If Lottery's route is a chancy onewith a bruising ratings boulder called Dallas directly opposite on CBSMurphy accepts that.
"It's irrelevant, really," he says, sipping white California wine in a Malibu restaurant. Without straining, he can contemplate the Pacific or hold hands with his companion, Continental Airlines stewardess Linda Kerr. "It's interesting that we're opposite Dallas, but I've got to do what I have to do."
Why Lottery, then? He plays a fiscal fairy godmother to the unsuspecting, changing their humdrum lives with the magic wave of his mega-buck checks. "I felt it was my best shot at a series this year," he says candidly. "When I finished The Winds of War, in which my role wasn't really large, producers weren't exactly knocking down my door with offers."
They hadn't been for quite some time. Since 1971's Alias Smith and Jones series, which ran for two seasons, this Paul Newman look-alike failed to connect with another hit. Although he says he was being paid handsomely by Universal under a long-term contract, he decided to leave acting in 1974 rather than become an early has-been. He moved to his "small condo" near Malibu's Pepperdine University, where tennis courts are plentiful. At 32, he tried the game for the first time, and soon became. a star player on the Celebrity Tennis Tournament circuit.
"It was really a way of running away from my career and putting my energies elsewhere," he explains. "Now I want to be the best actor who plays tennis rather than the best tennis-playing actor."
Cautiously, Murphy began resurfacing as an actor, but a single rejection almost did him in. He auditioned for The A Team but didn't get hired. "I wanted that role. Now I'm glad I don't have it.
"After I quit feeling sorry for myself, I called up an actress friend and said, I gotta get back into acting class. I had just lost my confidence. She recommended something else called Insight. And it just changed me right around."
Insight, which Murphy concedes is similar to other group therapy methods, was important to him because "instead of distancing or intellectualizing your problems, it went straight to the experiential. Now, I experience my feelings. In the old days, the idea of doing promotion for The Winds of War would have scared me. After Insight, it was a breeze."
If there's been an upswing in his life professionally, it's true of his personal life, too. Murphy's only marriageto Jean Davis in1978 ended in divorce after two years. "I got married for the wrong reasons," he says. "I got married out of fear, not out of love. Fear of losing a person I felt I needed to support me in life, emotionally. I didn't know how to stand on my own two feet."
Does he mean it's better to be alone?
"It's not possible to grow as rapidly on your own. The greatest thrills I've ever experienced are from that marriage. If you're alone, you're not being challenged. But I was a fortress: No one could get through to me emotionally."
Murphy thinks his fortress mentality came from his Jonesboro, Ark., childhood. His parents ran a women's apparel business. Ben was practically an only childhis brother, Timothy, a law student, is nearly 15 years younger. "Part of my childhood psychology was that I would never depend on anyone. I decided that I did not belong, I wasn't as good as they were. Eventually, that became my I'm-better-than-they-are attitude. You know, distancing myself.
"I was such a loner. I couldn't express myself in my life, but as an actor I could do it in a role. I've learned a lot about myself through tennis. If I put pressure on myself to win a game, I'm adding to my problems. But if I say, I'm just going to enjoy this and see what happens,' I play my best tennis. The same thing works in acting.
Eager for other challenges, Murphy talks about marriage and having children. "I may be a father at a very late age," he says with a glance at Linda. "I may have children because I want to have them. It would have been a lot worse if they had me as a father at 20 or 30. I was always the most difficult person to work with."
By winning in life, Murphy doesn't have
to worry about winning with Lottery.
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