Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall, and Robby Benson, the voice behind the Beast, was in Chicago to help celebrate this mile marker for the beloved children's classic.
Throughout his remarkably varied career, Benson found notoriety not only in acting in films, but directing hit television shows such as "Friends" and writing two best-selling novels.
What has this actor and once teen heartthrob been doing since his iconic roles in films like "One On One," "Ice Castles" and the beloved role as the Beast?
As I listened to that signature Benson voice, soft-spoken yet rich and melodic, he told me his career centers around his love of his family — a truly refreshing perspective from a successful Hollywood star.
The 60-year-old actor, father of two adult children and soon-to-be grandfather has been married to his Mokena, Ill., soulmate, Karla, for 35 years. Benson fondly recalls meeting Karla on the set of "The Pirates of Penzance," telling the conductor, "I've got to marry her. I can't be without her." And after a year of begging, "She finally said yes," he said. "She is my everything."
Benson's love of the arts is just as endearing and apparent as he taught Advanced Production at the university level for almost three decades. His knowledge base is broad and he possesses plenty of wisdom to share with upcoming artists.
"The only thing not to love about the arts is that you don't make a steady living," Benson said with a mixed tone of disappointment and hope. "And that's hard ... even if you have good times. I am old school and I got paid old school."
His advice? "Never go into the business if you're looking for fame or if you're looking to make money, but if you feel like this is a way you must express yourself, then it's the perfect life.
"I love that I'm still working and still learning," Benson added.
Landing his early jobs was a series of unlikely timing. But he got lucky landing "Beauty and the Beast," a part which changed his life.
Without this, Benson said that his life would not be as full. "It was serendipitous," he said.
Benson's most current career endeavor is the creation of "I Hear A Song," a new musical which he hopes will be workshopped at the prestigious Indiana University where he recently taught. Benson also shared that he is hopeful he can convince Karla to star in it. I think he's got a good chance of that.
His two best-selling novels are "Who Stole the Funny?" and "I'm Not Dead … Yet!"
In the first, "There's a mathematical equation: arrogance plus ignorance equals a really bad set," he said.
He takes this equation, looks at a week behind the scenes in Hollywood and has fun with it. The publishing company wanted him to tone it done, but he responded, "It's actually worse than this!"
Perhaps Benson hasn't been in front of the camera as much since the '90s, but his presence in the industry has been profound. From penning best-selling books to directing hit television shows and writing musicals, this talented artist continues to create.
However, the most highly anticipated creation for Benson is his grandchild due in October. The excitement in his eyes was contagious as he shared that he wants to be called "Pops."
"Why?" I asked.
A movie reference from the 1960's film "Popi" was the answer. This is a heartfelt story about a father who sacrificed his own life and happiness for the well-being of his children. After spending a mere 30 minutes with this soulful man, I think "Pops" fits him perfectly. There truly is beauty found within the man who played the Beast.