SHOULDERS ARE TO SHRUG & GIGGLE WITH
by Helen Itria
Motion Picture, September 1971
"90% of my serious efforts go into my career, 10% to my private life...."
Girls, if you're walking down the street and a young man who looks sort of like Paul Newman does a double take, grins appreciatively and says, "Hi, I like you ! You wanna go out? "--don't be dismayed. That brash fellow just might be Ben Murphy, co-star of ABC's new television series, Alias Smith and Jones (he plays Jones).
Ben Murphy doesn't mess around. He deals "straight" with people in general, and with girls in particular. If they get uptight--and he acknowledges that some do--they're not for him. "l figure," he says "their imaginations are not capable of keeping up with mine anyway, so 'bye."
Not that he leaves much to their imagination: one date, and "thereafter, it's usually her place or my place." He doesn't smirk or act wise when he says this; that's just the way it is. Straight.
If you doubt that he's successful with this approach--or lack of approach--just study his face in the next Alias episode for any sign of frustration. No man can look that amused and contented if he's "missing out on something" in his life.
It's not that handsome Ben is always on the prowl--he's too serious about his career, and life in general, to be considered a dilettante. As he says, "Ninety percent of my efforts go toward my career and only 10 percent to my private life." Nor does he go out of his way to meet a cute chick. It's just that wherever he may be, somehow, one is simply ... there. In the darnedest places...
Recently, for instance, he had a blind date with an older woman of 36 (he likes blind dates, but not necessarily older women). They went to a double-feature. All of a sudden: "I turned and I saw this mother and father and their daughter coming into the row behind me. I took a bead on the daughter and the daughter took a bead on me! Finally, intermission. The daughter goes to the washroom and I'm seeing her out of the corner of my eye and I get up and go to the washroom...."
They met in the lobby. "Hey," he said, "are you the girl behind me?" She nodded. Before intermission was over he had her name, address and phone number, plus the information that she was a student in San Francisco, home for the holidays. And before the week was out, they'd had a "couple of lovely dates together."
He liked her well enough to fly up to San Francisco one weekend after she returned to school--and Ben is afraid of planes. "I'm scared of anything I can't control," he says. "I'm scared in a car if somebody else is driving."
His girlfriend met him at the airport ... and then he met her girlfriend, who promptly lost interest in the man she was with. Well, you can guess the rest ....
You might say he's fickle. Then again, you might say he's not ready to settle down. Or perhaps no girl has been "imaginative" enough to capture his interest and hold it.
All of which is true... and not true. Because Ben can commit himself, and has.
His first serious romance was in 1962 with an American girl in Mexico who was a fellow student at Mexico City College (now called the University of the Americas). They were young, in a foreign country, and the magic of first love remains strong in Ben's memory.
"Jenny and I used to bop all over Mexico together in my old Chevy," he says. "We had a lot of time off--we got the Mexican holidays and the American holidays, too. That old car kept falling apart--I can't do anything mechanical--but we could get to Acapulco, barring breakdowns, in six hours; Vera Cruz in a day .... "
Ben had returned to college at the "suggestion'' of his parents. Mexico City had been the third college which he had attended, with no apparent goal in mind. Ben liked school and was a good student, but after a while in one place he got restless and moved on.
He had already spent a year at Loras College, a men's Catholic college in Dubuque, Iowa, from which he "fled" to Loyola in New Orleans. One year there gave him his fill of fraternity and French Quarter fun, and he moved on to Mexico City College.
His folks felt he should at least get a degree in something. So he picked up some needed summer courses at Loyola University of Chicago and finally graduated the following year from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in Political Science.
Born on a farm near Jonesboro, Arkansas, he was reared mainly in Illinois, where his father went into the wholesale produce business. Today his parents own a women's apparel shop in the Chicago suburb of Clarendon Hills.
"I couldn't wait for my childhood to be over," says Ben. "It was just uneventful. It was the '50s, during the Eisenhower administration, nothing was really going on. In fact, the whole world was kind of slow moving, and my parents were working their way up from lower middle class to upper middle class, and I went to school and did all the normal things."
As for his wandering from school to school, Ben says, "I kind of trained my parents from an early age not to bug me. Besides, I always had the money to do these things with, because I always worked. I always left home each fall with $1500 from what I'd saved during the summertime."
He got just a "whiff" of acting at the University of Illinois where, he says, "I wandered onto a stage one day and got a bit part." That was all it took. Upon graduation, he set out for Hollywood and the Pasadena Playhouse as a student, graduating two years later with a second bachelors degree, in Theater.
While his career was taking shape, Ben enrolled in two more colleges. (As some men tinker with cars or carpentry to kill time, Ben seems to turn to the classroom!) First he took up Theater at the University of Southern California, until a sleepy course in Elizabethan Theatre Structure turned him off. Then, when his part in Name Of The Game proved rather insignificant, he turned up at Valley State College in the Physical Education department, taking swimming, dancing and fencing--anything to keep busy. Eventually, he dropped out there, too. But for the first time, boredom was not the cause ....
Ben had met a girl the year before---a girl he grew to love and who, he believed, loved him in return.
"As soon as I committed myself to her," he says, "she had emotional problems. Phffft! You know, wham!"
She left him.., and she hurt him. "Cry?" he says. "I have, I have. That chick. That chick hurt. We were together about a year. .. But I can remember one day, just crying. Just crying all day. Just letting it all come out .... "
He packed his skis and his notebooks and took off for anywhere with snow. "Everywhere in the West, I skied," he says. "I had to get out of town, kind of clear my head."
No matter how much Ben may be hurt, or disturbed, or thrown off the track, he never loses his basic "sense of direction." He knows where he wants to go and how he wants to get there. Even his notes, which could easily have been mere emotional scrawls of pain, were shaped by his chosen career. '
His whole life-style since he's hit it big with his series has been a careful continuation of planning, saving and self-improvement, rather than the sudden flamboyant splurge that usually follows early success.
For starters, he lives on exactly half of his net salary. "That's a rule," he says, "no matter what. The other half is saved--25 percent is invested, 15 percent I'm putting aside for my home someday and the other 10 percent I'm just putting aside."
He drives a five-year-old Chevrolet Impala,
which his mother gave him: "If she hadn't given me the car,
I wouldn't have one. I could afford a brand new Maserati; and
I could afford to live out at the beach at $500 a month. But rather
than buy a Maserati today, I'll invest that money and really afford
to have a Maserati and a yacht and something else tomorrow."
He lives down the street from the studio in a plain, one-bedroom apartment, with few personal possessions.
His place could hardly be called "jumping bachelor's pad." No record players blasting in the air, no round-the-clock partying. For one thing, Ben is a loner, always has been. He'll say, half jokingly, "I don't know if I have any friends!" He's exaggerating; he does have friends. But only a few, and even those are not in constant touch. "Even the friends I've known over years I'll see once every two months," he says.
When Ben is alone, he likes quiet. "I like to be in my own head," he says. "I just like to be alone with my own thoughts---without the radio going, without people jabbering to me. I can have the most fun with my brain, thinking and imagining....It's even hard for me to share my place with a woman--it's so small...."
But he will move over for a woman, and, at 29, "would like to settle down and live a normal life." He's just not quite ready. He's preoccupied right now with his career and getting a few more kinks out of his own personal makeup--neurotic kinks that most of us manage, however miserably, to get along with. Being neurotic, he believes, may make you interesting as an actor, but sick as a person.
It's not easy to change years of "misliving," as he calls it, and he's still working at it. His problems aren't deep, ominous ones; mainly, they sound like traits keep him from sharing and being happy himself, though he says some bring pain to others. "Like being unkind," he says, "and the old thing of hurting tho one you love." But mostly: "I've always been apart from people, but I didn't want to be a loner because I wanted to grow up and have a wife and a family. I suppose you can do that as a loner if you have a wife who has psychological problems that match your own. But I wanted one who was free herself, which meant that I had to get free before I could attract a free human being to me."
What kind of girl will he find to share house? He has all the answers: "I'm sure I'll marry a woman who will have her own interests, and a woman who's secure in herself so that she won't be worried about me."
What will she look like? "I think maybe the cheerleader type--the emancipated cheerleader type. Someone who just loves life. A well-adjusted all-American girl, with the blonde hair and the blue eyes, probably from a good family."
So, if you're blonde, blue-eyed and love life, and a young man who looks sort of like Paul Newman stops you on the street, don't be dismayed. He may like you even if you're brunette and hazel-eyed and shy. Because, as Ben Murphy is very careful add: "I'm really blessed with the ability to like a wide range of women..."-- and everything.
Photo Caption: Ben has lots of girls but no pet, so he asked Sally Shockley (Alias, Ironside) to help pick one out. After a romp in the park they began, and a shaggy l'il pup caught their eye. Sally's burmese Kitty (AB.) didn't approve!
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