Paula Prentiss

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Paula Prentiss
Prentiss in 1963
Paula Ragusa

(1938-03-04) March 4, 1938 (age 86)
EducationLamar High School
Alma materNorthwestern University
Years active1960–present
Known for
(m. 1961)
RelativesAnn Prentiss (sister)

Paula Prentiss (née Ragusa; born March 4, 1938)[1] is an American actress. She is best known for her film roles in Where the Boys Are (1960), What's New Pussycat? (1965), Catch-22 (1970), The Parallax View (1974), and The Stepford Wives (1975).

From 1967 to 1968, Prentiss co-starred with her husband Richard Benjamin in the CBS sitcom He & She, for which she received a nomination for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

Early life[edit]

Prentiss was born Paula Ragusa in San Antonio, Texas, the elder daughter of Paulene (née Gardner) and Thomas J. Ragusa, a social sciences professor at San Antonio's University of the Incarnate Word.[1] Her father was of Sicilian descent,[1] and Prentiss was raised Roman Catholic.[2] She had a younger sister, Ann Prentiss, who was also an actress.[1]

Before high school, Paula, who grew to 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m), was always the tallest person in class.[3][4][5][6] She attended Lamar High School in Houston, Texas.[7] In 1958, while studying drama at Northwestern University, she met future husband Richard Benjamin, who impressed her with his sophistication and height (he was taller than she was). While attending Northwestern she was discovered by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and was offered a film contract.[5][8]


Prentiss leapt to fame playing the role of Tuggle in Where the Boys Are (1960).[9][10] Her co-star was Jim Hutton.[11] The film was a hit and response to Prentiss and Hutton was very favorable, so MGM decided to reteam them in three more comedies, promoting them as a new William Powell and Myrna Loy: The Honeymoon Machine (1961) with Steve McQueen, Bachelor in Paradise (1961) with Bob Hope, and The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962).[12] They were the two tallest male and female contract players at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[13][14]

Hutton and Prentiss were also meant to be in Follow the Boys (1963), a Where the Boys Are-style comedy, but he dropped out, and so Prentiss' co-star became Russ Tamblyn.

Howard Hawks cast her as the female lead opposite Rock Hudson in Man's Favorite Sport? (1963) at Universal, her first film outside MGM. Hawks would later say: "Paula Prentiss was good, but she couldn't remember what she was doing from one shot to the next. Her shots never matched."[15]

Prentiss appeared on stage in a production of As You Like It in 1963 at the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park.

She had notable roles in The World of Henry Orient (1964) and In Harm's Way (1965) and made a cameo as herself in Looking for Love (1964). She also had a strong supporting role in What's New Pussycat? (1965) with Peter Sellers. However, on the set of that film she had a nervous breakdown. "One day during shooting," she told People in 1976, "I just climbed up the ropes to the catwalk and started walking the beams. Very loudly and clearly I called down to everyone on the set, 'I'm going to jump.' A French technician grabbed me, and there I was, hanging by one arm." She was hospitalized for nine months.[16]

For one season (1967–1968), Prentiss co-starred with her husband, Richard Benjamin, in the CBS sitcom He & She.[12] For her role, Prentiss was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Comedy.

In 1969 she appeared Off-Broadway in the double production, Arf and The Great Airplane Snatch, directed by Benjamin.

Prentiss returned to films with a small role in Catch-22 (1970). She had the female lead in Move (1970) with Elliott Gould and Born to Win (1971) with George Segal. She was one of the leads in Last of the Red Hot Lovers with Alan Arkin. Next, Prentiss was in the made-for-television film, The Couple Takes a Wife (1972).[17]

She was the female lead in Crazy Joe (1974) and had a small but pivotal part in The Parallax View (1974) with Warren Beatty.[18] She was second lead in The Stepford Wives (1975), alongside Katharine Ross.[19]

In 1976, Prentiss and Benjamin appeared on Broadway in The Norman Conquests. After that, they traveled to Australia to make No Room to Run (1977).

Prentiss was in Having Babies II (1977), Friendships, Secrets and Lies (1979), and Top of the Hill (1980). She had a starring role in The Black Marble (1980), but it was not widely seen.

She did Saturday the 14th (1981) with her husband and was in director Billy Wilder's last film, Buddy Buddy (1981), with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. She then made Packin' It In (1983) with her husband and did the made-for-television film, M.A.D.D.: Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (1983).

Prentiss guest starred on TV shows like Murder, She Wrote and Burke's Law.

Except for brief cameo roles, Prentiss had not appeared in a feature film for more than 30 years, until 2016's I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, a horror film directed by Oz Perkins. It premiered September 10, 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Personal life[edit]

Prentiss has been married to actor-director Richard Benjamin since 1961.[20][21] They have two children, son Ross and daughter Prentiss.[1][22]


With Richard Benjamin in a publicity photo for He & She, 1967


Year Title Role Notes
1960 Where the Boys Are Tuggle Carpenter Laurel Award for Best Female Comedy Performance
Nominated—Top Female New Personality
1961 The Honeymoon Machine Pam Dunstan
Bachelor in Paradise Linda Delavane
1962 The Horizontal Lieutenant Lt. Molly Blue
1963 Follow the Boys Toni Denham
1964 Man's Favorite Sport? Abigail Page
The World of Henry Orient Stella Dunnworthy
Looking for Love Paula Prentiss
1965 In Harm's Way Beverly McConnell
What's New Pussycat? Liz Bien
1970 Catch-22 Nurse Duckett
Move Dolly Jaffe
1971 Born to Win Veronica
1972 Last of the Red Hot Lovers Bobbi Michele
1974 Crazy Joe Anne
The Parallax View Lee Carter
1975 The Stepford Wives Bobbie Markowe
1980 The Black Marble Sgt. Natalie Zimmerman
1981 Saturday the 14th Mary Hyatt Nominated—1981 Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Supporting Actress
Buddy Buddy Celia Clooney
1996 Mrs. Winterbourne Nurse Allmeyer Uncredited
2007 Hard Four Sweet Cherrie
2016 I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House Iris Blum


Year Title Role Notes
1963 77 Sunset Strip Model Uncredited
Episode: "The Fumble"
1967–68 He & She Paula Hollister Main role, 26 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
1972 The Couple Takes a Wife Barbara Hamilton Television film
1977 No Room to Run Terry McKenna
Having Babies II Trish Canfield
1979 Friendships, Secrets and Lies Sandy
1980 Top of the Hill Norma Ellsworth Cully
Saturday Night Live Co-Host

(with Richard Benjamin)

Episode: April 5, 1980

Musical Guest: Grateful Dead

1981 Mr. and Mrs. Dracula Sonia Dracula Unaired pilot
1983 Packin' It In Dianne Webber Television film
M.A.D.D.: Mothers Against Drunk Drivers Lynne Wiley
1992 Murder, She Wrote Leonora Holt Episode: "Incident in Lot 7"
1995 Burke's Law Carla Martinet Episode: "Who Killed the Hollywood Headshrinker?"


  1. ^ a b c d e Carson, Tom (March 1, 2018). "Happy Birthday, Paula Prentiss". Texas Monthly. Retrieved March 21, 2021.
  2. ^ ""The next 58 years will be a breeze": An interview with RiverRun Master of Cinema awardees Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin". Comet Over Hollywood. April 7, 2019. Archived from the original on December 28, 2021. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  3. ^ "The Word Online:2000–2001". University of the Incarnate Word. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  4. ^ "In Memoriam: Summer 2001". University of the Incarnate Word. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  5. ^ a b "Paula Prentiss Biography". Cratonkiwi. Archived from the original on December 20, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  6. ^ "Paula Prentiss". Filmbug. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  7. ^ Mesinger, Maxine. "Lamar High marks 50th anniversary". Houston Chronicle. August 7, 1987. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  8. ^ "Paula Prentiss". Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  9. ^ Levy, Emanuel (25 March 2013). "WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960): Iconic Spring Break Movie, Starring Connie Francis, Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux". Emanuel Levy – Cinema 24/7. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  10. ^ "Where the Boys Are (1960) Directed by Henry Levin". LETTERBOXD. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  11. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Oct 13, 1960). "MGM Reactivates 'Spring' Musical: It's 'Early' Lerner-Loewe; Paramount Takes New Play". Los Angeles Times. p. B17.
  12. ^ a b Paula Prentiss- Biography, Yahoo!
  13. ^ Paula Prentiss's commentary track on the DVD for Where the Boys Are
  14. ^ Alpert, Don (July 16, 1961). "Jim and Paula: Shades of Powell, Loy?". Los Angeles Times. p. N4.
  15. ^ Willis, Donald C (1975). The Films of Howard Hawks. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 208. ISBN 0-8108-0860-9.
  16. ^ Armstrong, Lois (February 23, 1976). "Dick Benjamin & Paula Prentiss: Their Sunshine Boy Is the Baby Who 'Made Us Grow Up'". People. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  17. ^ Haber, Joyce. (Oct 10, 1972). "Wanted: A Reliable Rabbit for Paula". Los Angeles Times. p. d11.
  18. ^ "The Parallax View (1974) Directed by Alan J. Pakula". LETTERBOXD. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 January 1975). "The Stepford Wives". Chicago Sun-Times.
  20. ^ Armstrong, Lois (February 23, 1976). "Dick Benjamin & Paula Prentiss: Their Sunshine Boy Is the Baby Who 'Made Us Grow Up'". People. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  21. ^ O'Haire, Patricia (September 22, 1998). "An Off-B'way Power Couple: Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on February 7, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  22. ^ Houseman, Victoria (1991). Made in Heaven: The Marriages and Children of Hollywood Stars. Bonus Books. p. 26. ISBN 9780929387246.

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