by Tony Bowen
Movieland and TV Time, June 1972
Has tragedy made Ben Murphy look at his life with new eyes?

Ben Murphy hasn't had a ticket for speeding since he was seventeen. But if traffic cops were ladies, they'd be pulling him over to the curb constantly. For pure pleasure.

In "Alias Smith and Jones," he's a devil-may-care, handsome highwayman. In real life, he gives a similar impression: half serious, half put-on--and who knows which is which? Either way, he's totally charming. Ask any girl who screams or sighs or dreams over his picture.

Photo Caption: Ben has had the same pressure on him that Pete Duel had--but they are very different in real life. He enjoys doing "Alias Smith and Jones".

He's dashing--adventurous usually, but right now Ben is devastated by the death of his friend, Peter Duel--and was one of the first to arrive at the house afterward. But he was so upset he could find no words to express his grief--his blue eyes mirrored the pain of his loss far more poignantly than anything he could have said, as he stumbled blindly away from the sad scene. Some actors might have used even those tragic moments to get into the limelight--but never Ben. He only mourned that Peter would never again ride through those happy-go-lucky scenes with him, as he had since the series began.

The studio immediately found a replacement for Duel. Roger Davis, who appeared in THE YOUNG COUNTRY, a movie made for television and produced by Roy Huggins (the same man who produces the series) will play that role. Oddly enough, Peter too played in THE YOUNG COUNTRY. He was the heavy who was killed at the end of the film.

There were unkind reports that Ben was uncooperative in the first few rehearsals after Peter's death--gossip that must have hurt Ben's sensitive nature, if he heard them. But anyone who knows Ben would know there was far more grief than malice in his reluctance to go back to those scenes he'd played with a friend now gone.

Ben had told Peter, as he did other co-workers, how much he looked forward to seeing The Scarecrow, a television play in which Pete played what he had termed his "most rewarding role." Ironically it was scheduled--and shown four times--two weeks after Peter's death!

The two men had quickly established an easy rapport when they went to work on the Alias set. They'd enjoyed each other's company. But there were "certain areas we didn't tread." Ben told me. "We talked about careers and futures, but we didn't really get personal." They didn't need to. "How do you explain it?" he asked thoughtfully. "Without talking, we knew what was going on!" He described it as the same kind of awareness you might have with a brother or sister--the kind husbands and wives might have. "I imagine it's the same thing--you understand it but certain things you just don't talk about very much. They're there, and you know they're going on... you know how people feel."

Photo Caption: Like everyone else in Hollywood, Ben was stunned and saddened by Pete's death. It takes away a lot of the joy of a hit show!

There was a favored subject for discussion: "Women." But. "It was all superficial talk," Ben admitted. "Occasionally we'd talk about women in relation to own psychological problems--which may be beneficial--but most of the talk was strictly man-talk. Fun-talk."

It was like holding up for inspection two, sides of a coin. Two sides of a personality, oddly shared by these co-stars. The "fun" side: the rollicking, gleam in the eye mischief--and the serious side: the sensitivity, the deep awareness.

"That's something that I personally like to work on," he'd said. "To become more aware and sensitive. It's spooky, in a way. It's scary. Awareness is something you can develop if you want to." But then he added. "There's a built-in reaction to become a little too aware.

"It's all a little memory bank that we compare with--that's all our knowledge is."

He's well established in the show business world now, but he dropped in and out of eight different colleges and picked up a degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois before he got around to thinking about acting.

There were four years at four different colleges during which he tried his hand at both writing and painting and partially paid his own way by working in the library and delivering campus papers. He has a tremendous thirst for learning, but he never thought of studying medicine. Maybe he should have become a doctor: women automatically open up and say "Aaaah!" at first sight--but then he speeds up their heartbeat, too.

In his final year of college, he was in a couple of school plays. "That was six years ago. I got the acting bug, then," he remembers, and thoughtfully adds, "Acting has to be self-expression. I don't try to play a character. I try to play Ben Murphy..."

You could say Ben Murphy is a character. He grew up around suburban Chicago, an only (and probably lonely) child, until he was 14. He admits to a rather "stoic acceptance" of his parents rather than a close relationship, and says of his kid brother (who is now only 15), "We're like two related strangers. He was only four when I left home to go to school."

Photo Caption: One of the girls Ben enjoys dating is Jean Netter though there are others, including Judy Strangis. He's definitely looking for the right girl.

Ben's still alone--but not lonely. He s a bachelor who seems to drift from one romance to another, though he says, "Somewhere I feel I should get married and have a typical family." Once he would have been described as "one of the rovin' kind"--but Ben says, instead, "It's almost like I get to know people very, very quickly. I can meet somebody, fall in love, fall out of love--go through all the emotions, and have them end up as an old friend by the time the day is over."

Which doesn't mean that he takes any of his romances lightly. "People are unaware that I'm very sensitive." he says. "I hide it." He is far more responsive to the thoughts and views of others than he seems on the surface.

"There are so many other relationships to experience, so many things to learn he says. And some of them are very painful.

His blue eyes burn with private memories of a girl he once knew in Mexico. "She was a tender, beautiful person... one of those people who glows. We had a lot of fun growing up and traveling around Mexico together. It was a valuable experience...."

"I was fairly callous up to that point," he remembers, but he had been attracted by her "joy of living, her love of all the beautiful things in life." Though their relationship lasted eight or nine months (a long time, for Ben), and she "subsequently got married" it was not to Ben, though he still says, "I treasure knowing her."

"It happens all the time with my relationships," he says and you wonder if that slightly quizzical expression is just a mask--for deeper feelings.

Ben's name gets linked with that of a new lovely lady just about as often as an old-time cow-poke changed his socks--and they all get that marvelously flattering preferential treatment. He loves the ladies, and the ladies love him.

"Psychologically. I have to be loved by a lot of people," he says. "I need a universal love on a certain level--but not too deep. You can't get too close."

Photo Caption: Roger Davis was persuaded to take over Pete's role in the series. He and Pete had starred together in a TV-movie, "The Young Country".

"Peter needed that, too," he'd volunteered about his handsome co-star in the series. The two of them shared a unique friendship, until the last day in 1971, when Ben, along with the rest of the world, learned of Peter Duel s tragic, untimely death. "We were both Pisces, Peter and I. We both had a healthy liking for the outdoors--ecology. We're both fairly honest people. We're straight. We'll tell you how we feel. We're aware of what's going on around us. Intuitive...

"Peter hid it, like most people do. You don't like to let people know that you have a sensitivity, that you doubt them."

Ben is still in the process of learning about himself, discovering what he calls "a lot of funny things."

"I can't stand being at a party, and not having the freedom to leave when I want to leave." he gave as an example, though he says he doesn't attend many parties, that he relates better to one-and-one relationships, has never cared for crowds or groups. "I can't stand waiting for people," he went on. He remembered an instance when he and a friend were playing tennis. The friend, said Ben, "wanted to stop off at the store and do some shopping. I said. ‘Fine.'"

But when it took longer than Ben expected. "I got out of that car and ran home. It was like a compulsion. I could not wait for that man any longer. He just about beat me there, because I had to run all the way." he admitted a bit shamefacedly.

"When I'm on the series, I got paranoid if I had to follow Peter. I can't follow. I have to lead..." He was silent a moment.

"There are a lot of things I don't like about myself. The need for personal adjustment is not totally over, but most of the buckling down is behind me. I have made peace with myself--I'm more secure as a person."

The tiny alcove kitchen in Ben's apartment is mainly used for blending high-potency mixtures like soybean, milk proteins, vitamin C and wheatgerm oil–body-builders, energy-builders. But he'll fortify his liquid diet with a he-man sized portion of bacon and eggs before the camera rolls on most mornings. He's swears by health foods, takes exceptionally good care of himself. He swims, skis, and rides horseback. He s adept at most sports--including that all-American sport of Girl Watching. That may even be his favorite.

He does his own bookkeeping, fan-letter answering--and his home-made bookshelves boast a lot of books, but his small digs lack a real decorator s touch. He doesn't often bring his lady guests there--they'd probably get expensive ideas about redecorating on sight.

He's moderate in most of his thinking. "Drugs," he'll tell you, are "just not good for your body." A good reason for his next declaration: "I'm anti-drugs--which includes aspirin. I think people abuse drugs and they're really hurting themselves badly. I want to live to be 120 years old, and be a wise old man some day. You can't do that by taking drugs."

"My main interest is on my career, he says, even though his interest in it was late blooming. "Acting came out of need for self-expression"--but he went from college plays to summer stock, and with an assist from an agent who arranged an audition for a movie, he went on from there. A couple of plays, the films The Graduate, Thousand Plane Raid and Yours, Mine and Ours, followed in succession--and then he was cast as Kid Curry in the TV series. He's still there, and it looks like it will be a long, long trail cause Roger has been fantastic--helping Ben pick up the pieces and soon.

For a guy who didn't really aim in any one specific direction, he s gone a long way, and he's still going.

There's an old saying that goes, He travels fastest who travels alone, but Ben just smiles. "It isn't my time for marriage," he'll add, if pressed. He sort of figures that will come along in due time. In the meantime, he's taking life as it comes and enjoying the scenery along the way.

Somehow a guy like Ben Murphy always finds himself in great Girl Watching territory.

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