by William Plummer
People Weekly, May 30, 1983

Director Dan Curtis was trying to tell Ben Murphy that he'd just won the part of Robert Mitchum's older son, the one who didn't make time with Ali MacGraw, in The Winds of War. But Murphy didn't understand him. Still reeling from the audition, Ben tumbled out of the casting room, crashed into the secretary's in-and-out box, and sent a pile of Paramount memoranda into the air. What a great shtick! thought Curtis.

But Ben wasn't doing a shtick. He had been terrified of auditioning. "It was having to prove myself," he recalls. "I was afraid because inside me I thought there was an ugly human being and somebody would find it out and not like me. I wanted somebody to say, 'It'll be okay. You're okay.'"

Two years later, ensconced in a Malibu condo littered with New Age propaganda (Feelings, Passages, etc.), Murphy, 41, is still "trying to understand who I am and be happy in my skin." The success of The Winds of War has helped. It led to a starring role opposite Lauren Hutton in The Cradle Will Fall, a made-for-TV mystery with mad-scientist overtones that airs May 24 on CBS. Next fall Ben will dispense money and dreams as the Irish Sweepstakes' man in America on Lottery, a new ABC series that recalls the late-50s show The Millionaire. Yet most helpful of all have been his weekly therapy sessions. For instance, when he lost the role of Face in The A-Team to Dirk Benedict, Murphy cried over a part for the first time. He realizes now what went wrong: "I didn't share myself in the reading."

Photos Caption: Ben works out regularly on the second floor of his Malibu condo. "I'm proud of being 41 and being in this condition," he says. Of Lauren Hutton in The Cradle Will Fall, Ben observes, "She's intuitive and yet somewhat distant. I know her pattern well because she's me."
Murphy talks in California mellow speak, but he grew up in towns throughout the Midwest. As the son of a Chicago potato broker and a secretary--both workaholics--Ben based his own self-esteem on work. He caddied, loaded and drove trucks, and all the while shrank from contact with kids his own age. Always handsome, he created a facade of effortless self-sufficiency. "Even today," he says, "I run into old schoolmates who say, 'Gee, you were kind of nice. But nobody knew you.' I was a classic withdrawer."

To express what slender sense of self he had, Ben took up acting at the University of Illinois. In 1967 he signed an 11-year contract with Universal City Studios. That was a mistake, he says, because he felt indentured. "I resented it and withdrew still further." The Universal deal did get him four TV series, including Alias Smith and Jones, which brought fame and some fortune. But in 1973 the series ended after co-star Peter Duel's suicide. Murphy did not react to Duel's death until 1980 when he saw Ordinary People. The scene in which Timothy Hutton rages against the death of his brother sent Murphy into belated paroxysms of grief. "I could barely get out of the theater," he remembers. "I took my date and hid behind a car and cried."

Five years ago Murphy dropped out of acting altogether and devoted all his energies to tennis. Ben had never played sports in his youth because it would have meant joining a team. In 1980, during the actors' strike, he put in 40 hours a week on the court and was ranked No. 21 in the Southern California Tennis Association's 35-and-over division. Keeping count in a ledger of every set he played, he was still finding his self-esteem in work and the illusion of perfectability.

During this period he married Pan Am stewardess Jeannie Davis, which reduced his compulsive womanizing. Although divorced in 1981, Ben and Jeannie remain friendly. Murphy now dates sporadically. He confesses to a couple of months of celibacy but also admits, "I had a different girl every night for a few weeks in there."

Ben has sampled several of the estlike programs that seems to abound on the West Coast. Most recently, he has been immersed in Insight Transformational Seminars, a Santa Monica group interaction program which, ironically, is run by a man named J-R. Because of that experience, Ben is no longer withdrawing, he says. "I've given up trying to be that perfect, cool-with-the-girls guy that I created."

In spite of his inauspicious audition, The Winds of War has proven Ben's most satisfying film work to date. "It was my first post-therapy job," he says. "It used to be that I resented being forced into close contact with people. Now one of the reasons I work is to have a family. It's fun." It also didn't hurt that at one point during the filming, Dan Curtis grabbed him and gruffly forecast, "You're going to be a big bleeping star."
Photo Caption: Until The Winds of War, says Ben (with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Winters), "I'd never been praised as an actor."
Photo Caption: "I've been not quite satisfied with acting but I'm making my peace with it," says Ben (with secretary Kelly Ryan).
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