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Pulling Up Stakes

by Buzzy Gordon

July 3, 2003 | 8:00 pm

For someone only in his 40s, actor-director Robby Benson already has had a busy career. He also has had his fill of Hollywood.

Last month, the 47-year-old Benson sold his Los Angeles home and moved 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," said Benson, who now lives on a 10.5-acre farm in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

Rural Appalachia is a long way from Brooklyn, where Benson played the role that made him famous among Jewish audiences: Danny Saunders, the adolescent son of a Chasidic rabbi, in the 1981 movie version of Chaim Potok's "The Chosen."

"Being in 'The Chosen' meant a lot to me," Benson said. "Although I'm not a practicing Jew, I am proud of my heritage, which has been handed down to me by my parents and grandparents."

Early in his career as a child prodigy, however, he feared that his Jewish name -- he was born Robin David Segal -- was becoming a disadvantage. On an episode of A&E "Biography," Benson recounted being typecast in auditions as "that Jewish kid."

At the suggestion of his mother, actress Ann Benson, he took her maiden name. At 12, Benson debuted on Broadway with a starring role in "Zelda."

His movie career took off in the 1970s, and in 1973, he earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the movie, "Jeremy." In 1977, Benson starred in the basketball movie, "One on One," which he co-wrote with his father, Jerry Segal.

The actor had to bow out of "Apocalypse Now" to make "One on One," and now he's leaving a recurring role as professor Witt on the NBC TV series, "American Dreams," for teaching.

Benson also has been in demand as a TV director, especially on sitcoms, including "Evening Shade," "Ellen," "Dharma & Greg," "Seinfeld" and "Friends." In addition, he was the voice of Beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

Benson, who has taught filmmaking part-time at universities for 15 years, will teach in Appalachian State's theater and English departments. His wife of 20 years, singer-actress Karla DeVito --who sang lead vocals with Meat Loaf on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" -- will teach voice.

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