Pete Duel is Hannibal Hayes [sic, Heyes] (Alias Smith) and Ben is Kid Curry (Alias Jones). These two former bank robbers are supposed to go straight for a year in order to earn amnesty. As bandits they may be able to hid out, but they'll never remain unknown personalities off-screen!
When I asked Ben to describe himself, he replied, "I have blond hair and blue eyes, am of average height and weight--I guess you could say I'm the All-American boy type," he grinned.
Much more than that goes into a description of this handsome young actor. It has to do with the way it's all put together. His 5'11" frame is topped off by sandy blonde locks and deep-set, intense Paul Newman blue eyes which he knows how to work on any normal female until she is totally distracted! It won't be long before the teenagers are all going "ohhhhh" after Ben. His manner is honest and candid and he has a great sense of humor and a quick, friendly smile. He's also a real tease if he knows he's got you charmed--which isn't too hard for him to do.
The part in Alias Smith and Jones came about so quickly that Ben has hardly had time to think of the possible impact from this new light Western. One of the keys to its success is the use of faces of Western characters that are familiar to viewing audience, and the balance of Pete and Ben makes the formula gel.
Of Pete, Ben says, "He's really great to work with. In fact I'm happy about everything connected with the show." The rapport between this pair of cowboys, trying to do good without much help from others, is very apparent. Like most actors in series that have to grind out on short schedules, Murphy wishes only that he could have a little more time in which to do each segment.
Before landing this part, Ben was in Robert Stack's episodes of Name of the Game for three seasons. This took up only two or three days of the month but with the new schedule, he's usually working from 7:30 in the morning until that late at night. When he's not filming, there are dailies to watch or looping or next week's script to study.
"Actually, I think they tested me as an afterthought," Ben admitted. We were talking in one of the offices at the big Universal tower. He had hoped to have time for lunch, but just as he sat down they called him back to the soundstage for another scene. "They had tried four or five guys and must have said, 'let's give Ben a chance'. The result were sent to New York and I was cast. We made the movie and went into the series almost immediately."
Ben's way of being prepared professionally for "the big break" was to study. From the time he decided to become an actor he has never stopped. After high school, he enrolled in five different universities before obtaining a degree in political science from the University of Illinois. "When I decided to come to California to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, mother gave me a car which I still have. She was afraid I'd never make it in the heap I had planned to buy," he remembers.
During his summers off, Ben toured the stock circuit. "For Mary, Mary, I got $50.00 a week and room and board. My original thought when I was finished at the Playhouse was to go to New York and try the stage first. An agent, however, had seen me do a play and got a test at Universal and they signed me to a contract."
Unlike many, Ben says he wasn't in any hurry to get to the top right away. "If you enjoy acting as I do, each day you are learning and growing. It's the process of becoming a good performer and knowing your craft well that is important, rather than whether or not you are a big star."
He had sort of a ten year plan, so having only two days of work a month in a bit series didn't bother him as much as it might have. This bright young man had patience and he used his spare time well. "I took all sorts of acting classes, I read and I played a lot of tennis. Let's see, I even took Karate for a year and earned a Brown belt. When I got real desperate, I took singing lessons," he smiled, leaning all the way back in his chair and folding his arms. "I thought if worse came to worse I could always try that!"
What would he do if his career as an actor had not panned out? "Bum around the world for the rest of my life!"
Even though he had quite a bit of training before landing a contract, Ben reveals this: "It took four shows before I knew where the camera was! Except of course, for closeups," he added. "You'd have to be pretty dense to miss the lights and lenses just two feet away from you. Otherwise, I was so concerned about where they were putting me and what I was supposed to do, that I literally had no idea from what angle they were shooting! All I did was relate to the other actors in the cast and do as I was told."
Ben definitely feels every session was beneficial. "l was stagnant emotionally and couldn't go beyond a certain point. In class you learn how to push emotional buttons inside yourself as well as how to get rid of any inhibitions you might have. Eventually everything melts together and you automatically use the result when performing." The best school of all of course, has been performing in front of the camera every day. Without the background and previous training that Murphy had, there's little chance the series would be as good a showcase for his talents as it is.
Ben was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas and later moved along with his family to Hinsdale, Illinois, where they still reside. He is very sports minded. Besides tennis, he climbs, loves the beach and runs. and works out to keep in marvelous shape. "I learned to ski last year when my girl left me for another guy. I had to forget it somehow and skiing seemed so peaceful," Ben told me.
"I drove all over the country and picked up hitchhikers along the way. Started to write a screenplay too. I thought it out carefully in my mind and made some notes but that's about as far as it got.
"I'm definitely going to get together with the producers of the show next season and write one of the scripts," he said proudly. "And I predict by the third or fourth season, I will direct one episode!"
Ben doesn't particularly care for the phone. "I like to touch when I communicate." His idea of the perfect girl, "The one I'm going to marry, I hope. She'll have blonde hair, blue eyes won't be too small or too big and be fun-loving--the cheerleader type. I like someone who is up and who really digs herself."
No, he doesn't have the exact candidate yet. "I don't actually want to settle down for some time. I'd like my career to be established to where I wouldn't have to devote as much time to it as I do now. It wouldn't be fair for a wife to have a husband with a twenty-four hour a day job."
Ben is a very engaging person. He's witty and aware and what's more, he loves acting. "And to think that you get paid for it makes it even nicer!" He's a fun interview too and a relaxing guy to be around. Though he still had a few things to tie up on the lot before he could start his one afternoon off, he didn't seem rushed and provided a delightful, funny session.
With the first money he got from his Universal contract, Ben designed and had some clothes made. "And, I haven't worn them. I wear the same thing every day--my levis, a purple shirt and jacket. I wash them once a week because I only use them to get from my door to here. If it wasn't for the make-up rings around the collar, I wouldn't have to do it even then," he said with a deep, hearty laugh. "The minute I get here, I take them off and put on my cowboy duds. At the end of the day, I get back into my own clothes and wear them home. When I get inside, I take them off and do my own thing!
"My mother taught me that when I came home from school, I should always change. I still do. I change into my play clothes," he winked. "That way my uniform never gets dirty."
When the show takes a break soon, Ben wants to get in a few good weeks of skiing, and then, "I'd like to go to Paris for four to six weeks to study French."
"It seems as if it takes forever to get a chance to show what you can do, but actually it's been very fast," Ben reflects. "I've only been in the business for five years and I thought it would take longer to get this far. It's like anything else. You take one step forward and one back and then you skip around some. I think I'm geared for the ups as well as the downs. As long as you learn something and grow from each experience, it's all worthwhile."
Ben's healthy outlook should help him to keep that level head. The pleasure of now being up is very apparent in his "everything's right with the world" attitude. In reality, there were eight years of school, including college, five years of small parts and then that seemingly one short step into bigger things.
This is only the beginning of a long time of successes for Ben. "I look forward to and enjoy being in the public eye. Someday I hope to accomplish more than just being someone you go "ohhhh" to--I hope I will be able to really contribute to and influence people."
What will that contribution be? "I don't know. Who knows how the world will appear then and where my head will be at, but it will definitely be in a positive way!"
And, we're positive you'll be hearing
much more about Ben Murphy.
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