'Dream On' star enjoys '50s side trips


LOS ANGELES -- Brian Benben may be the star of HBO's "Dream On," but he shares the screen every week with another equally important element of the series: dozens of vintage black-and-white clips from 1950s television shows.

According to Mr. Benben, the brief clips used to illustrate his character's innermost thoughts "help the show. I enjoy working with them. They don't complain. It's a little different. Each demands a different kind of response."

Sunday night at 10 Mr. Benben begins his second season as Martin Tupper, a New York book editor who was raised on the values he learned watching television in the 1950s. As a recently divorced man in the 1990s, he faces new morals that surprise and frustrate him.

The ups and downs of Martin's confused life frequently are interrupted by brief segments from such long-lost programs as "G.E. Theater" and "Pepsi-Cola Playhouse." The clips revealing Martin's true feelings include appearances by classic stars such as James Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Alan Ladd, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and George Burns.

In the season premiere of the comedy series, for example, Martin falls for a beautiful actress (Mimi Rogers). When his new love arrives for a romantic candlelight dinner, Martin is ecstatic (illustrated by a clip featuring Morey Amsterdam announcing, "Welcome to 'Women Are Wonderful' "). When he realizes that she has brought along a male friend and he later sees them holding hands, the action cuts to a clip of DeForest Kelley proclaiming, "She loves me -- me, you understand. Not you."

In addition to Ms. Rogers, rocker David Bowie and actor Tom Berenger ("Platoon") are guest stars in Sunday's special hourlong edition, which features other new characters played by Yvonne De Carlo, Eva Gabor and Ricardo Montalban. These three also appear in some of the vintage clips, adding to the juxtaposition of Martin's 1950s memories with his 1990s life.

"For those of us who have grown up watching that TV, it's like going home," said the upstate New York native, who now lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif., with his wife, actress Madeleine Stowe, and their two dogs.

"Seeing the black and white and the old kinescope, it takes me back [to my childhood]. Except I'm taller now. Not much," quipped the 5-foot-7-inch actor, "but I'm taller."

Mr. Benben said he enjoys working on a cable series rather than a network sitcom because the environment is much less restrictive.

"I had done a couple of sitcom pilots, and they were fiascos," he said. "There's absolutely a lot more freedom [at HBO]."

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