In line with most of Hollywood's "overnight success stories" Murphy has been around town for years, working regularly in both films and television. It's a good face, but the name meant nothing. Then ABC cast him as a gun-happy highwayman in "Alias" and gave him the push he needed.
"The only thing I know," Ben said, still on the subject of image, "is that it won't be me, because I only show the surface to most people. The only time I open up is with my friends. A woman will get to me and I'll want her to know me. Still, I'm wary, because I hate women at the same time I love them. I know they can hurt me. There's that fear that they'll get to me..."
No one can blame them for trying. Some people say Ben reminds them of a younger Paul Newman. There is a resemblance in the blonde hair, blue eyes, and the mouth. And they both like beer. Off-screen, Ben wears rimless Air Force-type glasses. He's more powerfully built than Newman, the result of an addiction to athletics. He skiis, swims, plays tennis, rides horses--well.
He's been on the run since he was 18; running away from home, his middle class background, from women, from possessions. "I'm a loose floating soul," he grins, "I've got a great big fear of being tied down to anything or anybody."
He talks about his youth spent in Hinsdale, Illinois where his parents still live and operate a clothing store. It's a sketchy discourse. There are obviously tender spots. He doesn't invite anything but cursory analysis.
"Everything goes back to my childhood," he says. "I was alone a lot because my parents always worked. I was in nursery school as a very young child. At home, I learned to enjoy my own mental processes and daydreams. I learned not to really care too much about other people. My mother wasn't possessive, quite the contrary. And I blamed her for a lot of things." Ben caught himself. "Of course, I've long since forgiven her."
"By the time I became a teenager," he continued, "the pattern was there. I was alone in my basement room all the time during my four years in high school, reading, doing my own thing. I never played around with the guys, with cars, all that routine. I got involved with sports but never with groups of people. Actually it was good for me. It made me what I am today. It means I didn't go off and do the normal things like being a doctor, a lawyer or an Indian chief living in the suburbs--that whole bit.
"It's funny," Ben talked on. "It's like this guy who is coming to see me today. I went to high school with him and I haven't seen him since. Suddenly he calls and wants to come by. Actually I never really gone along with him one way or the other. I went clear through high school and nobody ever paid any attention to me. Now, all of the sudden I'm a big thing." This is surely not uncommon.
Ben downed the last of his beer and signaled for another. "Naw, people don't both me too often. Most people don't know who I am in the first place, and secondly they don't know how to get hold of me. Yeah," he grinned. "I've got a telephone. I even get obscene phone calls once in a while." He laughed, and it did nice things to his face. The blue eyes flashed, and I asked him if he is basically a happy person.
"I'm not the kind of guy who goes around glowing," he replied, "but psychologically, I'm happy. I talk a good happiness. Emotionally I go the full range every day from anger to dejection to paranoia to happiness. I don't try to level it off. It's good for me.
"It's why I became an actor in the first place. I was stagnating emotionally. I just couldn't get anything out. But all those years of acting classes, when I went through hell as I began to learn about myself; that did it. On top of this, I'll admit I have a need to be loved by everybody. EVERYBODY! I mean I will seek out the person in a room who doesn't like me and try to change this mind. Forget the people who do. I'll go to the one who doesn't and work on him until he likes me or I know why he doesn't."
Conversely Ben insists he doesn't need individual friendships. "Because in never had them as I was growing up," he explains. "I want to know that a person likes me, but I don't want to be tied to them and I don't want to have to do anything in return. But I do want a woman, I know that marriage aside, whatever, I want to be involved with one woman for a long time. But I've gotta work out a few psychological things beforehand. I've gotta learn to give more."
After graduating from Precopius Greek Orthodox School in Hinsdale, Ben enrolled at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. He stayed there for a year, transferred to Loyola University in New Orleans, then to the University of the Americas in Mexico City. Despite this hopping around he kept his credits in order and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Illinois. A year or so of graduate study followed at Loyola University in Chicago and the University of the Americas before Murphy went to the Pasadena Playhouse in California and completed a two-year course, garnering a second B.A., this one in Theater Arts.
Somehow the Armed Services passed him by. "Even at the height of the Vietnam war they never drafted me," Ben says. "I expected it every day and dreaded it, because my career was just starting. Now I'm too old. I'm 29.
"I would have gone, yes. Because with my education I probably would have ended up in Europe instead of in Vietnam. Basically I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in killing and fighting. I think the whole thing is insane. I thought it was insane back in 1963 when I was at the University of Illinois and we were studying Asian problems. I was there working in the library when I heard that President Kennedy had been killed. I remember running outside and the way some of the kids were screaming," Ben's voiced trailed away and he was silent for a moment. "Human nature being what it is, nations, governments and people have to go through their follies," he said finally. "But as far as I'm concerned, I'm just going to step aside and make sure it doesn't roll over me and those I love. Because human beings are going to do stupid things. Yet at the same time I admire and respect the people who get out and get behind things. If they didn't do it, where would we be? Personally my loyalties don't end at the border line of my country. They go beyond to people. There's another human being on the other side who is important too. Most of the letters I get are from kids. 11-12-13-year-olds. They usually sign with something like love and peace. It's the whole scene."
As in Hollywood, the anti-star syndrome is very much in vogue. Ben typifies current attitudes. He may go a few steps beyond. He doesn't need or want what is generally referred to as the "phoney-baloney," the super car, the clothes, the private clubs. He owns a vintage Chevrolet, the kind automobile dealers refer to as a "good transportation car." "And I wouldn't have that," he smiles, "if it wasn't for my mother. She bought it for me."
Ben lives in a modest apartment near the studio. It would take a fast five minutes for him to pack everything he owns into a battered, brown leather suitcase. He's making pretty good money and saving it. He's socking it away in land investments. He'd like to go to Europe one day, headquarter in Paris and study French. He'd like to put a pack on his back and trek from country to country, much as he once criss-crossed the United States.
In order to support himself when he was college-hopping, Ben worked at a number of jobs. He sold shoes, dug ditches, painted houses, drove a truck. He was once secretary to a priest. How did he come by this position? "It was on the board at school," he says nonchalantly.
It was while he was at the University in Mexico that Ben fell in love for the first time. He doesn't elaborate on the affair, except to admit that it hurt when it was over. "What a place to fall in love," he says. "We used to get in my car and go all over the country staying in small towns. She was an English girl. I never did learn how to speak Spanish."
Ben would like to think about settling down with one woman when he's about 35. If by that time he has enough money. "I'm not going to get married until I can support a wife and children the way I want," he says. "And that means they won't have to struggle along with me. I want to be able to give them everything. I want us to be able to pick up and leave on the spur of the moment.
"I hope you realize," Ben smiled, "that I'm over-talking all this stuff, because I'm trying to answer you honestly and fully. These things I'm talking about aren't big problems at all. I'm not sick by any means. None of this hurts my life. It's just that I'm aware of every nuance of my feelings. Most people are not aware of themselves; I am. I have that facility of being able to walk into a room and I know what's going on and what people think of me, what people think of one another. It's that sort of thing. It's not because I'm psychic. It's intuitive."
Ben approaches everything with a driving determination to succeed. He either goes all the way or not at all.
"When I learned to ski," he says, "that's all I did for months. I skied. When something interests me that's all I want to do until I've learned to do it as well as I can. Then I'm bored and want to go on to something else."
Acting, he insists, is not a passing fancy, "I wouldn't give it up," he says. "Sometimes I think about it. Sometimes in the heat of the day when there are a million questions, I think I just gotta get out of here; I gotta cut out. But I'm not going to. I've got a good thing and I know it."
Ben grew impatient when the question of sexploitation in films came up. "I don't know what sexploitation means," he said. "I only see films I like or I don't like. Do you see the subtle point I'm trying to make? It's unimportant. A film is either artistically something I enjoy or I don't enjoy. How they do it is not relevant. Those are values which are just not important to me at all. That's the way it is with most of my generation and the younger kids. Nudity is not important. As an actor I would do anything I want to do. Would I do nudity? I would if I thought it was necessary. But it's totally unimportant."
He looked up and flashed a broad grin. The anger passed from his face. What had he said? "My emotions go the full range every day." At this instant he looked comparatively content.
"I am content," he allowed. "Next week I'm leaving for Utah to go skiing. I've got a couple of chicks I may or may not take along. The show is going well and I love it. I've got no complaints."
Later, just before he said goodbye, he got off on the subject of tennis. "Do you know of a tennis ranch around here anywhere?" he asked. "I've heard of them, a place where you lead a spartan life and just play tennis every day, day in and day out. It's like a training camp. That's what I'd really like to do when I get back from Utah. I've got a couple of months before the series starts up again. Either that or I'd like to head down to Mexico. There's a large part of Baja I haven't seen. Yeah..."
With that he was off, an itchy foot against
the accelerator of a beat down car. Benjamin Murphy, a fascinating
highwayman if ever there was one.
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