'No matter what I'm doing, I always play Ben Murphy,' says Ben Murphy, Kid Curry, alias Jones of Alias Smith and Jones. 'If I wake up tired, I'll play Jones tired.' The candour is unexpected from one of Hollywood's studio-tied properties and it flows on unabashed. 'I only got into acting to express myself, because I couldn't express myself as a human being, and I really don't give a damn about what anybody - author, director, anybody, wants me to express.'
Ben Murphy belongs to a studio. He's done four years and has three more to serve and he's not exactly happy about it - or so he says. 'I did an audition to get the contract with the studio. And once I had the contract, I found I still had to audition for every part. I got Jones because it was the only part offered to me.' But by his own admission he's given Jones the best of Ben Murphy. 'It's a very good vehicle for me. I'd rather do it than some doctor/lawyer series, they're so sterile. In our show we have a variety of humour and seriousness. I get to kill a few people now and again, you know. I get to laugh and have some fun.'
Jones, Murphy's first major part, has launched him in America, but recognition wasn't easy. The show went out on TV the same time as Flip Wilson's show, and then the same time as All in the Family, America's no.1 programme. To emerge from that sort of competition and still smile, speaks for itself.
Murphy is the antithesis of the traditional Hollywood actor. He has a tiny apartment at the wrong end of Hollywood - if there is such a thing. It's dark and cluttered with presents from fans. His British secretary Gillian carefully forges his signature on letters. He has an impressive tangle of Karate belts on one wall and freaky posters on the others. He speaks the strange jargon peculiar to the West coast and eats organic food. And even after four years, probably more, he still doesn't know whether he wants to be an actor or branch out.
'Acting has been a means to an end,' he says. 'I can express myself as a human being now. I can relate much better to people. When my contract's up, I think I might try to direct films. I don't take acting too seriously now.' He speaks with the confidence of a man whose career began with a 5 word speech in The Graduate. 'You have to start somewhere.' This led to a larger part in a second film and the lead in a film whose title he won't reveal. 'It was about the British RAF during the war and we made it in California in two weeks.'
Murphy is reputed to like the ladies. He won't comment when asked, but admits that he doesn't mind playing up to the image that's been foisted on him. 'I really will not talk about who I'm going out with or what I'm doing. I really do have a right to a little life of my own.'
His reluctance to let anyone get close to the personal Ben Murphy extends to questions about his friendship with Pete Duel who, until his death a few months ago, played the part of Smith. 'Just know this, we understood each other very well. We rarely associated with each other off the set. When you spend twelve hours a day with a guy, you don't need to seek him out after work as well. Do you realise that's more time than some men spend with their wives? The show isn't going to be the same without him. It will still be good but it's just not going to be the same.'
He has his doubts about the future of
Alias Smith and Jones but none about his own. 'I have enough
faith in myself, in the basic things about me. I just don't think
I'll have to worry. Things have always come to me. I'm always
looking over my shoulder at poverty, but I'm enough of a business
man to take care of that.'
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