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July 11, 2003 - Image 88

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-07-11

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own from New York City to seek fame
in Los Angeles. His movie career took off
in the 1970s, when the handsome
Benson became a teenage heartthrob and
a cover boy on fan magazines. In 1973
he earned a Golden Globe nomination
for his performance in the movie Jeremy.
In 1977 Benson starred in the basket-
ball movie One 012 One, which he co-
wrote with his father, Jerry Segal, and
which featured a then-unknown
Melanie Griffith.
Segal told JTA that One on One was
one of the most profitable films of all
time for Warner Brothers, in terms of
net earnings.
Benson had to bow out of the now-
classic movie Apocalypse Now to make
One on One — and now he's leaving a
recurring role as Professor Witt on the
acclaimed NBC television series
American Dreams so he can take a real-

or a man only in his 40s,
Robby Benson already has
had the career of a lifetime.
He also has had his fill of
the Hollywood rat race. Last month, the
actor and director sold his home in Los
Angeles and moved across the country
to Boone, N.C., where he has accepted a
faculty position as artist-in-residence at
Appalachian State University.
"I'm seeking quality of life for myself,
my wife and my two children," says
Benson, 47, who now lives on a 10 '/:-
acre farm in the foothills of the Smoky
"It's not healthy being in a fickle busi-
ness, where you're only as good as your
last job," he says in a telephone interview
with JTA. "You can be a more complete
human being in a university setting."
Rural Appalachia is also a far cry
from urban Brooklyn, where Benson
played the role that made him famous
among Jewish audiences: Danny
Saunders, the adolescent son of a
Chasidic rebbe, in the 1981 movie
version of Chaim Potok's The Chosen.
Benson has fond memories of that
experience and of working with the
late, legendary Rod Steiger, who
befriended the young actor.
Benson also developed close rela-
tionships with other stars of the silver
screen, including Burt Reynolds, Jack Robby Benson gave one of his most moving
performances as the Chasidic student
Lemmon and Paul Newman, who
Danny Saunders in 1981's "The Chosen."
played his screen fathers.
"Being in The Chosen meant a lot
world faculty position.
to me," he recalls. 'Although I'm not a
"There are definitely trade-offs,"
practicing Jew, I am proud of my her-
Benson says. "I will miss being part of
itage, which has been handed down to
intelligent productions like American
me by my parents and grandparents."
Dreams. And not a day goes by when I
Early in his career as a child prodigy,
don't think of my family back in Los
however, he feared that his Jewish name
— he was born Robin David Segal —
Benson's close-knit family eventually
was becoming a disadvantage. On an
followed him to Los Angeles, and they
episode of A&E's Biography, Benson
all lived near each other in the tony
recounted being typecast in auditions as
Los Angeles neighborhood of Toluca
"that Jewish kid."
Lake. In addition to his parents, his
At the suggestion of his mother,
sister, fashion designer Shelli Segal,
actress Ann Benson, he took her maiden
and her husband, Israeli artist Moshe
name. At age 12, Benson debuted on
Elimelech, also lived nearby.
Broadway with a starring role in Zelda,
Benson has been in demand as a TV
and subsequently appeared on the New
director, especially of sitcoms, includ-
York stage with smaller parts in The
ing pilots, episodes and seasons of
Rothschilds and Pirates of Penzance.
such hits as Evening Shade, Ellen,
Still a teenager, Benson set off on his

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