Richard Benjamin

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Richard Benjamin
Benjamin in 1972
Born
Richard Samuel Benjamin

(1938-05-22) May 22, 1938 (age 85)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materNorthwestern University
Occupations
  • Actor
  • director
  • producer
Years active1962–present
Spouse
(m. 1961)
Children2

Richard Samuel Benjamin (born May 22, 1938) is an American actor and film director. He has starred in a number of well-known films, including Goodbye, Columbus (1969), Catch-22 (1970), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), Westworld (1973), The Last of Sheila (1973), and The Sunshine Boys (1975), for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. Benjamin was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series for his performances in He & She (1968), opposite his wife Paula Prentiss.

After directing for television, his first film as a director was the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year, starring Peter O’Toole, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. His other films as a director include City Heat (1984), The Money Pit (1986), My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988), Mermaids (1990), Made in America (1993), Milk Money (1994), Mrs. Winterbourne (1996), and Marci X (2003).

Early life[edit]

Benjamin was born in New York City, the son of Samuel Roger Benjamin (1910–1997), a garment industry worker.[1] Benjamin's uncle was vaudeville comedian Joe Browning. His family was Jewish.[2] He attended the High School of Performing Arts and graduated from Northwestern University, where he was involved in many plays and studied in the Northwestern theater school. While there, he met future wife Paula Prentiss.[3]

Career[edit]

Theatre[edit]

Benjamin appeared on stage in The Taming of the Shrew and guest-starred on shows such as The New Breed and Dr. Kildare.[3] Benjamin's early break came when cast in the touring company of Barefoot in the Park in 1964. He later toured in The Odd Couple with Dan Dailey.[4] In 1966, he directed Barefoot in the Park on stage in London. Simon was pleased with Benjamin's work and cast him in his new play The Star-Spangled Girl (1966–67) directed by George Axelrod. Benjamin appeared alongside Anthony Perkins and Connie Stevens, and the show ran for 261 performances. The success of the show led to Benjamin appearing in a television series with his wife Paula, He & She (1967–68). It ran for 26 episodes.[3]

Stardom[edit]

Ali MacGraw and Richard Benjamin in Goodbye, Columbus in 1969

Benjamin's first lead role in a film came with an adaptation of the Philip Roth novella, Goodbye, Columbus (1969) with Ali MacGraw. It was a critical and commercial hit.[5] He followed it with a key support role in the film of Catch-22 (1970). He was top billed in Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) from the team of Eleanor and Frank Perry, appearing alongside Carrie Snodgress and Frank Langella. He directed his wife off-Broadway in Arf/The Great Airplane Snatch (1969), which ran for five performances.

Benjamin played the lead in The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), directed by the producer and the original author of The Graduate, though it was not as successful.[6] He acted in a comedy, The Steagle (1971), the directorial debut of designer Paul Sylbert, which was little seen. Another box-office flop was the film of Roth's Portnoy's Complaint (1972), the sole directorial effort of Ernest Lehman.

In 1972 Benjamin returned to Broadway with The Little Black Book, which only ran for nine performances. He then acted in two more successful films, as part of an all-star cast in The Last of Sheila (1973), from a script by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, and in Westworld (1973), directed by Michael Crichton and co-starring Yul Brynner. The Los Angeles Times stated that by this stage, his image was of "a whining, petulant bore by doing too good a job of acting in a series of sleazy roles." He decided to steer away from such roles by turning down a part in The Towering Inferno (which Richard Chamberlain ended up playing).[3]

Supporting actor[edit]

Benjamin supported Walter Matthau and George Burns in the film adaptation of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys (1975), for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. He starred with Prentiss in The Norman Conquests (1975–76) on Broadway, which went for 76 performances. The couple went to Australia to make No Room to Run (1978). In Hollywood, Benjamin supported Matthau and Glenda Jackson in House Calls (1978).

In 1978, he starred in the ambitious but short-lived television series Quark.[7][8] The same year he appeared in a TV film Fame, written by Arthur Miller. Benjamin played a frustrated fiancé of a woman who falls for the vampire Count Dracula in the surprise box-office smash Love at First Bite (1979) starring George Hamilton and Susan Saint James.[9]

Benjamin has hosted Saturday Night Live twice, once by himself on April 7, 1979 and the other nearly a year later on April 5, 1980 with his wife Paula Prentiss.[10] He was top billed in Scavenger Hunt (1979), an ensemble film.

Benjamin had directed in theatre and was keen to do it in film. In 1979, Benjamin directed for the first time, creating a pilot for a sitcom spin-off of the film Where's Poppa? by Carl Reiner. "The pilot turned out really well," said Benjamin. "But I don't think ABC ever quite 'got' it. They never did put the show on the air... At least I could prove that I wasn't nuts, that I really had actually directed something."[11] He directed one episode of the 1980 TV series Semi-Tough.

Benjamin had supporting roles in The Last Married Couple in America (1980), How to Beat the High Co$t of Living (1980), Witches' Brew (1980), and First Family (1980). He and Prentiss played the leads in Saturday the 14th (1981). They also began hosting corporate videos.

Feature film director[edit]

Benjamin's work on the Where's Poppa? pilot saw him offered the job as director on My Favorite Year (1982) starring Peter O'Toole. The film was warmly received, earning O'Toole an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and launched Benjamin as a director.

Benjamin and Prentiss returned to acting with the TV movie Packin' It In (1983). He said, "If I get a wonderful script to act in and a mediocre script to direct, I'll act. And the same principle applies the other way around. It's the material that counts."[12] He focused on directing, though, for the next decade. Benjamin's second feature as director was Racing with the Moon (1984) from a script by Steve Kloves starring Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage. He was then called in at short notice to replace Blake Edwards on City Heat (1984) with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, which was a critical and commercial disappointment.[13]

Benjamin directed a comedy for Steven Spielberg's company, The Money Pit (1986) with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. He then directed a thriller Little Nikita (1988) with Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix, and a comedy with Dan Aykroyd, My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988). Benjamin did another comedy, Downtown (1990), with Anthony Edwards and Forest Whitaker. He had a moderate hit with Mermaids (1990) starring Cher and Winona Ryder.

Made in America (1993) with Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson was also successful. Milk Money (1994) with Melanie Griffith and Ed Harris was less so. He also directed Mrs. Winterbourne (1996).

In the 1990s, Benjamin returned to acting with appearances on shows including The Ray Bradbury Theater, Love & War, Ink, Mad About You, and Titus, as well as the films Deconstructing Harry (1997),[14] Keeping Up with the Steins (2006), and Henry Poole Is Here (2008).

TV directing[edit]

In 1998, Benjamin and Prentiss performed Power Plays on stage.[15] Benjamin did some directing for TV – The Pentagon Wars (1998), Tourist Trap (1999), The Sports Pages (2001), and Laughter on the 23rd Floor (2001) from the play by Neil Simon. Benjamin returned to features with The Shrink Is In (2001) and Marci X (2003), in which he also had a small role.[16]

He produced and directed a TV adaptation of Simon's The Goodbye Girl (2004) with Jeff Daniels and Patricia Heaton. In 2006, Benjamin directed the award-winning cable television drama A Little Thing Called Murder, starring Australian Judy Davis. It was based on the true story of Sante and Kenny Kimes, mother and son grifters and killers.[17] His later acting appearances on television include Ray Donovan and Childrens Hospital. He most recently played Dr. Green in the Netflix comedy film You People (2023) opposite Jonah Hill and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Personal life[edit]

Benjamin met Paula Prentiss at Northwestern University. She had transferred from Randolph-Macon Woman's College and was a year ahead of Benjamin at the university.[18] They married on October 26, 1961 and have two children, son Ross (b. 1974) and daughter Prentiss (b. 1978).[19]

Filmography[edit]

As actor[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1969 Goodbye, Columbus Neil Klugman
1970 Catch-22 Maj. Danby
1970 Diary of a Mad Housewife Jonathan Balser
1971 The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker William Alren
1971 The Steagle Harold Weiss, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
1972 Portnoy's Complaint Alexander Portnoy
1973 The Last of Sheila Tom Parkman
1973 Westworld Peter Martin
1975 The Sunshine Boys Ben Clark
1978 House Calls Dr. Norman Solomon
1979 Love at First Bite Dr. Jeffery Rosenberg / Van Helsing
1979 Scavenger Hunt Stuart Selsome
1980 The Last Married Couple in America Marv Cooper
1980 How to Beat the High Co$t of Living Albert
1980 Witches' Brew Joshua Lightman
1980 First Family Press Secretary Bunthorne
1981 Saturday the 14th John Hyatt
1992 Lift Rabbi Brill Short
1997 Deconstructing Harry Ken
2001 The Shrink Is In Samantha's Editor Uncredited
2003 Marci X Ben Feld
2006 Keeping Up with the Steins Rabbi Schulberg
2008 Henry Poole Is Here Dr. Fancher
2012 Pablo Himself
2023 You People Dr. Green
2023 Ex-Husbands Simon Pearce

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1962 The New Breed Intern Episode: "All the Dead Faces"
1962–1963 Dr. Kildare Dr. Adam Barstow / Intern 2 episodes
1966 Vacation Playhouse Ted Penny Episode: "My Lucky Penny"
1967–1968 He & She Dick Hollister 26 episodes
1977 No Room to Run Nick Loomis TV movie
1977–1978 Quark Adam Quark 8 episodes
1979–1980 Saturday Night Live Himself (host) 2 episodes
1981 Insight Brad Episode: "Goodbye"
1983 Packin' It In Gary Webber TV movie
1992 The Ray Bradbury Theater Mr. Howard Episode: "Let's Play Poison"
1994 Love & War Charles Berkus Episode: "The Great Escape"
1997 Ink Dr. Vishniac Episode: "The English-Speaking Patients"
1998 The Pentagon Wars Caspar Weinberger TV movie
1999 Mad About You Mr. Frank DiChristophoro Episode: "Valentine's Day"
2000 Titus Bill Episode: "The Reconciliation"
2004 The Goodbye Girl Oliver Fry TV movie
2009 Pushing Daisies Jerry Holmes Episode: "Window Dressed to Kill"
2014 Ray Donovan Jerry Weiss Episode: "Sunny"
2015 Childrens Hospital Dan Richards Episode: "With Great Power..."

As director[edit]

Year Title Notes
1982 My Favorite Year
1984 Racing with the Moon
1984 City Heat
1986 The Money Pit
1988 Little Nikita
1988 My Stepmother Is an Alien
1990 Downtown
1990 Mermaids
1993 Made in America
1994 Milk Money
1996 Mrs. Winterbourne
1998 The Pentagon Wars TV movie
1998 The Wonderful World of Disney (1991–present) Episode: "Tourist Trap"
2001 Laughter on the 23rd Floor TV movie
2001 The Shrink Is In
2001 The Sports Pages TV movie
2003 Marci X
2004 The Goodbye Girl TV movie
2006 A Little Thing Called Murder TV movie

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jonas, Gerald (September 8, 1968). "Hello Again To 'Goodbye, Columbus'". The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  2. ^ Great Jews on Stage and Screen
  3. ^ a b c d ALJEAN HARMETZ (December 21, 1975). "After 'Portnoy,' Benjamin Has No Complaint". Los Angeles Times. p. m49.
  4. ^ "RICHARD BENJAMIN REFLECTS ON "THE SUNSHINE BOYS": A CINEMA RETRO INTERVIEW". Cinema Retro.
  5. ^ "Interview with Richard Benjamin – Random Roles". AV Club. November 15, 2012.
  6. ^ Burke, Tom (December 5, 1971). "Movies (Published 1971)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  7. ^ Decaro, Frank (December 24, 2008). "A Space Garbage Man and His Eclectic Crew". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Simmons, Charitey (March 19, 1978). "RICHARD BENJAMIN: in the 'Get Smart' of sci-fi". Chicago Tribune. p. j3.
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (April 13, 1979). "Love At First Bite (1979) Screen: 'Love at First Bite,' Dracula's 'Plaza Suite': Full-Blooded Humor". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Wilson, Dave; Signorelli, James; Slesin, Aviva (April 7, 1979), Richard Benjamin/Rickie Lee Jones (Comedy, Music), Richard Benjamin, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, NBC Productions, retrieved December 28, 2020
  11. ^ Rob Salem (August 26, 1994). "It's no act: Benjamin happiest as a director". TORONTO STAR (MET ed.). p. B1.
  12. ^ Reich, Howard (October 10, 1982). "MOVIES: From acting to directing: For Richard Benjamin; the move meant a 'Year' of fear". Chicago Tribune. p. d16.
  13. ^ Mann, Roderick (November 25, 1984). "MOVIES: EDWARDS' YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY". Los Angeles Times. p. x21.
  14. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 12, 1997). "Deconstructing Harry (1997) FILM REVIEW; Gleefully Skewering His Own Monsters". The New York Times.
  15. ^ O'HAIRE, PATRICIA (September 22, 1998). "AN OFF-B'WAY 'POWER' COUPLE PAULA PRENTISS AND RICHARD BENJAMIN: A FAMILY THAT 'PLAYS' TOGETHER, STARTING TONIGHT". New York Daily News. p. 34.
  16. ^ Holden, Stephen (August 23, 2003). "Marci X (2003) FILM REVIEW; In Giddy Rap Land, It's Senator Vs. Smut". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "A Murdering Mommy Dearest With a Swell Son to Match". The New York Times. January 23, 2006.
  18. ^ ""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. Retrieved October 15, 2023.
  19. ^ Houseman, Victoria (1991). Made in Heaven: The Marriages and Children of Hollywood Stars. Bonus Books. p. 26. ISBN 9780929387246.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914–1985. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 1988, p. 17.

External links[edit]