First there were the lonely years... and then the years of love... and now the years of loneliness are back for Ben Murphy.
But there is a difference. For today Ben, who co-stars in ABC-TV's Alias Smith and Jones, meets many women. Yet with none of them has he been able to find a love that lasts.
"It will take a very strong woman to hold me," Ben admits. And he hasn't found her yet.
Ben's years of loneliness began in Jonesboro, Arkansas, where he was born 28 years ago. He was always a child who kept to himself. "Jonesboro was near Memphis, where I started school," he recalls, "and then when I was eight I moved with my parents to Chicago. My parents still live in a suburb of Chicago.
"I was always kind of a loner when I was growing up. I had friends, but I wasn't really close to them," he recalls. "I spent much of my time reading. Life was boring, but I don't know whether that was because of where I lived or because of me. I didn't even go to plays or movies. I never got interested in acting until college."
But Ben now feels that his very inability to communicate during his early youth laid the groundwork for his eventual interest in acting. Trying to find a way out of what he calls "emotional stagnation," he eventually turned to performing as a way to get out of himself and reach others.
And yet he didn't have a really unhappy childhood. For he learned to live with his loneliness in a way... even while he was seeking ways to escape it.
Ben never really had a girlfriend until well into his college years. In high school he didn't even know how to approach a girl--even though he was good looking and shouldn't have had any problem.
With no girl, no close friends, no special career in mind, Ben eventually realized that if he wanted to get out of his rut he would have to change his life completely.
"I knew there must be more to life! That is what caused me to leave home at 18, and go to nine colleges in eight years. I just kept bumming around the country--looking for something better around the next bend."
He started by going to a Catholic college for men. He stayed there a year, then moved on to a coeducational Catholic college.
During his sophomore year at that college,
Ben finally got out of his shell and, by his own admission, "I
had a lot of fun. I joined a fraternity and enjoyed myself--booze,
girls, the whole routine."
But his restlessness continued, as he came to realize that he had merely traded a lonely existence for a shallow one. Yes, there were girls at last--many girls--but no one girl who mattered.
"I got bored with it after about eight months," Ben confesses. It was time to move on again...
And so he applied to the University of the Americas in Mexico City. Fleeing his conventional Roman Catholic upbringing, which had led him to enroll in two Catholic colleges in a row, he decided to try life in what he calls "a totally secular society and college."
But before leaving for Mexico, Ben had a romance with a girl in New Orleans--perhaps his most serious romance until that time. Yet Ben knew somehow that he had not yet found the right girl. She seemed more attracted to him than he was to her, which was flattering but unsatisfying in terms of any meaningful relationship.
And so, when it came time to leave for Mexico City and the start of the college term there, Ben broke off the romance. The girl screamed, cried and called him names for leaving her. But Ben had to move on. Whatever love might be, he knew that he hadn't found it yet.
He did find it, however, in Mexico City.
The girl was blonde, blue-eyed and all-American, and her name was Ginny. She and Ben turned out to have a great deal in common--but unlike Ben, Ginny did not seem to be a person in search of something. She had already found happiness and fulfillment simply in the joy of living--and what was more important, she was able to communicate it to Ben. At last he had found someone who could bring out the hidden warmth that had lain dormant in him for all the years of his youth.
As soon as he first saw her--in a lunchroom--Ben was attracted to her. She turned down his first request for a date, saying she was busy, but after that they went out together, just before Christmas vacation. They went dancing and had a marvelous time.
Ginny lived in Detroit, and Ben's home in Chicago was just a few hundred miles away, so Ginny invited him to visit her family home over the Christmas holidays. Her warmth, her optimism about life, her friendly, open personality--all these made Ben realize that he was falling in love with her.
Back in Mexico, Ben began taking Ginny for rides to nearby towns on weekends, using an old Chevrolet his dad had given him at Christmas. Gradually Ben and Ginny covered much of Mexico this way, taking longer trips when they had seen most of the countryside around Mexico City. They went to Acapulco, Vera Cruz and other coastal spots, as well as to little mountain villages where they were practically the only ones who spoke English.
"Sometimes my little old Chevy would fall apart, but we would stick it back together and take off again," Ben remembers with a smile. Those were wonderful months. For the first time, he had fallen in love, and Ginny returned his love fully.
At the end of the school year, during the summer of 1963, Ben and Ginny returned to the United States together in the old Chevrolet. But their work then separated them, as Ginny went to a summer camp for a job as a counselor, while Ben worked for a railroad.
They continued to see each other whenever possible, but something bad gone wrong. The love that had grown so quickly in Mexico began to disintegrate just as quickly once they were back in the United States.
Always before it had been Ben who had
broken off relationships. But now, in Ginny, he had met his match.
For it was Ginny who wanted to move on--and out of his life. She
wanted to join the Peace Corps and work with children overseas.
As Ben realized that her future plans did not involve him, he
was deeply hurt. Communication between the two became difficult,
even when they were together. And when they were apart, the process
of disintegration was only hastened.
That fall, Ginny chose to finish her senior year in Ohio, while Ben spent his not too far away, at the University of Illinois. But the romance was over, and by the end of that year Ben and Ginny were not seeing each other anymore.
Even though the romance was over, Ben was grateful to Ginny, and he still is. For it was she who taught him the meaning of love, and enabled him to reach another human being for the first time.
It was during his senior year at Illinois that Ben first became interested in acting. He learned that the university drama group was holding tryouts for Julius Caesar, and he won a small part. It was the old story--the acting bug bit him, and from then on his future path was set. After graduation he moved to California and became a student at the Pasadena Playhouse. Later an agent spotted him in a local play with Lurene Tuttle, signed him and sent him out for interviews.
He did two lines in The Graduate, then won a bigger role in Yours, Mine and Ours. Eventually Universal signed him to a contract and, after be had done several guest star roles there, he was made a regular on The Name of the Game, playing Bob Stack's assistant. But the show did little for him except pay him a salary, and he was finally written out. Several months later he was cast in the pilot of Alias Smith and Jones by Universal, a two-hour TV movie which resulted in the show being sold as a series. Against stiff competition from The Flip Wilson Show, Ben's series managed to survive and win a renewal for the fall 1971 season. So his career is in good shape.
Unfortunately his love life, while it has led him to involvements with many girls since his breakup with Ginny, has never again brought him the kind of meaningful relationship he shared with her.
He has dated literally hundreds of girls in the past few years--actresses, bit players, waitresses, coeds, dancers, fans--but none of these relationships has grown into lasting love. He has even, by his own admission, tried living with girls without benefit of clergy. But the end result was disillusionment, because he never again found a girl he could love as he had loved Ginny, who has long since married and is living overseas.
One of Ben's more pleasant and rewarding pastimes in the recent past was teaching a class of aspiring actors which had been started by Lurene Tuttle. When Miss Tuttle, who had been appearing on Julia, had to have an operation, Ben substituted for her.
"Teaching is the only time when I feel totally pure, totally without self-interest," says Ben. "It goes from me to somebody else. The only time anywhere in life that this happens is in teaching acting. However, there is another feeling coupled with it--that you can never give enough. And as a result you feel drained and empty, and there is nothing more to give, so you have to go back out into the world and fill yourself up in order to give more."
While he was teaching acting, Ben came to be friends with one of his students, a young actress named Linda London. Because of the great satisfactions that Ben found in the teaching relationship, his friendship with Linda was a rewarding one. He asked her out on a date, and she accepted. He found that in talking to her, helping her with her career problems, he was able to communicate and get out of himself once again. But, although he and Linda are very close, Ben continues to date others.
Another recent date has been Monica Peterson, a talented young black actress formerly under contract to 20th Century-Fox. She and Ben have attended a number of industry functions together, including the premiere of Scrooge. But this was only a friendship, and neither is serious about the other.
Indeed, there is no girl at the moment about whom Ben is really serious. Instead his life is one long series of different girls, as he searches for the one who can take Ginny s place.
"Someday I hope to settle down, but I have to admit that I also like my freedom, so I haven't really gotten involved in a serious way for a long time.
"But freedom can have its disadvantages. If I could find the right girl, I'd like to have some constancy in my life. Because otherwise you can come up as lonely as anything...
"You can wake up some days and feel totally alone... and that's the price you have to pay for your freedom. Some people think, Oh, you can just pick up the phone when that happens and get in touch with a friend. You know plenty of girls.'
"But often you can't, because they're all doing their own thing. They may be with someone else. Because I never try to keep people on a string. I'm very honest with them.
"In some instances I may be seeing more than one girl at the moment, but I never lie about that. In some cases they know about each other, and in others they don't know I'm dating other people. For while I don't lie about it, by the same token I don't talk about in unnecessarily, either. It's just that if a girl asks me whether I'm seeing anybody else, I don't play games. I tell her the truth. Yes,' I'll say, I'm dating somebody else. I won't kid you.' And I've never had any bad reactions from telling the truth.
"I don't go for any one physical type. I'm looking for a girl who's fun, free and independent--but mostly a girl who likes me and I like her.
"And when our relationship is over, the girl generally doesn't feel that she's lost anything, when I go out of her life. Because she knows that I was just there temporarily, anyway...
Yes, for Ben Murphy every relationship seems temporary these days. In a way, he wants it that way, by his own admission--for he loves his freedom. And yet there's the memory of a greater love that he can't forget, the girl he loved and lost that winter in Mexico.
For another love like that, the chances are that he'd willingly part with his freedom, perhaps permanently.
But there's just one catch: he's only
found that kind of love once in his life, and no matter how hard
he searches, he can't seem to find it again. Perhaps he never
will. All he can do is keep looking--and hoping.
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