Has anyone been reading the Show Business trade papers recently? Because the story they tell is a favorable one for Ben Murphy. His career is in terrific shape; his TV show Alias Smith and Jones, is doing fine, ratings-wise; he's fast becoming one of the most sought-after young actors in Hollywood. He's certainly making enough money. And he should be able to find lots of interesting ways to spend it, being the decisively intelligent young man that he is. Which brings us back to Ben Murphy's head. Just what is wrong up there anyway?
"You can't go into life expecting too much, because you come into this world alone and you're going out of it alone--period.
"I don't understand me. I'm a stranger to myself. I feel I am different from the crowd. If most people go one way I go the other. I float through life alone...
"I recognize that before I can quit the merry-go-round sort of thing... I must work out those conflicting things within myself. My head is very conflicting in very many areas...
"I'm starting therapy in order to become a better person.
"I don't trust women...I think they're out to get me...
"My life has been heaped with guilt...
"Sometimes I think I'm going off the deep end!"
Ben Murphy's head. Would you be interested in taking a brief guided tour?
Ben Murphy is a bright, good-looking, successful young TV actor whose life, and career, are right now in very crucial stages, and so Ben must walk the emotional tightrope that many other bright, good-looking, successful young actors have walked before him. He grew up poor, struck it rich on his Paul Newman-like looks and kinky, casual acting talent, and now he belongs to that handful of "ambitious young male leads" who have made it to the top of at least one professional heap--he's got his own television program. Now, Hollywood is a town famous for devouring such young men, for chewing them up and spitting them out in the gutter of obscurity before the young actor's friends and associates can even say "Whatever happened to...?" But Ben's case is different--according to Ben. He intends to be around a good long while--assuming, of course, that his fragile psyche can withstand the tensions. Unfortunately for Ben, the evidence that's come in so far would point to the very real possibility that maybe his strained mental state won't make it.
"I'm happy with myself and I'm not," he pleads. "I'm down to earth, really"--but then, there are those difficult "deep end" moments. What's a fame-and-success hungry young star to do?
One such "Deep end" moment for Ben was the time, some years ago, while working on the TV program The Name of the Game, that a young lady with whom he had been madly in love left him for another. Ben was so hurt by the fractured relationship that he grew sluggish and careless; he just didn't seem to give a damn about living anymore. As a result of all this, he lost his job on Name of the Game. What happened next? As Mr. Murphy tells it:
"I jumped into my car and went on a three thousand mile skiing trip. I hit all the resorts, methodically, like a madman. I skied the roughest slopes I could find, hoping maybe I'd get lucky and mangle myself up. I wrote a screenplay about self-destruction. I never finished it."
Ben's whole life has been an unending series of "almost" big finishes. He's constantly paranoid that "this time, he's done for good"--and that it's always his own fault. Because of the "iffy" way in which he views his own life, he is terrified at the prospect of committing himself--and so, veers away from any discussion of marriage; although there are a bevy of beautiful girlfriends pushing hard to change his mind. Ben may answer their, pleas with a terse "Nuts to you"; but what he really means is "Me--you wouldn't want any part of me. Me--I'm the one who's nuts!"
But maybe the intense Mr. Murphy is being just a wee bit too hard on himself. After all, we are living in a supposedly enlightened age, in which psychological and emotional problems are not viewed as "possessions by the devil." Psychiatrist is no longer a dirty word; most people are perfectly willing to admit that they have moments of instability, that their private lives are not bedrocks of mental perfection. In fact does anyone know anybody whose life is? What a boring person he or she probably would be! And anyone who is unwilling to admit that they have their share of hang-ups--well, that person could be suffering from a serious case of up-tightness.
Having one or two minor screws loose is nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly doesn't mean that that person is "doomed" to a life of pain and misery. So why is Big Ben Murphy so defeatist?
Indeed, in an age when Senator Thomas Eagleton, onetime candidate for Vice-President, con confess to the use of psychiatric care and shock treatments, and have much of the electorate sympathize with him for it, why should actor Ben Murphy be so panicky about his quirks of untogetherness?
When groups of former mental patients are organizing to get better public treatment for themselves, to educate America about the "normalcy" of psychological problems, why is Ben so down in the dumps?
The answers to these questions lie in Ben's youth and background, where he was always striving for perfection, for smashing success, either in the world of high school athletics or college academics. He just doesn't cotton to any of his big plans going awry--and that goes for the condition of his head, too. He just can't adjust to the possibility that... well, that he has a tough time adjusting--to stardom that is.
These "personality malfunctions" are additionally fed by Ben's insecurity that his success on TV may slip away. Talking about the possibility of Alias Smith and Jones being cancelled Ben nervously blurts out these words:
"I'd die. I have a brooding fear of being out on the street tomorrow. Money means freedom. I save more than half the bread I make on this show. I don't want to be poor again."
That hardly sounds like the casual, carefree young fellow who delights viewers from coast-to-coast with his breezy portrayal of Kid Curry. Yet, how could Murphy play it so cool on the screen when he's really a ball of tension in the flesh? The answer, ironically, and yet perhaps predictably, is that, for Ben Murphy, it wasn't always this way. Before striking it big Ben was something of loose liver, a young fellow with a strong inclination to "take it slow". The same guy who now says "money means freedom" once told an interviewer:
"I don't go for possessing physical things, as such. I drive an old car that my mother gave me. My apartment is largely unfurnished; the design is 'cheap motel plastic.' But I don't care. Those sort of things don't really matter."
But that was then--now Murphy's pad is adorned with numerous expensive little knick knacks, the anchors of success, the dead weights of "security" which are bringing down Ben's head, and paradoxically are making him all the more insecure.
But it isn't just success which has hurt Ben Murphy. The suicide, last year, by Ben's co-star and good pal, Peter Duel, certainly had a tremendous effect on Ben's current state of mind. Pete's sad saga and tragic ending may have jolted Ben out of his carefree philosophy; it may have made him more aware of how fleeting true happiness is, how "success" as defined by conventional authority may just be the most restricting trap of all.
And so Ben trods on, hoping to catch the
brass ring of true fulfillment. He's not all that different from
me and you. And perhaps he'll make it too, if he can shake off
all the "gotta make it big" brainwashing which has been
messing his mind up so. What Ben and what many of us have to learn
is that problems are nothing to be ashamed of, that hang-ups are
not necessarily fatal, and that all of us on the face of this
earth, are capable of growing beyond our neuroses and choosing
a clearer, fresher vision of who we are and what we want out of
life--independent of any worship of the clay idol of conventional
"success." Ben Murphy's head may be a very confused
place right now, but if he can shake off the guilt and bring some
order and rationality to it, he'll see that there's really nothing
to panic about. The only limits to Ben Murphy's potential are
the limits that he imposes himself.
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