WHAT Ben Murphy is really like is something most of us wish we were...free. Free of entanglements, of hang-ups, and free to go wherever he likes, and free to always be himself.
I've known this about Ben for a long time. It's hardly any secret that he lives life with a straightforward passion, and digs just about everything that goes along with it including (no, make that especially) the ladies.
But these facts were reinforced, and how, when I visited Ben at his apartment just a few blocks down the street from Universal Studios where he has spent the last two years filming Alias Smith and Jones.
Just as I was pulling my trusty Mustang around the corner, a golden-haired jogger whizzed past me in the usual Hollywood running costume of white shorts, white tee shirt and comfortable tennies. It was Ben, of course, running his daily mile, so I spent the next eight minutes waiting patiently for the rover's return!
When Ben returned from his jog, looking perspiry and sexy, we sat around over cups of sassafrass tea laced with honey and talked. Ordinarily I would share that conversation with you in story form, hoping to transmit his vibrations through my own interpretation. This time I'd like for you to hear about Ben Murphy in his own words. For a very good reason. He said it better than I possibly could because he's free and I'm still just getting there.
Janey--"I can set that your life style is casual and relaxed even in the middle of this huge city. Do you have any desire to go all the way back to nature?"
Ben--"I come from a country-city-suburban background, so I've lived all three. I truly like a metropolitan area, although I'd rather live on the outskirts. It's supposed to be in to put down L.A. but I really like L.A., except for the smog. I don't mind living around a lot of people, and here I don't feel engulfed by buildings. Some cities are vertical, but L.A. is horizontal. I really prefer living here."
Janey--"Do you think you could survive mentally on a mountain top, growing your own food?"
Ben--"Maybe someday, but right now I'd miss too many things. I've been considering buying some land in the state of Arkansas, where I was born, and growing walnuts. But I wouldn't live there, not now. But I can dig and understand why some people do completely reject city life."
Janey--"What are some of the things you'd miss the most?"
Ben--"I'd miss the opportunity of going to my favourite restaurant, am all of my friends, movies, going to acting class, that sort of thing. It would be very hard to continue working as an actor if I went off to the forest."
Janey--"What does acting really mean to you and what do you hope to achieve as an actor?"
Ben--"Acting is my business, but it's not something I have to do emotionally. The reason I got into it in the first place was almost therapeutic. I was so shy as a kid, a loner who spent my times reading books in the basement. I went to a boy's high school and a man's college so I guess I grew up estranged from my peers. Finally I got to wondering Jesus, what's wrong with me?' I was twenty-three and living in Mexico City being bored silly working on my graduate degree when I decided I had to get out of myself. I decided to try acting, and it worked.
"One thing led to another, and I ended up acting for a living. I might stick with it. I don't know what I'll be doing next. Sure, I'd love to be in the position of a Newman or McQueen and do two quality pictures a year, but I don't know if I'm that good. I don't worry about it. I'll take it as it comes."
Janey--"In what subject did you get your college degree?"
Ben--"Political Science, but right now I'm totally apolitical. I just don't get involved."
Janey--"You seem like such a casual person. Are you a perfectionist in any area?"
Ben--"When I'm acting there's a mild change in my personality. I become more emotional, almost tense, but I'm not like that in my own life."
Janey--"Are you involved in any 'causes' or issues or whatever, like the ecology movement?"
Ben--"I'm glad that something's being done about the ecology, but no I'm not involved in that movement or any other. I shy away from group activities because I'd rather do things on my own. I like to keep healthy, and I work at that. I'm so stiff and sore today because I just got home from a personal appearance tour where I didn't have a chance to get any exercise, so yesterday I played tennis, basketball and swam.
"Today I can hardly walk but it feels great! I was so introverted in high school and college, I didn't really go out for sports but now I love them. I guess my two favourites are skiing (he was on his way to a pro ski tournament at Bear Valley the following week and happens to be damned good) and tennis."
Janey (peering around the corner into Ben's compact kitchen)--"I see a lot of herb teas and health food goodies. Are you going the organic route?"
Ben--"I'll eat whatever is put in front of me if I'm in someone else's home, except white bread and soda pop. I take vitamins and wheat germ and try to get the proper nutrients in my food."
Janey--"Do you cook?"
Ben--"No, so I go out once a day to eat. I often go to a place called the Cafe Alma because it's small and homey, sort of an extension of my own home, and they have what you would call organic food."
Janey--"Are you a home person?"
Ben--"I've spent so much time working, I'm not sure, but yes I would say essentially a home person because I don't like parties or going out a lot. Someday I'd like to get a big house, anyway one lots bigger than this apartment, but not yet. I can see myself living in that type of surroundings, probably with a couple of dogs."
Janey--"Speaking of favourite subjects, what kind of dogs?"
Ben--"I'd want one functional dog to protect the home. That'd be his duty and his life. And I'd like a mutt that I could take places with me." (Needless to say I offered him said mutt from my growing collection of hairies. He declined, temporarily!)
Janey--"What are some of the things you do when you're not under work pressures?"
Ben--"Well, I don't read as much as it looks like. (He has a large bookcase filled with titles that range all the way from Catch 22 to How to Fix Your Chevrolet.) I like music but I'm not hung up on any particular group or style. Just whatever is contemporary and modern. Right now I live the Cat Stevens--Gordon Lightfoot--James Taylor genre. I can't have music on during the day when I'm trying to think but I turn it on at night."
Janey--"Are you artistically inclined?"
Ben--"I like art, but I can't participate at all. I have wanted to write for a long time, and I may get it on one of these days. And I may not. I have a feeling I'm not too talented, which doesn't bother me a bit. I try to be artistic as a human being because, to me, living is an art. Living is something I want to do as long and fully as possible. Thoughts, exercise, food, love--it's all an art to me."
Janey--"You seem unattached and yet very committed in a free sort of way."
Ben--"Let me try to explain the way my life is. I have a lot of groovy friends but no one I'm tremendously attached to, so I'm free to get involved wherever I go. I make friends everywhere when I'm travelling, and wherever I stop, I make myself at home, whether it's for two days or six weeks. I'm like a wayward mutt people take to and feed for a few days."
(At this point there was a ring on the doorbell. Ben went to answer it, and returned with a pretty, tanned, very happy girl with blonde hair. He introduced her as Barbara and we chatted a while before he went on."
Ben--"For example, let me tell you how I met Barbara. Last week I was on a flight home from a promotional thing and Barbara was one of the stewardesses. She'd heard one of the actors from Smith and Jones was on the plane, but she'd never seen the show so she didn't recognize me."
Barbara (laughing and getting red)--"I noticed him though. And because I thought the television star was a guy sitting up in the front of the plane, I told the other girls that the guy from Smith and Jones was a creep, but that there was a dynamite guy sitting in the back! I was so embarrassed when Ben and I talked and I found out who he was!"
Ben (laughing too)--"After we got to talking, we exchanged phone numbers and when I got home I called and asked her to come out from the East coast and see me. That's what I mean by getting to know people everywhere I go. It doesn't always work out, but when it does, it's great!"
At this point, Ben paused to hug Barbara. In fact, he paused several times during our talk to hug Barbara.
(Ben is definitely an accomplished hugger, among other things.) And that made me like him even better. For not being one of the image-goofy actors who would have introduced her as his sister. For being truly himself, which is what freedom is all about.
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