June 3 2009 12:00 AM

Actor/director Richard Benjamin visits Lansing



While he may not have had an official passport from the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, it didn’t stop movie star and director Richard Benjamin from enjoying a couple of spots on the Be-A-Tourist-In-Your-Own Town circuit Saturday — namely BoarsHead Theater and the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum.

Benjamin was in town with his daughter, Prentiss Benjamin, to see his wife, Paula Prentiss, and son, Ross Benjamin, in BoarsHead’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” (which closed Sunday).

Sitting in the lobby at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Lansing, Benjamin beamed about the show, which he had seen the night before and planned to see twice more before leaving Monday morning. “[It’s] wonderful — just brilliant,” Benjamin said. “It’s a beautiful production."

Benjamin said one indicator of how good the show had been was the number of laughs it got, citing a Tennessee Williams TV interview in which the legendary playwright had said, “All my plays are comedies.”

A novelty of the show was that Ross Benjamin played son to real-life mother Prentiss, but it wasn’t new to Richard Benjamin, who had seen them play mother and son in a production of “All My Sons” that he three of them were in a few yeas ago. He recalled one scene in which Prentiss had come on stage early. “I heard [Ross] say, ‘Mother, go back in the house,’” Benjamin said. “He called her ‘mother’ throughout the play, but this time it was different. The tone was, ‘You’re not supposed to be out here.’”

In September 2007, Prentiss and daughter Prentiss Benjamin starred in BoarsHead’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” So are there any plans for the whole Benjamin family to take the stage? “We keep looking for something,” Benjamin said. “If there is such a thing, I would like it to be a comedy, an outand-out comedy."

The star of such classic films as “Goodbye Columbus,” “Westworld” and “Catch-22,” Benjamin started his acting career in the early 1960s. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, he made a name for himself behind the camera, directing hits like “Money Pit,” “Mermaids” and “Made in America.”

Over the years he’s worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest and best, and he said most of them are “as advertised.” He likened actors like Yul Brenner and Peter O’Toole, both of whom he worked with, to “thoroughbred racehorses — the care and feeding of them is rather important. They’re tuned up and ready to run.”

In 1997, Benjamin starred in writer and director Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry” alongside Billy Crystal and Kirstie Alley. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘You can do the script if you want to, or you can say whatever you want,’” he said. “I said, ‘No, I’m going to say what you wrote.’”

At 71 (he celebrated a birthday on May 22), Benjamin is still working. He’s in the process of trying to get a comedy script he’d like to direct made into a movie. “They don’t make movies like that unless you’ve got some giant star,” he said. “I keep trying.”

When it comes to comedy, Benjamin said he’s not into “mean jokes and toilet humor,” although he does enjoy the over-the-top outrageousness of recent films like “Borat” and “Team America: World Police.”

Wandering the streets of Lansing, Benjamin said some people had recognized him, many of whom had known about the play at BoarsHead. Bearing a resemblence to his son, Benjamin said sometimes people think he’s been able to stave off the effects of age. During a recent theater production of “Majority of One” starring his wife and son, he said someone in the audience was overheard saying, “’Well you know, Paula looks very good, but that Richard Benjamin looks great.’”