by Sara Bolt
TV Radio Show, September 1972

"I couldn't possibly get married," Ben Murphy spoke in the same tone he might have used had he been saying, "I couldn't commit murder."

"It wouldn't last a week! I couldn't be faithful to one chick. And you know how women are...they expect a husband to be sexually loyal--not to fool around. I know I'm not capable of being that way, so what's the point in trying?"

Ben Murphy's blue eyes have a rascal-glint in them when he talks of the female of the species (which is often) and he claims that women are his one weakness in life.

"I don't drink--a little wine; I don't smoke; I live on an organic diet; I exercise; I'm not on drugs; I save at least half my salary; I drive a five-year-old-Chevy. You might say I'm a very conservative young man...except when it comes to women. All the restraint I'm able to show in other areas in my life becomes excess when a good-looking chick walks by. And in my business a good-looking chick walks by about every five minutes."

People who work with Ben on Alias Smith And Jones attest to the fact that he not only draws women like flies to honey, but that he does not subscribe to the old axiom, "A Time And A Place For Everything." According to one member of the crew: "Ben thinks the best time for love-making is right now and the best place wherever he happens to be at the moment."

This is not to imply that he is crude, aggressive or vulgar, the man hastens to add. "On the contrary, he is seldom the aggressor because the chicks come on to him so strong, he doesn't have to be. It's just that his response is immediate and enthusiastic, and girls love it!"

Except in the area of women, however ("where he's always predictable"), Ben Murphy is an interesting combination at complexities and contradictions.

His image is definitely that of swinger-playboy, yet he lives in a modest $140 a month apartment that bears about as much resemblance to a den of seduction as a college dormitory room. It could have been furnished through the Sears and Roebuck catalog for all it's individualism or inspired decor. But the building is mostly occupied by singles which means there's a constant flow of females in and out of Ben's pad and this seems to be all the decoration he wants or needs.

He claims to be a loner, yet he is almost never alone. And he admits that if he actually had to be alone for any length of time he'd probably start "climbing the walls." What he means by being a loner is being independent of permanent or semi-permanent ties to any one person. He has few men friends and never longs for the masculine camaraderie of going off on a camping trip with the guys. "If I'm going on a camping trip, I'd rather take a girl," Ben says as though any man in his right mind would agree.

(Ben attributes his thorough enjoyment of women and his strong sex drive to his puritan Protestant youth in Arkansas. "I was taught that anything to do with sex was dirty, evil and sinful," he says, "and I was almost 21 years old before I got over feeling guilty about every natural urge a guy has. Losing the guilt was like getting out of prison and I've been making up for lost time ever since.")

Ben isn't hung up on his fans the way some stars--say Elvis Presley--are. Yet be may be the only actor in existence who actually dates his fans, making appointments when he hasn't even seen them in person. His is one of the heaviest mail pouches delivered to Universal Studios, and no wonder. A fan simply has to write a letter saying when she's going to be in Hollywood, enclose a picture, give a return address or a number where she can be reached, and if Ben likes her picture, he'll make a date with her. And what's more, he'll keep it.

Isn't this rather a dangerous practice for a celebrity? Suppose some nutty chick decided to claim "rape," or file paternity charges. And hasn't he ever gotten stuck this way with some real "dog" of a date?

Ben seems surprised at the suggestions. "I've never worried about getting into trouble by dating strangers," he says, "People are always strangers until they become friends. Besides I have a deep and basic like and respect for girls and they sense this.

"As for getting a dog; there's no such thing when it comes to women. At least I've never met one. I think it's fun to meet girls from all over the country. I love it."

Our conversation was taking place at a health food restaurant in Hollywood and Ben was not unaware of the feminine eyes riveted in his direction.

We reminded him that a woman in the office of the Alias Smith And Jones production company had told TV Guide "Ben is warm and giving," etc. but that he thought he knew about women and what he really knows about is girls. "He doesn't know the difference," she was quoted as saying.

He smiled and his eyes reflected his humor.

"There is no difference," he said as though sharing a great secret. "There's some girl in every woman and some woman in every girl. It's all a matter of degree. That's one of the best things about women. They're one thing one day and another the next. You never know when the girls gonna crop out of the woman, or the woman show up in the girl."

Ben's brains are not in his groin, as one obviously jealous male studio employee suggested. Nor is his interest in life limited to the opposite sex.

As a matter of fact he attended five universities in all (paying his own way into each) finally obtaining a political science degree from the University of Illinois, and later another B.A. in drama from the Pasadena Playhouse.

He writes--travel journals, short stories, screenplays--reads voraciously, continues even now to study acting five nights a week, practices karate, plays tennis three times a week and plays guitar all the time--between scenes an the set, on a date, watching TV, driving along in someone's car. And though he is generally as gregarious, trusting and friendly as a warm puppy, he can also be guarded, closed tight and uncommunicative.

He showed the latter side of himself when we asked about his reaction to the untimely death of his former Alias Smith And Jones co-star, Peter Duel.

Studio officials had told us the two actors got along well and that although there was some rivalry over pretty girls, it was always friendly. We had also been told that Ben had great respect for Pete's talent as an actor. Consequently we expected to hear expressions of sadness and sympathy from Ben.

Instead his fist closed tight on the table and with a grim expression he mumbled something about "waste" and "the system." His tone was more anger than sympathy, and he refused to elaborate.

Later a man connected with the show gave his explanation: "Ben took the news of Pete's death very hard. But he can't relate to suicide. He's a survivor. Pete was self-destructive. Ben feels cheated, angered, almost insulted by Pete's though if he were alive he'd like to take him and shake some sense into him.

"I don't think Ben himself knew how much he cared about Pete until after he died. And though they didn't hang around together socially, they had become very close on the set. They had a way of shutting others out, almost as though they could read one another's thoughts. And too, there's little doubt that Ben has feelings of guilt over Pete's death. He'd be bound to wonder if he couldn't have said something--done something that would have been a help to Pete and his drinking problem."

Earlier Ben had said, "Guilt is the greatest psychological killer of them all." He was talking about sex at the time, but he obviously meant that any guilts are unhealthy and destructive.

He had closed our conversation with the promise that if his show isn't renewed for the fall he won't be too torn apart because he believes he'll find work anyway.

"I've salted enough money away so that I'll never have to go back to driving a truck," he said. "Next week, when the show goes on vacation, I'm taking off for a month just to travel around and think...spend some time alone."

Alone? Without female companionship?

"Well, not that alone," the smile broke across his face. "Meeting chicks along the way is part of the fun of traveling. I like to think of it as my continuous, never-ending education. I'm 30 now and I feel I have about 20 more years of dedicated 'study' before I could consider settling down. By that time, marriage may be a thing of the past anyway."

It may be. But rogues like Ben Murphy will always be in fashion.

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