Tuesday, January 10, 2012

01/10 Host: Larry Manetti, Guest: Dirk Benedict

It's a long way from the vastness of Montana's Big Sky country to the vastness of outer space, but Dirk Benedict is taking the transition in stride. The actor's hometown of White Sulphur Springs, Montana, was so small and remote that it lacked either a motion picture theatre or television station. Benedict became the co-star in MCA TV's "Battlestar Galactica" (1978) as a skirt-chasing, fun-loving combat pilot aboard an embattled spaceship in a far-off galaxy.

It was at Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Washington, that Dirk became interested in acting. During his freshman year, he accepted a dare to audition for the Spring musical and won the lead role of "Gaylord Ravenal" in "Showboat". The next three years were filled with many more musical productions. Upon graduation, Benedict began a two-year training program under John Fernald, who had headed London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London for fifteen years. He then played repertory theatre in Seattle and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he played such roles as "Edmund" in "King Lear", "Tarleton" in "Misalliance", "Ensign Pulver" in "Mister Roberts" and the lead in Neil Simon's "Star-Spangled Girl".

Meanwhile, Benedict maintained an active interest in music and formed a Dixieland Jazz Band in Seattle. Prior to their debut, he visited New York to meet an agent recommended by his college professor. Benedict never made it back to Seattle. The agent sent him to an audition which resulted in a co-starring role with Diana Rigg and Keith Michell in "Abelard and Heloise", first on Broadway, then in Los Angeles. Two weeks after the show closed on Broadway, he was winging across the Atlantic to Sweden for his first movie, Georgia, Georgia (1972) in which he co-starred with the late Diana Sands. This film about draft resisters, shot entirely in Sweden, was written by the well known writer Maya Angelou. In Sweden, Benedict lost his heart to Miss Sweden, discovered Akvavit and began a new way of eating based on whole grains and vegetables. On his return to New York, he replaced Keir Dullea in "Butterflies Are Free" on Broadway where he worked with the ever-young Gloria Swanson, as his mother. When the New York run ended, he received an offer to repeat his performance in Hawaii, opposite Barbara Rush. While there, he appeared as a guest on "Hawaii Five-O" (1968). The producers of a psycho-thriller called Sssssss (1973) saw Benedict's performance in "Hawaii Five-O" (1968) and promptly cast him as the lead in that movie. He next played the psychotic wife-beating husband of Twiggy in her American film debut, W (1974). Benedict starred in the television series, "Chopper One" (1974) then retreated to his cabin in the mountains of Montana where he spent nearly a year writing. Two of the scripts he wrote during that "sabbatical" were optioned for motion picture production and he is at work on his first novel, which will be set in Montana.

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