Friday, July 21, 2017

Ode to Billy Joe and Robby Benson

"Ode to Billy Joe," the 1976 film based on the 1967 song by Bobbie Gentry, was shown on Turner earlier this week; I caught it around 2am while channel-flipping trying to find something to go to sleep to. I was 11 in 1976, but the film was still being shown in Fort Worth when my family moved there in 1977. I was at the time madly in love with Robby Benson, the star of the film, via teen magazines like "Tiger Beat." I BEGGED my mother to let me see the film. She eventually succumbed and dropped me off at some theater (I can't remember which) by myself to see my beloved Robby Benson.

I enjoyed watching Benson, but I didn't at all get the whole point of the film -- that Billy Joe had jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge because he'd had sex with a man. (Gentry, the songwriter and singer of the original song suggested that Billy Joe was more upset by a breakup with his girlfriend.) I remember coming home still not having figured out why he jumped off the bridge. In 2017, my foggy memory remained that the film didn't spell it out... But upon watching on TCM this week, the film EXACTLY spelled it out! :)  Benson has a big scene with his love interest Glynnis O'Connor where he shouts out, "I was with a man!" (I guess at age 12 I didn't know what "I was with a man!" meant!)

Anyway, seeing "Ode" reignited my curiosity about Benson... What the hell happened to him? Surely, with his soft looks and breathy voice, he had come to a bad end in the acting world... (Post "Ode," I saw him in "Ice Castles" and "One on One" and TV's "The Death of Ritchie," but after that lost track of him, other than reading that in 1982, he'd married Karla DeVito, the rough-looking chick who sang "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" with MeatLoaf!)

In reality, he went on to a respectable workmanlike career in the entertainment industry, lately doing voice-overs (and still married to DeVito), and he's currently a professor of the arts at NYU.

Tiger Beat, January 1977

Robby Benson, 2012

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