm to remember, too."
Still, after the march it would be the same Ben Murphy who would quietly board a plane for his return trip to Los Angeles. Dressed in old blue jeans and a shirt, he would go unnoticed. He knew this, and that was the way he wanted it.
Photo Caption: His bon-vivant image is a creation of the press. He is actually a poetic, introspective young man, struggling to reach out to others.
"I don't travel with a large group. That isn't my style. Some stars bring 20 press agents and photographers with them wherever they go and pull up in big Rolls Royces to be noticed. That's not my style. Sometime I just like to get on a plane and go. I don't need all that other stuff. And it's seldom that anyone will recognize me. That's good because it makes you realize that the whole thing--the fans grabbing for you, the screaming girls--can be gone tomorrow. It's a created thing and you can't let it cloud over your real personality.
"Recently a girl told me, 'I bet you were the high school stud.' I had to laugh because all through school, I sat in my basement at home reading books. I was a skinny, scared kid who couldn't make friends.
"Now I'm a butterfly. I just started growing after high school, my features began to change and I'm a totally different looking person."
Still, despite his newly found good looks and muscular build, Ben finds meaningful relationships are evasive. He says he went to "nine different colleges before receiving a degree in political science from the University of Illinois.
"I would stay a year at a school and then move on to meet new friends, make new acquaintances. I liked to pick up and go, to do things on my own. Each school was a new challenge, a new group of people to meet and then leave behind." It was in college, however, that Ben was to turn to acting as a means of self-expression.
"I began to play in and direct some
college stage productions, and about five years ago, an agent
saw me and signed me to a contract. My first part was a one-line
walk-on in The Graduate."
What of the future? Ben is characteristically frank about it, also. "My primary concern now is to do a good job at what I am doing. I am an actor and I want to be a good one. Certainly I would like to do movies and I am under contract to a studio. It's up to them to decide what they want to do with me. Regardless, I'll be working on Smith and Jones or some other acting job.
"What I want is whatever my artistry, my talent will provide for me. Beyond that, I can't make any claims on anybody or anything. I want what I deserve as an artist and as a person. But I know I'll always remain in acting or show business, it's just something I can't give up.
"Somewhere along the line, I would
like to get married... to have children of my own. Maybe I'm just
now beginning to be able to accept meaningful relationships. Until
then, I'll keep on doing what I am doing now ... picking up and
going from town to town, from group to group, turning on to humanity."
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