Feb 24, 2013

Richard Benjamin: Not Just About Girls

Many Boomers think of Richard Benjamin as  the quintessential New Sensitive Man, slim, amiable, affluent, slightly befuddled, and utterly obsessed with women. And his career began with many roles as men  whose lives were informed by women: the sitcom He & She (1967-68); Goodbye Columbus (1969), an adaption of the Philip Roth classic novella about alienated young Jewish heterosexuals; Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), about a housewife who has an affair with an abusive writer; Portnoy's Complaint (1972), about a young Jewish intellectual obsessed with women.

But he quickly broke away from type.  Even Goodbye Columbus had Richard's character bonding with the hunky ex-high school football star Ron Patimkin (Michael Meyers), his girlfriend's brother.

 In The Steagle (1971), Benjamin plays a disillusioned college professor  during the Cuban Missile Crisis who roams the country, adopting different personas and flirting with both men and women along the way, before he decides that there's No Place Like Home (a "steagle" is 1960s slang for a short-lived phenomenon).

In The Last of Sheila (1973), he plays a failed screenwriter invited, along with other tarnished souls, onto a yacht for a "murder mystery game." And the stinger-- one of them might be gay! Actually, most of them have gay "skeletons in the closet" to reveal as the game turns deadly.

Plus a number of comedies and dramas with little heterosexual content: Westworld (1973), Scavenger Hunt (1979), Saturday the 14th (1981), Deconstructing Harry (1997).

Add his total lack of self-consciousness about appearing nude, and you get a pleasantly positive star for gay boys of the Boomer generation.  In spite of the girls hanging around.