He lopes across the room, shirt in hand, and settles himself on the one and only bar stool. He seems cheerful enough you muse. This evening looks like it's going to be fun!
"I have nothing really to offer you," he says. Then as an afterthought, he runs to the fridge, opens it and exclaims, "Oh yeah, I do. There's blackberry wine or carrot juice. Take your pick."
After declining both, you take off with Ben and your photographer to shoot some pictures before going out to dine with Ben and meet Pete Duel later. On the way, Ben raps about his role of Kid Curry/Thadeus Jones in the show "Alias Smith and Jones," the television series in which he is a regular.
"The role in the show is Ben Murphy. I mean, I'm the only one doing it," he exclaims. "There is no character, there's only Ben Murphy."
Who is Ben Murphy?
"He's a fairly quiet and aloof guy who's becoming pretty wary of people," he sums up.
What about Pete Duel, Ben's co-star in the series, perhaps better known to TV audiences as Alias Smith?
"Peter's a very honest person. He has a wider range of emotions than I do," says Ben. "He runs hot and cold but he's a great guy, and I enjoy working with him very much."
Ben does admit, however, that they do have their disagreements: "Well, to give you a good example," he states, "sometimes it aggravates me when Peter smokes. He'll light a cigarette during rehearsals, and I've got to stand there and breathe it. You see, we work so closely together it's impossible to avoid it. So I punch him and tell him to stop smoking, and he tells me to get lost and that's it..." he laughs heartily at the recollection.
And what about funny incidents on the set? Ben's face takes on a serious expression for a few minutes, but soon breaks out into a huge smile. "Oh yes. Peter and I were on location once. We were watching the 'baddies' from a hillside, well, the crew put down a fake bush for us to crouch behind and the action was this: Peter was to look through the binoculars at the bad guys, then tap me on the shoulder and give me the binoculars. Then I was to look at the bad guys. Sound simple? Well, it didn't work out that way at all! This is what actually happened. Peter looked up, tapped me on the shoulder and as he tapped me, I lost my balance and slowly fell downhill through the fake bush and out of camera range. Aside from a few bruises and a weak side from laughing, I came out of it okay, but it did ruin the entire scene. Oh, and there have been plenty of times when Peter couldn't get on his horse and I couldn't get on my horse. Those were always hysterically funny because we'd kid each other about it."
The photo session is now over and you breathe a sigh of relief, partly because you can't wait to go out with Ben and partly because you are starving and dinner sounds very enticing!!
You drive with Ben in his aqua-blue Chevrolet convertible, bound for the Aware Inn, a great restaurant in the San Fernando Valley near Ben's apartment. As he drives, he tells you, "So many people get killed on the highway it really frightens me. I have much too much to live for to risk losing my life by reckless driving, so I take special care when I'm behind the wheel."
Yes, Ben certainly does have a lot to live for. He's handsome and talented and is living a life of excitement, but most of all, he's doing exactly what he wants to do in life: act!
Ben got his start when an agent saw him perform at the Pasadena Playhouse, took him under his wing and began knocking on doors for him. One door the agent knocked on was Universal Studios, who were so impressed by Ben's looks and talents that they signed him immediately to a contract. From this contract came the usual bit parts in several television shows, including "The Virginian" and "It Takes a Thief." Finally he landed the role as Robert Stack's assistant in "The Name of the Game." From then on it was all stations go....
"That's how I got started in the business," Ben summarizes. "I got started by wanting to be an actor when I was twenty-three (he's now 29). I was in Mexico City and I'd lost all my money at the track. I was getting bored working for my master's degree and I needed an emotional outlet. So I looked around at a lot of possibilities--art, music and acting, and I decided that acting was probably the easiest, the fastest and the best bet for me."
Ben's first ambition was to be a baseball player. "All the way from the time I was eight years old to age fourteen. Then I quit ball and started to work to make some bread. I was a caddy for about six years in Chicago." However, Ben admits that if he weren't acting now, he wouldn't want to turn back to baseball but would probably be a drifter or a bum.
At the Aware Inn, the maitre d' offers a corner table and jokes with Ben, who is apparently a regular customer. You order a fresh fruit salad and Ben delves into filet of sole almondine. Between mouthfuls, he raps to you about women and marriage.
"I'm very functional with women," he says, flashing a beautiful smile, "because that's my nature and it gets me what I want. I just am what I am and I allow women to respond to that in any way they want to. The initial response is usually one of interest. However, it doesn't go anywhere, because I'm not programmed to let a relationship like that go anywhere--I mean, to become a serious relationship. I have a lot of friendships with women that go a long way, where they're my friends and I would help them and they would help me. I've got a million of those. They started out as love affairs and grew into a friendship, but love affairs never last too long with me."
Has Ben ever been in love?
"I have been involved emotionally twice, but never in love," he answers.
The type of women that Ben could fall in love with would have to share his love for traveling and "she would have to be a person who made no demands upon me and that I made no demands upon."
However, Ben feels that marriage is just a legality--signing a piece of paper and paying a fee.
"The marriage is unimportant," he pursues, "it's the relationship that's important. Now what helps to make a good relationship is important. It takes a lot of loving care when children are growing up so that the family is together and the children don't grow up with juvenile needs unfulfilled. That way they can give and take in a relationship when they get older."
Did Ben have a good relationship with his parents?
"I didn't have a bad one--I just didn't have one," he says.
At this point the maitre d', Allen Emerson, comes over to your table mumbling under his breath, movie stars, actors--they're all alike. They come in here kicking up a fuss... no tact, think they're so great." He looks at Ben and grins. (Obviously he doesn't include Ben in his sweeping denunciation of actors.)
Ben turns to you and says, "Now that's how an actor out of work talks."
You all burst out laughing and Allen proceeds to help himself to a few tidbits from your plates. Ben tells you it's time to go. It's getting late and you have to meet Pete Duel before going to a birthday party with Ben. Allen waves goodbye, his mouth crammed with cold fillet of sole and cantaloupe.
On the way to meet Pete, Ben raps about woman's fashions. "I like legs," he says, running his hand through his mop of unruly blond hair. "I truly like legs. Hot pants and mini skirts are outasite, but unfortunately most girls wear stockings with them and I can't stand that. I like a bare leg."
Ben himself prefers to dress in casual clothes that are comfortable. "For the most part, I wear jeans and a shirt," he smiles as he takes your arm to cross the street. You can see Pete standing patiently on the other side.
The first thing that strikes you about Pete is the pronounced dimples he has when he smiles! You can't help but wonder how on earth these two handsome guys have managed to remain bachelors this long (Pete is 30). Hundreds of beautiful girls must have tried to win their hearts, but obviously they have failed. There's hope for you gals yet!
How did Pete come to choose acting for his career?
"Well, when I was in high school, I had dreams of becoming a pilot but I gave those up when I enrolled at St. Lawrence University in New York," Pete explains. "I studied to be what I thought my father would want me to be--a doctor, but it turned out to be a disaster.' The only thing that kept me sane was the elation I experienced in performing in every play staged by the drama department.' So I decided that acting was the career for me."
"I auditioned for the American Theatre Wing and spent two years studying Shakespearean drama, comedy, dancing, elocution and body movement. This is a long story, huh?" he laughs and then continues, "Universal Studios signed me to a contract after they saw my performance in the movie "The Hell with Heroes". My first comedy role was the part of the brother-in-law in the "Gidget" television series. From that I went on to another comedy series, "Love on a Rooftop." This is my third ("Alias Smith and Jones")...I guess that I'm destined to do comedy."
Pete was dating Kim Darby for a while when they co-starred in the movie "Generation" and is now constantly in the company of a girl named Diane, although he says "I'm not ready to settle down and get married for awhile."
He lives, like Ben, in a modest apartment in North Hollywood near the studios. They both agree that they want to move eventually, but as yet they just haven't had the time.
What does Pete do in his free time?
Pete scratches his head thoughtfully for a few minutes, then replies, "I'm an outdoors man--I love taking.off every chance I get in my four-wheel-drive camper and roaming around the countryside. I'm considering buying property right now near Sonora, California. I'm also an avid reader of political journals and a soaker-upper of the writings of contemporary thinkers!"
"Speaking for myself," Ben interrupts, "I love traveling, playing tennis, skiing, riding, swimming and last but not least, going to a good movie."
Has television success turned their heads?
"Not in the least, not at all," Ben replies, "I think if anything it has made us both humbler."
On that note, you say good-bye to Pete and race off with Ben to his friend's party.
"Isn't he a great guy?" Ben says as he opens the car door for you. "I knew you'd dig him."
Ben begins to rap to you about his future plans. "I hope that the series goes on for about five or six years. Then I'd like to venture into movies. I'd also like to have my own film company, involve myself with several other creative people and make movies together. Whether I star in them of just have the company, it doesn't matter. That's not important to me."
Does Ben feel he has a particular image?
"Yes..." he hesitates for a while, then goes on. "I have a certain way of thinking about myself. I'm sure other people also look at me in a certain way, and those two views might be different. And then there's the real me that is somewhere else, you know, deep down inside."
You ask Ben how he deals with his problems.
"I work them out myself," he replies. "I sit down and honestly deal with the problem. I ask what it is that's bothering me, not just the surface problem but what's underneath it, and I say, Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to let it bother you or are you going to do something about it?' and if I say I'm too lazy to do something about it then I know I'm going to LET it bother me because I must like it for some reason. But if I don't enjoy it, then I'll get rid of the problem. A problem's only a problem when you're not dealing with it."
Does Ben learn from his own mistakes?
"Oh, boy, do I! That's because, number one, I make so many of them," he chuckles. "The only way I can get any peace of mind is by saying 'Hey, I learned something from that mistake.' I can think of several bad business deals I learned from, but that's not as interesting as dealing in the emotional areas." He lets out a deep sigh before continuing, "There have been certain relationships in the past that went sour because of errors on my part which I wouldn't want to happen again, and I suppose I've learned from them."
You arrive at the party feeling elated because you are Ben Murphy's date and all eyes are on you when you walk into the room. Ben introduces you to all of his friends, who make you feel right at home. You stand around watching Ben mingle with the crowd. He seems completely at ease and is delightful sense of humor is enjoyed by all. Ben remains very much his own man despite the recent success he has encountered from his television series. All too soon he smiles across the room at you, eyes squinting because he's nearsighted, and motions with his hand toward the door. It's time to leave.
As he drives you home, you ask him what makes him so happy and content.
"I think my happiness is primarily the hope that eventually I can achieve an even greater capacity for living life than I now have, and I live it with a great capacity now," he says. "I really love to live. I relish it. I also love the potential of the future, both for myself and for the world around me. I think I can do a lot of groovy things for people someday and I think probably I will do them. I will also do a lot of groovy things for myself. Hope is the key to a person's happiness. Being in love with yourself is also important. By that I mean accepting yourself for what you are. When you hit that stage, you can then love other people. But until you first accept yourself and like you, you're going to be miserable."
As he stops the car outside your house you feel a tinge of disappointment that the evening is over. You say goodnight to Ben and search in your purse for your front door key. It's late and you don't want to wake your roommate. As you turn the key in the lock, you recall what Ben said--"Hope is the key to a person's happiness." If that's the case, they you'll just keep hoping that Ben will call you again someday soon.
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