He's got a lazy, come-hither smile, a dashing, daring, devil-may-care way--to say nothing of eyes like Paul Newman's and hair like Ryan O'Neal's! How can he lose? He walked away with a million hearts under an alias (Alias Smith and Jones) and now he's sailing under false colors again as Gemini Man, star of NBC's new fall series. The real Ben Murphy was born under the sign of Pisces!
No matter what kind of role Ben Murphy plays when the cameras are rolling, take our word for it, he's bright, talented and darned good-looking. He dropped in and out of eight different colleges, picked up not one but two B.A. degrees, and a bunch of graduate credits before he "got the acting bug" during his last college year. "I was about 23," he recalls. "A lot of people go into it for the money and the fortune and the fame or whatever. Well, they're really groovy," he says, blue eyes aglow with pleasure, "but usually people turn to acting for some other reason. For me it was a way of being able to just talk to people. I was a very shy kid." His expression becomes serious. "It came out of a sense of frustration, a sense of wanting to express my own self. Acting has to be self-expression. I don't try to play a character, I try to play Ben Murphy."
Who is Ben Murphy? For openers, he's a bachelor-about-town who never lacks for gorgeous dates, and drifts from one romance to another. As he says, he is "happy in my maleness," and all the while he purports not to "understand femaleness that much." This may or may not explain why he says, "I can meet somebody, fall in love, fall out of love--go through all the emotions--and have them end up as an old friend by the time the day is over! It's almost like I get to know people very, very quickly." Though, he adds, "Somewhere I feel I should get married and have a typical family. I really can't imagine, not getting married."
He hides the fact that he is very sensitive--often clowns to cover his own feelings--but it's easy to see that Ben has known the pain and heartbreak of love that didn't last. Philosophically he says, "It was a valuable experience," but there is pain in his blue eyes as he remembers, "She was a tender, beautiful person. One of those people who glow." Years later, his smile is tender as he speaks of "her joy of living, her love of all the beautiful things in life. We had a lot of fun growing up, and traveling around Mexico together."
Love-'em-and-leave-'em Ben admits he "was fairly callous up to that point," but the miracle of young love made a far deeper impression than he knew. "I treasure knowing her," he says softly. They had been together many months but, inevitably, they parted. "It happens all the time with my relationships," notes Ben with a brief sigh and a bit of faraway look in those blue eyes.
He couldn't be the romantic figure he is without that Little Boy Lost quality the ladies love and, there's no doubt about it, the ladies love Ben! The feeling is mutual. "I used to think I liked blondes," he admits with an easy grin, "but I'm beginning to learn I like all women."
Ben Murphy is a veteran of TV series--Alias Smith and Jones, Griff, and now the new Gemini Man. He played Joe Sample in Name of the Game, as well as in a trio of films, The Graduate, Thousand Plane Raid, and Yours, Mine, and Ours. He's a many-sided man who's still learning about himself and his craft. He's so brash he doesn't bat an eye at his reputation of World's Greatest Lover, yet he was too shy to open his mouth when he met Paul Newman! Ben was 16 and already he'd been hearing "You look just like Paul Newman!" for years.
"There are a lot of funny things I've noticed about myself. I don't like to follow anyone, I have to lead. I don't mind being in the background, I just hate to be behind someone! I can't stand to go to a party and not have the freedom of leaving when I want to. I have to take my own car. I remember, a friend of mine and I were playing tennis and he wanted to stop off at the store. I said, 'Fine', but I got out of that car and ran home. It was like a compulsion." He arrived only seconds before his friend but, Ben confesses "I can't stand waiting for people." Yet he'd wandered happily about Mexico drifting from one place to another, seemingly without destination.
There's nothing aimless about Ben's direction today. He's very perceptive and he spends his spare time improving his work. He'd already tried writing and painting, he told me, "but I wasn't really good at them, so I thought maybe I could act." When he came to that decision, he learned everything about it that he could possibly absorb. "I want to build," he said, "I want to have an organization. I want to have my own film company.
"A lot of things motivate me--like building a career, like building something in terms of work you can be proud of!" He paused thoughtfully. "I'm very sensitive to criticism but I do something about it, I don't let it get me down usually. The initial reaction is to defend myself." His eyes twinkled.
"The need for personal adjustment is not totally over but most of the buckle is behind me! I have made peace with myself. It doesn't mean that I will always like me. There are a lot of things I don't like about myself, that will need improvement, but I'm not worried about them any more."
Gone is the old Ben who took casual comments to heart. A fan once wrote that he was letting himself go and Ben posted a giant reminder to himself on his own wall: Do Push-ups! In his place, is a self-assured, confident Ben who can take either success or failure in his stride and come up with that slightly crooked smile and the familiar twinkle in his eye.
Ben's come a long way from his Jonesboro, Arkansas beginnings and he's probably glad it wasn't all horseback, though his rough-riding stint on Alias Smith and Jones was definitely a gallop in the right direction. He grew up in suburban Chicago, an only child till he was 14, when his folks surprised him with a little brother. "He was only four when I left home to go to school," he points out. "We were like two related strangers." Now of course, except for the distances that separate them, they have reached a more common ground thought they missed growing up together as more brothers do.
These days, a busy Ben is almost outrunning his own shadow. He is comfortably settled in Malibu, glorying in the sand and the surf when there's time to enjoy them. Avidly athletic, Ben cycles and jogs, swims and surfs. He plays a great game of tennis and loves horseback riding, though he's often too busy to indulge those pleasures. Much as he likes being "footloose and fancy-free," Ben's career takes up more and more of his time, which is what he's been aiming at all along.
Always more or less independent, Ben says his parents didn't really encourage him in his pursuit of an acting career. "They were kind of neutral. I demanded my own independence and got it at an early age so that I did what I wanted to do. They've been very good to me," he adds thoughtfully. "They never did make demands on me so long as I've held up my end of it. I appreciate them, care for them, especially for what they've done for me." Yet he's neither very close to them nor dependent upon them.
"My parents were puzzled by my desire to be me, whatever that turned out to be," he admits with a grin. "I felt it was better to keep my dreams to myself when they were too surprising." Ever eager to be on his own, he recalls, "The younger you can earn money, the sooner you can be independent. I became a truck driver in Chicago in my midteens. My folks acknowledged that I was very practical. I drove at night and in the summer, so my jobs could help pay for my education."
Ben, who loves the challenge of change hopped from one college to another. He put himself through a freshman year at Laras College, a Catholic school for men in Dubuque, Iowa. He went from there to Loyola University in New Orleans: "I paid for almost all my expenses by working as secretary to a priest there." Mexico's University of the Americas came next. "As a foreign student, I couldn't get a work permit," he recalls, so Ben taught English to a classmate for two months. He "added a summer of truck driving, worked in a store as a shoe salesman for another stretch, worked after classes in the library (back in the stacks!) and delivered the campus paper," while he was a senior at the University of Illinois.
"One morning I read that volunteers were needed to act in a campus production of Julius Caesar" and, wild as the idea seemed to Ben, he volunteered. "I wasn't sensational," he remembers with a chuckle, "but that was my first chapter as an actor." Sensational or not, Ben discovered that "acting in university shows was such a kick I decided to try to succeed in show business."
Despite that devil-may-care demeanor, Ben who had been a political science major, didn't just dive into it. "I believe in preparing for chances. I enrolled for the two-year course in theater arts at Pasadena Playhouse." Ben made all the right moves, he thought, but he didn't set any worlds on fire in the beginning. "Getting started in show business takes a lot of effort," he admits, though he confesses, "I didn't suffer from loneliness. I found great pleasure in sharing many things." By the time the world had a good look at Ben as the lovable renegade Curley Jones, there wasn't a chance of suffering from loneliness! Somebody quipped that Ben should have been a doctor, because whenever he appeared on the scene, all the girls said, "Aaaaah!"
There's no special lady in Ben's life. They are, in fact all special, and why not? He likes being footloose and fancy-free: "Lay elaborate plans on me and I'll hedge. I want simplicity in my life. I don't want to be tied down by anything that can be monotonous." Even taking care of possessions comes under that heading. "So I want few material things," he explains with a shrug.
"Psychologically, I have to be loved by a lot of people. I need a universal love on a certain level, but not too deep. You can't get too close," he observes thoughtfully, "I think emotional misery comes if two people are weak and cling to each other because they can't stand on their own."
Ben Murphy is ready, willing and waiting for success and finding it almost within his grasp. Creative, talented double-Piscean Ben (his sun is in Pisces, with Pisces rising) certainly did all right with an alias, but he'll never need another. He's dedicated and sincere but there's enough delightful Piscean changeability about him to make him a perfect Gemini Man--and NBC realizes it!
Ben's feet are planted firmly on the ground
while his flirty blue eyes are on the stars. With his kind of
charm, his determination and his enthusiasm, we don't need astrology
to tell us the sky is the limit!
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