Robby Benson


Actor, Director

About

Also Known As
Robbie Benson, Robin David Segal
Birth Place
Dallas, Texas, USA
Born
January 21, 1956

Biography

A professional child actor, Robby Benson became an internationally recognized teen idol in the era of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond with lead roles in such youth-market films as "Jory" (1973) and "Jeremy" (1973). Savvier and seemingly more grounded than many of his Tiger Beat contemporaries, the actor branched out from his popular cute guy turns in "Ode to Billy Joe" (1976) and "Ice Cas...

Family & Companions

Glynnis O'Connor
Companion
Actor. Co-starred together in "Jeremy" (1973) and "Ode to Billy Joe" (1975); no longer together.
Annette O'Toole
Companion
Actor. Linked romantically after they worked together in "One on One" (1977).
Karla DeVito
Wife
Singer, actor, songwriter. Met while co-starring on Broadway in "The Pirates of Penzance" in 1981; married c. 1983; co-wrote song for "The Breakfast Club" (1985); born c. 1954.

Biography

A professional child actor, Robby Benson became an internationally recognized teen idol in the era of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond with lead roles in such youth-market films as "Jory" (1973) and "Jeremy" (1973). Savvier and seemingly more grounded than many of his Tiger Beat contemporaries, the actor branched out from his popular cute guy turns in "Ode to Billy Joe" (1976) and "Ice Castles" (1978) to embrace edgier, more mature roles in the grim made-for-TV movie "The Death of Richie" (1977), the LA gang saga "Walk Proud" (1978) and the well-regarded period piece "The Chosen" (1981). Denied a lead role in "Star Wars" (1977) and opting out of "Apocalypse Now" (1979), Benson began actualizing his own film projects by 1977, beginning with the college basketball drama "One on One" (1977), which he co-wrote, and "Die Laughing" (1980), an Alfred Hitchcock pastiche that he produced in partnership with Jon Peters. Born with a congenital heart defect, Benson underwent open heart surgery for the first time in 1984 and dropped out of the high pressure life of a Hollywood leading man to focus on playing character parts and on directing his own films. A much in-demand TV director, a professor of filmmaking at New York University, and a busy voiceover artist - including that of the Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" (1992) - Benson weathered an almost 50-year career in the industry, his endurance and positive attitude turning on its head the accepted wisdom that nice guys always finish last.

Robin David Segal was born in Dallas, TX on Jan. 21, 1956, the son of playwright Jerry Segal and Ann Benson, a nightclub singer and actress. Raised in New York City, his interest in acting was sparked when his parents took him to the original Broadway production of Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" The five-year-old hopeful made his stage debut in a summer stock production of "The King and I" starring Ann Benson. By age 10, he had secured a theatrical agent and was acting professionally using his mother's maiden name, having experienced blatant anti-Semitism when auditioning for commercials. Benson made his feature film debut as a street urchin in Stanley Donen's "Wait Until Dark" (1967). He made his Broadway debut in Delbert Mann's staging of Sylvia Regan's comedy "Zelda," which ran for only three performances in March 1969. Benson fared better among the ensemble of Michael Kidd's multiple Tony Award-winning production of "The Rothschilds." During the show's 14-month run, puberty caused Benson's singing voice to change from tenor to bass and he celebrated his bar mitzvah on the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

Between 1971 and 1972, Benson appeared as Bruce Carson, the young ward of series heroine Joanne "Jo" Gardner, on the long-running daytime drama "Search for Tomorrow" (CBS/NBC, 1951-1986). The following year, he returned to the big screen with starring roles in a pair of films aimed at young moviegoers. Shot in Mexico, the Western "Jory" (1973) found Benson in revenge mode as an inexperienced rancher's son who becomes a man as he tracks those responsible for massacring his family. In the United Artists release "Jeremy" (1973), Benson was matched with Glynnis O'Connor in her film debut as teenage lovers taking their affection to an adult level against the high-pressure backdrop of Manhattan's Professional Children's School. Lauded by critics for its innovative camera work and nonjudgmental depiction of teenage sex, "Jeremy" won an award for Best First Work at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, where it was also nominated for a Palm d'Or. Benson also received a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer.

Disinclined to wait for star projects to filter his way, Benson returned to supporting roles on television. In the ABC telefilm "All the Kind Strangers" (1973), he played one of a family of orphans who have a murderous method of whittling down potential adoptive parents. During the heyday of TV movies about terminal illnesses, Benson played a brilliant student suffering from a brain tumor in "Death Be Not Proud" (1975), an Emmy-nominated adaptation of journalist John Gunther's bestselling 1949 memoir. Required to shave his head for his final scenes as the dying Gunther, Benson wore a wig for "Lucky Lady" (1975), Clive Donner's troubled box office bomb about Prohibition-era rum runners. Patterned after George Roy Hill's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) and "The Sting" (1974), "Lucky Lady" attempted to mix comedy with graphic violence, riddling Benson's character with machine gun bullets on the way to a downbeat ending that was reshot after negative feedback from test audiences.

On his 20th birthday, Benson auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker in George Lucas' "Star Wars" (1977). He lost the part in that surprise blockbuster but achieved his own measure of cult stardom as the star of "Ode to Billy Joe" (1976), Max Baer, Jr.'s feature film adaptation of the Bobbi Gentry chart-topper. Cast again opposite Glynnis O'Connor - with whom he was romantically involved for a time - Benson attracted more than his fair share of publicity for agreeing to etch the character of Billy Joe McAllister as a troubled youth who jumps to his death after a drunken homosexual encounter. Distributed by Warner Brothers with an ad campaign suggesting the film was based on true events, "Ode to Billy Joe" earned back a $27 million return on its original $1.1 million investment. Although he had been a working actor for more than a decade, Benson was included that year in a roundup of Promising New Actors in John Willis' Screen World annual.

On location for "Ode to Billy Joe" in Mississippi, Benson occupied his downtime by outlining an original screenplay set within the world of competitive college basketball. The script for "One on One" (1977) marked the first collaboration of Benson and his father, Jerry Segal. Before the project received the green light from Warner Brothers, Benson had accepted a role in Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" (1979), given the go-ahead from Warners, Benson bought out his contract for the Coppola film and headed for Colorado to begin preproduction for "One on One." Patterned after John Avildsen's "Rocky" (1976), the sports drama's box office receipts were boosted by the cross-marketing of the title track "My Fair Share," a hit for the soft rock duo Seals and Crofts. That same year, Benson played a drug-addicted high school student in "The Death of Richie," an NBC TV movie based on a tragic true account published originally in LIFE magazine. In May 1977, he and Glynnis O'Connor acted together for the last time in an Emmy award-winning telecast of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" on NBC.

Benson reteamed with his "Lucky Lady" co-star Burt Reynolds for the morbid farce "The End" (1978), in a bit as a comical priest. That same year he scored another popular success with "Ice Castles" (1978), as the love interest of blinded Olympics skater Lynn-Holly Johnson. The blue-eyed Benson drew derisive snorts from critics for playing a Chicano gang member attempting to go straight in "Walk Proud" (1979), released by Universal; the actor contributed a song to the soundtrack, written by Jerry Segal. Benson co-produced the madcap "Die Laughing" (1980) and starred as a San Francisco cabbie chased by killers when he comes into possession of the formula for constructing a plutonium bomb. In Bob Clark's "Tribute" (1980), a 20th Century Fox film adaptation of the Bernard Slade stage play, he was the son of dying press agent Jack Lemmon, who recreated the role he originated on Broadway.

Benson received some of the best critical notices of his career for playing a Hassidic Jew in Jeremy Kagan's "The Chosen" (1981), which concerned cultural differences within Brooklyn's Jewish community during World War II and was based on the popular 1967 novel by Chaim Potok. In Disney's "Running Brave" (1983), he was Lakota Sioux long-distance runner Billy Mills, who overcame prejudice to capture the gold in the 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Benson beat out 35 other young actors to co-star opposite Paul Newman in "Harry and Son" (1984), despite the fact that his character was described in the original script as being a blonde surfer type. Having sprained his ankle the day before the start of principal photography, Benson offered to give up the part but Newman, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay, stuck by the young actor, shooting around his injury until he could stand on his own.

Born with a congenital heart deformity, Benson underwent cardiac valve repair in 1984 and later underwent several more surgeries. Although he continued to act, he gradually drifted away from lead roles following the swift cancellation of his short-lived sitcom "Tough Cookies" (CBS, 1985-1986). In 1992, he provided the unlikely voice of the Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," which led to an enduring sideline as an in-demand voiceover artist. In 1988, Benson directed his first film, the independently-financed "White Hot," which went direct to video the following year. He followed this with "Modern Love" (1990), in which he cast family and friends, including his wife, singer Karla De Vito. In 1993, Benson added TV director to his résumé, beginning with eight episodes of Burt Reynolds' "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-94). Through the decade, Benson helmed episodes of such popular TV series as "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), "Dharma and Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002), "8 Simple Rules" (ABC, 2002-05) and an entire season of "Ellen" (ABC, 1994-98). The author of a novel and a memoir about life after open heart surgery, Benson devoted much of his time in later years to teaching, including at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

By Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Billy: The Early Years (2008)
Director
Modern Love (1990)
Director
White Hot (1988)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

A Feeling of Home (2019)
MXP: Most Xtreme Primate (2005)
Just a Dream (2002)
Dragonheart 2: A New Beginning (2000)
Voice
Beauty and the Beast: the Enchanted Christmas (1997)
Voice
Deadly Exposure (1993)
Precious Victims (1993)
At Home with the Webbers (1993)
Homewrecker (1992)
Dr David Whitson
Invasion of Privacy (1992)
Alex Pruitt
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Voice
Modern Love (1990)
Greg
Rent-A-Cop (1988)
White Hot (1988)
City Limits (1985)
California Girls (1984)
Harry & Son (1984)
Running Brave (1983)
Two of a Kind (1982)
Nolie Minor
National Lampoon's Movie Madness (1982)
The Chosen (1981)
Die Laughing (1980)
Pinsky
Tribute (1980)
Walk Proud (1979)
Emilio
The End (1978)
Ice Castles (1978)
One On One (1977)
Henry Steele
The Death of Richie (1977)
Richie Werner
Ode To Billy Joe (1976)
Billy Joe Mcallister
Lucky Lady (1975)
Billy Weber
Death Be Not Proud (1975)
The Virginia Hill Story (1974)
All the Kind Strangers (1974)
John
Remember When (1974)
Frankie Hodges
Jeremy (1973)
Jeremy

Writer (Feature Film)

Betrayal Of The Dove (1993)
Screenplay
Modern Love (1990)
Screenwriter
Die Laughing (1980)
Screenwriter
One On One (1977)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

Modern Love (1990)
Producer
Die Laughing (1980)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Modern Love (1990)
Songs ("Evelyn'S Theme" "Falling In Love With You" "Brahma Beach Cop")
White Hot (1988)
Song Performer
White Hot (1988)
Song
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Music
Die Laughing (1980)
Music
Walk Proud (1979)
Music
All the Kind Strangers (1974)
Song Performer

Cast (Special)

Intimate Portrait: Joely Fisher (2003)
Burt Reynolds: The E! True Hollywood Story (2000)
Interviewee
Beauty And The Beast (1995)
P.T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman (1995)
Voice
Pinocchio (1993)
Host
Lincoln (1992)
Voice
Walt Disney World Happy Easter Parade (1992)
Star-athon '92: A Weekend with the Stars (1992)
49th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1992)
Performer
Be Our Guest: The Making of Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The Second Annual CBS Easter Parade (1986)
Our Town (1977)
George Gibbs

Life Events

1968

Broadway debut in "Zelda" aged 12

1970

Had bar mitzvah on stage of "The Rothschilds," in which he was appearing (date approximate)

1971

Was regular on the CBS daytime drama "Search for Tomorrow"

1972

Film acting debut in "Jory"; first lead

1974

Had role in the NBC TV-movie "Remember When"

1975

Co-starred as the dying Johnny Gunther in the ABC TV-movie "Death Be Not Proud"

1975

First collaboration with Burt Reynolds, "Lucky Lady"; also co-starred Liza Minnelli

1977

With his father, co-wrote the script to the basketball drama "One On One"; also starred

1977

Played George Gibbs in an NBC TV adaptation of "Our Town"

1978

Played a novice priest in Burt Reynolds' "The End"

1979

With his father, composed music score for "Walk Proud"; also starred

1980

Debut as a producer, "Die Laughing"; also co-wrote and co-starred

1981

Returned to Broadway to play Frederic in the revival of "The Pirates of Penzance"; met future wife Karla DeVito

1984

Underwent heart surgery to replace a congenitally malfunctioning heart valve in October

1986

Starred in short-lived CBS TV series, "Tough Cookies"

1988

Feature directing debut (also actor, songwriter and song performer), "White Hot/Crack in the Mirror"

1988

Reteamed with Burt Reynolds and Liza Minnelli for "Rent-A-Cop"

1991

Provided the voice of The Beast in the Disney animated film, "Beauty and the Beast"

1993

Directed episodes of popular CBS sitcom, "Evening Shade", starring Burt Reynolds

1993

Began teaching at the University of Utah at Salt Lake City

1997

Reprised voice of The Beast in the direct-to-video release "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas"

Videos

Movie Clip

Ode To Billy Joe (1976) - It Was A Good Book Early scenes with the Hartley family, in 1950’s Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, Glynnis O’Connor as Bobbie, with a book, her mother (Joan Hotchkis) and her father (Sandy McPeak), from director Max Baer’s box office hit based on Bobbie Gentry’s song, Ode To Billy Joe, 1976, also starring Robby Benson.
Ode To Billy Joe (1976) - Your Dad's In Trouble With her dad (Sandy McPeak) left stuck on the bridge after an encounter with out of state hoodlums, Bobbie (Glynnis O’Connor) fetches brother James (Terence Goodman) with Billy Joe (Robby Benson) and Tom (Eddie Talr) from the sawmill for help, early in Ode To Billy Joe, 1976.
One On One (1977) - He's Practicing A quick personal history then star and co-screenwriter Robby Benson (a good basketball player, not using a double) as Colorado small-town jock Henry, recruited by big-time California college coach G.D. Spradlin, opening the profitable 1977 sports comedy/drama One On One.
One On One (1977) - You've Got No Chance Freshman basketball-scholarship country boy Henry (Robby Benson, also co-screenwriter) in his first in-person encounter with his tutor (Annette O’Toole), who’s just dismissed her professor lover, at his fictional big-time Los Angeles university, in One On One, 1977.
One On One (1977) - Smells Like Burning Leaves Robby Benson (star and co-screenwriter) as basketball-scholarship freshman Henry, after a fashion make-over with upper classman Tom (Cory Faucher), at his first decadent college party, Gail Strickland as the intoxicated cougar Athletic Department secretary, in One On One, 1977.
Chosen, The (1981) - Make A Good Impression Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1944, Orthodox Jewish Reuven (Barry Miller) is at home recovering from the baseball eye injury dealt him by Hasidic Danny (Robby Benson), who hopes to make amends, early in The Chosen, 1981, directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan from the Chaim Potok novel.
Chosen, The (1981) - Physically Fit 1940's radio news under the credits, all but beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, Ron Rifkin the baseball coach, Barry Miller narrating as "Reuven Malter," introducing Robby Benson as "Danny Saunders," in director Jeremy Paul Kagan's treatment of the popular Chaim Potok novel, The Chosen, 1981.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Family

Ann Benson
Mother
Business manager, former actor, singer.
Jerry Segal
Father
Screenwriter.
Shelli Segal
Sister
Fashion designer. Older, born c. 1953.
Lyric Benson
Daughter
Born c. 1983; mother Karla DeVito.
Zephyr Benson
Son
Born March 23, 1992; mother Karla DeVito.

Companions

Glynnis O'Connor
Companion
Actor. Co-starred together in "Jeremy" (1973) and "Ode to Billy Joe" (1975); no longer together.
Annette O'Toole
Companion
Actor. Linked romantically after they worked together in "One on One" (1977).
Karla DeVito
Wife
Singer, actor, songwriter. Met while co-starring on Broadway in "The Pirates of Penzance" in 1981; married c. 1983; co-wrote song for "The Breakfast Club" (1985); born c. 1954.

Bibliography