Robby Benson: An Open Book
We originally met just about a year ago on Facebook, of all things. This flipped my love-hate relationship with the social media site to the love side. I happened to see a posting about his new, upcoming book based on an extraordinary journey this celebrity took in life. Not a trip around the world, but inside his own world. Inside him…his body. I thought I’m Not Dead Yet! was something very important and felt compelled to help get the word out, so I sent him a message, never expecting a response, but he did respond! Unassuming and ego free, two-time Golden Globe nominated actor (with radiant, bright blue eyes, I might add), Robby Benson is an open book. Pun intended.
The initial Facebook communication grew into a friendship over the months that I treasure. I had the joy of not only meeting Robby, but his fabulous wife, Karla, for lunch in a quaint, jammed little eatery in Toluca Lake when they popped into town.
When I told friends about my plans, the men listed their favorite Benson films and the women gushed about how they still held secret crushes all these years. His career accomplishments are a mile long. From his recent guest starring role in an upcoming ABC series Mind Games, to the voice of Beast in Disney’s classic animation Beauty and the Beast to Ice Castles to Running Brave, One on One, Ode To Billy Joe…to his directing TV shows to authoring books to composing… on and on! He’s co-starred opposite some of the all-time greats in the entertainment industry: Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, George Burns, Jack Lemmon and more.
In addition to success as a mega-talent, Robby has more than two decades of experience as a teacher. Honored with nominations for New York University’s Distinguished Teaching Award and David Payne-Carter Award for Teaching Excellence, he’s now a professor at the University of Indiana. It’s rare that you see his kind of enthusiasm and support for students. Robby not only goes the extra mile, but he climbs Mount Everest for them!
Look for his in-depth interview on Oprah’s OWN show Where Are They Now? this February. BY MARINA ANDERSON
Cliché: You have such a rich, creative background! Acting, music, directing, producing, photography, writing, and now teaching. Wow! What would you say is your true passion?
Robby Benson: In the arts, my true passion is composing and engineering music. In life, my main passion is Karla Jayne DeVito and our children.
Tell me more about you being a professor and your students. Do they call you “Professor Benson?”
No… they call me Robby, even the ones who want to call me Professor Benson, I make sure they call me Robby.
That’s so cool! Love that. I saw an online campaign not too long ago raising funds for your students and the department. You really go the extra mile for “your kids,” don’t you? Why?
My students are raising money for their films using IndieGoGo. I always go the extra mile for my students. If I am going to do anything–anything at all, I must do it he best that I can. In this case, doing it for my students means that we will have a new generation of “old school” storytellers; along with filmmakers that behave “old school” and that word would be decent.
How do you like life in Bloomington, Indiana?
It’s whimsical here. It’s an artistic community. Also, the university is rich with history and everyone calls Bloomington the ‘Blue Island’ in a sea of red.
Your beautiful wife…
[Robby can’t help himself in his pure enthusiasm and love. His energy can’t be contained] Yes!
Karla is fabulous…
…and established in the biz as well.
[With pride] YES!
Does she still sing?
Do you record and write music together?
You’ve been together how long?
[Eyes beaming] 33 years!
And from what I understand, inseparable, right?
[With a big smile] YES!
[Sigh] Now that’s true romance.
[Emphatic nod] YES!
Tell me what the two of you love to share/do together the most.
Hold hands… anywhere… anytime… as long as we’re together.
Does it bother you when women come up to you and say they used to have a major crush on you in earlier years?
Not at all. It’s flattering…
I must say, you are even more handsome now…
Thank you. [Blushes]
Did you ever consider yourself a “heartthrob?”
No… I always considered myself as a hardworking actor, writer, director and composer. Everything else is someone’s perception–and Hollywood and pop culture is built on perception.
Speaking of “heartthrob,” you’ve been through the ringer with some major medical procedures. What was the deciding factor to get you to write the book?
I wanted to reach out to my cardiac brothers and sisters because I’ve had 4 open-heart surgeries. I have a lot of information that can help others who are having the operation for the first time–or even their loved ones who go through hell… Sometimes I believe it’s harder on the loved ones than on the patient because the patient actually feel the pain–the loved one imagines the pain… and the imagination is brutal.
I think you were one of the leaders in the pack to come out with a multi-media format, right?
Yes, we were one of the first and we did it all by ourselves!
Wow, I commend you. That’s intense! How does it feel to have helped so many people with your book?
I’ll always feel like I haven’t helped enough.
Has it generated requests to speak at conferences?
I love speaking at conferences because I can make people laugh about things that usually are frightening.
That’s a gift in itself to be able to do that. Heard OPRAH requested you for her new show Where Are They Now? To be aired sometime this February. How exciting! Did they fly out to Indiana?
Yes, they interviewed my students and they also saw how exciting it is to be educated at a I.U. (Indiana University) and how the arts are supported and are thriving.
Loving the photographs you take and post on Facebook. You have a natural talent for composition. Any specific camera?
I am a 100 percent Canon guy. I love everything they do–from SLRs to the Canon C-300 and the Cine lenses. Incredible products.
When did you get into photography?
I’ve always seen the world through a camera. Even as a child.
That leads us into wanting our readers to know more about you being an Executive Producer on your son’s indie film.
I was the Executive Producer and scored the film, Straight Outta Tompkins.
How was it for father and son to work together?
I worked with my father when I was young and it is a poignant and beautiful collaboration. It’s something I would never give up as long as I live.
Is your music going to be used in the film?
Yes, I composed the score with the help of Zephyr.
What about your daughter, Lyric?
She is engaged to get married. She is a poet, a singer and a spiritual soul.
What wonderful names you gave your children.
Thank you. We wanted our children to have a life of their own–not be thought of as anyone other than their true selves. Also, Lyric and I just finished her first album. We co-wrote the songs. I engineered and played on the album, too. It was a poignant and bonding experience, as well. It’s called “Lyric’s Love Light Revolution.”
And there’s a new “baby” addition to the family, right? Here we go with the music theme for the names–Mozart! How did this come about?
Yes, we have a new puppy named Mo based on Mozart, so we actually call him “Wolfie.”
If you could have three wishes to materialize for 2014, what would they be?
That everyone in my family is healthy and happy. That I get to direct my film Garth and that my students are fulfilled and feel they received the best education possible.
Visit Robby’s website for more information and to purchase this book: www.RobbyBenson.com
For more information about Entertainment Columnist Marina Anderson, visit: www.MarinaAnderson.net
Featured image ©Karla DeVito