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Paul Benedict, I Would Have Walked On Your Back Anytime

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Way back in the previous century, you know, the ancient times of the mid-1970s, I was a little kid who loved to park herself in front of the television to watch "The Jeffersons", a sitcom that ran from 1975 until 1985.  I grew up within a family unit whose politeness ran to a fault, so I was enamoured with George and Louise Jefferson's fighting and carrying on amidst their crew of equally quirky family and friends.  The character I loved most, though, was that of Harry Bentley, an Englishman who lived in the neighboring apartment and was played by the New Mexico native Paul Benedict. I am sad to have learned that he passed away on Monday of as yet unknown causes at the age of 70 on Martha's Vineyard where he made his home.

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(Paul Benedict is pictured as Harry Bentley at bottom-left with "The Jeffersons" cast.)

There was something puppy-lovable about his long, homely face, and I would wait through entire episodes just to see the scenes with Mr. Bentley in them, especially if I could catch that oft repeated trope in which George Jefferson would walk on Mr. Bentley's back for him.  George was not fond of Mr. Bentley, whom he considered nosy, and he usually avoided or insulted him, but when Mr. Bentley came over with a sore back, George always found it in himself to take off his shoes and walk on it for him.  Black man: 1, White European man: also 1.  It was a strange turning on the head of American race inequality I did not understand at the time, but I felt the power struggle and the mutual benefit received by each party.  It was a complex intimacy, and my crush flourished.


(Paul Benedict's character, Harry Bentley, shows up at the 1min50sec mark.)

Of course, he did far more than play a secondary character on "The Jeffersons" for ten years.  He began his acting career in the 1960s in the Theatre Company of Boston where other stars such as Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino also started their careers. In 1965, he was in his first of many movies, "The Double-Barrelled Detective", and his film career continued until this year with the yet-to-be-released "Side by Each".  My personal favourites that he acted in are Christopher Guest's comedically brilliant "Waiting for Guffman" and "A Mighty Wind".  He also appeared on other television shows such as "The Drew Carey Show" and "Seinfeld", played the beloved Mad Painter on "Sesame Street", was a stage actor both on and off Broadway for over 43 years, and was an Obie Award-winning theatre director.


(Paul Benedict played the Mad Painter in mid-1970s episodes of "Sesame Street".)

I grew up with Paul Benedict's distinctive voice and silly humour. There was a gentleness to his characters that drew me in, warmed me, made me believe in the kindness of men.  He was my crush, my entertainer, my teacher, and in that way that children have the ability to feel deeply for both the real and the imagined, my friend.

Thank you, Paul Benedict. Our time was sweet.







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Comments

Account Deleted

I never realized that he was the mad painter on Sesame Street, but now of course, it's obvious. Beautiful post as always Schmutz.

Kim

I loved the Mad Painter. And the Jeffersons. So sad to see another piece of my childhood disappear.

palinode

Way to bring the well-researched, full-featured love for the character actors.

BOSSY

Awwww, poo, Bossy had no idea. Bye Paul.

Angela

I totally never made the connection between him on Sesame Street and the Jeffersons, even though I watched both. I loved the mad painter (although I didn't know he had a name actually).




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