“The next 58 years will be a breeze”: An interview with RiverRun Master of Cinema awardees Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin

The RiverRun International Film Festival has been held since 1998. Originally held in Brevard, NC, the festival now takes place in Winston-Salem. Held this year from April 4 – 14, 2019, the festival is screening 172 films from 47 countries—71 features and 101 shorts.

Each year, a pillar in the film industry is recognized with the Master of Cinema award. This year, that award goes to husband and wife Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin, and film producer and head of Orion pictures Mike Medavoy.

Prentiss and Benjamin have been married for 58 years. Paula Prentiss is best known for her 1960s and 1970s roles including “Where the Boys Are” (1960), “The Honeymoon Machine” (1961) and “What’s New Pussycat” (1965). She co-starred with Jim Hutton in three films. Her film “Man’s Favorite Sport?” (1964) with Rock Hudson will screen at the festival. Richard Benjamin both acts and directs. His directorial debut was the Peter O’Toole film “My Favorite Year” and he also directed “The Money Pit” (1986) and “Mermaids” (1990). His acting roles include “Goodbye, Christopher Columbus” (1969) and “The Sunshine Boys” (1975), which is screening at the festival. The two acted together on the TV show “He and She” as well as “Catch-22” (1970), “Saturday the 14th” (1981), and the Broadway play “The Norman Conquests” (1975).

I had the opportunity to interview actress Paula Prentiss and actor/director Richard Benjamin via phone on Sunday, April 7:

Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin in the 1960s

Comet Over Hollywood: Tell me about how you two met.

Richard Benjamin: We met at Northwestern University. Paula had transferred from Randolph-Macon College. And Paula had transferred from Randolph-Macon. She was a year ahead of me and I came from New York, New York City, and that’s where we met. And the first second I saw her, I thought, that’s it for me, so … I don’t know how long it took her to feel the same way exactly, you can ask her, but I knew that was it.

Paula Prentiss: Well let me see. I was at a women’s college beforehand and the dating that we had was off to other universities. I was at Randolph–Macon Women’s College, I went to the University of Virginia, went to Yale one time. But I thought to myself, I have to find some guy that I really like. These individual dating trips are a little … I don’t know what I thought. But anyway, that’s one of the reasons I transferred from Randolph–Macon Women’s College.

And when I saw Dick … He was very cute. Tall and thin and stuff like that, and I thought, I didn’t know much about acting, but he was supposed to be a director so perhaps this will work. I tried out for a play, even though I was very inexperienced in acting, and he liked me. So then when we had rehearsals, we were left alone in the rehearsal room…

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