by Peter Andrews
TV Guide, October 9, 1976
Television producer Harve Bennett specializes in resurrection. He had astronaut Steve Austin pulled out of the wreckage of that spacecraft and turned him into The Six Million Dollar Man. Then he saved Steve's girl friend after her sky-diving accident and transformed her into The Bionic Woman. And now, for something really difficult, Bennett is trying to bring The Invisible Man back from the dead.

The Invisible Man, starring David McCallum, ran for 11 moderately uninspiring segments last season, and then was dropped by NBC during the middle of the first season. It had about the same chance of surfacing again as the Andrea Doria. But NBC and Bennett claimed to detect a heartbeat in the invisible bosom, and they are trying again this season with Ben Murphy as Gemini Man.

As befits the man who is perhaps the most successful creator of humanoids since Frankenstein, Bennett sees the problem of constructing a new Invisible Man as primarily one of design.

"There are certain patterns in an adventure series that you vary at your peril," Bennett explains. "Frankly, we varied quite a few, and we paid the price."

A one-time Quiz Kid on the old radio series, Bennett has an analytical turn of mind and he ticked off the problems of the old version the way an experienced pilot goes through a preflight checklist.

"It was like a football team that builds its offense around the quarterback. We designed The Invisible Man to show off what David does best. He is an intellectual actor. He reacts and articulates well. It was one of the greatest disappointments in my life that we couldn't build him into a top-banana action hero. But, essentially, David was a dry, egghead hero. He couldn't throw a punch. He couldn't chase a villain. And he couldn't take off his shirt. All of the things the American public likes in an action hero. So, now we have retailored the show around a different personality, and built a new offense." Coming off the bench is Ben Murphy, a karate-trained long-distance runner who can bare his chest with the best of them.

"With Ben in the lead, Gemini Man is an entirely new show," Bennett says. "He brings an energy level and a sense of humor that David didn't have. David was rather serious about the whole business of invisibility. But Ben is the sort who realizes that it might be fun to use it to get into the girls' dormitory every once in a while."

Like the part he plays, Ben Murphy is something of a reclaimed character himself. Four years ago, he was one of the busiest young actors in show business. As soon as his series Alias Smith and Jones wound down, he went to Chicago for a play and then flew back to Hollywood for a running part in the short-lived Griff series with Lorne Greene. When Griff folded, he went into a TV-movie. After that was in the can, he headed off on a grueling 10-week personal-appearance tour. That over, he flew to Australia to film "Side Hack." On his way home, he stopped off in Hawaii and dropped out of sight. For almost two years he was scarcely heard from professionally.

Looking back at that period, Ben recalls, "I had gotten fed up with work and my attitude. I had become so preoccupied with myself that I wasn't treating other performers the way I expected to be treated myself. I had become a real pain.

"I had to get away and sort myself out. When you have programmed yourself negatively for a long time, it takes a while to turn yourself around."

Ben's therapy was tennis. He went to a tennis camp on the island of Maul and played tennis for the next two years--sometimes as much as 25 or 30 sets a week. He worked his way up from a hacker to a solid club player good enough to play the amateur-tournament circuit.

A person who deserts his career for a couple of years to learn how to hit a fuzzy ball leaves himself open to being called what psychiatrists term an "obsessive personality." It is a charge to which Ben Murphy pleads a happy "guilty."

"I've always tended to be obsessive about things. When I was in high school, I was a worker and the most success-oriented kid you ever saw."

He pursued a varied academic career through eight colleges and universities, picking up two degrees, and searching for a goal that was sometimes only dimly perceived. During vacations, he took special courses in everything from karate to folk dancing, just to keep his mind and body in gear between examinations. He took drama courses as a "kind of therapy to help me find out more about myself." For a while, it seemed that acting might be the answer.

"I was going to be the complete actor," Ben remembers. "When I was going to USC, I used to sneak onto the stage of the Bovard Auditorium to work on my diction in a huge, empty house. I even went to a surgeon and had him cut my tongue so I could roll my r's when I got to play Shakespeare."

As currently constituted, however, show business generally has other continued plans for staggeringly good-looking actors who look good on a horse, whether they can roll their r's or not: Murphy got a lot of work in TV in which he was almost invariably cast in parts as the likable hero who said "Howdy, ma'am" and was terribly charming. He did the parts well and they filled his pockets and his hours, but not his restless life. In fairly short order, Ben Murphy developed a reputation for being something of a prima donna on the set and a playboy off it.

For the last two years, Ben has been working himself into shape mentally and physically. The baby fat from his days on Alias Smith and Jones is gone, and so is his old attitude. While he is not exactly ready to adopt the monastic cowl in his bachelor condominium apartment near the beach at Malibu, he does lead what is, by Hollywood standards, an ascetic existence.

"I have come to realize," he says, "that health and physical fitness are the most important things in life. Everything else fades into insignificance."

Ben trains himself as assiduously as a competition athlete something he never did in school. "I was never a jock," he explained. "I was always too busy working to get ahead to take care of myself properly."

Instead of a scrapbook, Ben keeps a record of his fitness program. He can tell you the time of every mile he has run in the last two years, including split times for each quarter mile. At 34, he is working to run the mile in under six minutes and to score on the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise program at the champion-athlete level.

Ben admits that calisthenics are boring, to the point of being concerned that he may be getting a little boring about fitness himself, but he keeps at them. "The only way to keep from going crazy doing organized exercise is to set goals for yourself. Each day when I go out for my roadwork I say to myself, 'Today I'm going to do a real fast 440 or a good mile, or whatever.' It isn't so important whether you actually meet your goals. The important thing is that you set goals and try."

Right now, Ben Murphy's goal is a simple one: to let his acting pay for his tennis and the rest of the physical regimen he has embarked on. In fact, it was tennis, not any nostalgia for the profession of acting, that brought Ben back to work.

"When I was on Alias Smith and Jones, I used to be invited to a lot of celebrity-tennis tournaments. Then I was always the worst celebrity. Now I am one of the best, but when you haven't been on a series for a while, they forget about you, and the invitations stop coming in. I wanted to get invited again."

For whatever reason Ben returned to show business, Harve Bennett is glad to have him back. "Pound for pound, Ben Murphy is the best action hero since Errol Flynn," claims Bennett.

He is going to have to be at least that good. In its Thursday slot, Gemini Man is up against The Waltons on one side, and Welcome Back, Kotter and Barney Miller on the other. Murphy's assignment is as tough as anything the Invisible Man will ever be given.

"We have great attraction for the kids," says Bennett, "but so have Kotter and even The Waltons."

It is a difficult assignment and odds are long, but Murphy is taking a relaxed view.

"I realize I'm on the line. My face is the one that's up there on the screen. If the show fails, my failure will be the greatest, no matter where the real fault lies. But I'm not going to let this show take over my life and dominate me. I'm going to do it effortlessly and joyously. If it works, fine. If it doesn't work, there's always something else."

There's always the Senior Men's National Championship, and Ben Murphy plans to be there waiting when Jimmy Connors gets old enough.

Back to Articles List