Joan Benedict Steiger had a leg up on other actresses from the age of 11 – her mother sent her by ship to Italy to study at the Rome Opera Ballet School.
Although she was homesick at first, the actress remembers only the “wonderful” parts of her experience.
“If you are down or feeling awful, within every situation there has to be something you can benefit by – you always try to find the positive, you reinterpret,” states Benedict Steiger, who sees the silver lining in all things.
Her attitude has served her well. Once she was back in America, Benedict Steiger studied with legendary acting coaches Robert Lewis and Stella Adler, founders of the Actor’s Studio in New York. With her credits going back to the original “Candid Camera,” Benedict Steiger also acted on stage – “Promises, Promises,” “Leona” (about Leona Helmsley),“The Mind with the Dirty Man” (with Don Knotts), “Richard III,” “Dr. Faustus” and a play based on her own life, “The Loves of My Life.”
On screen, Benedict Steiger co-starred with Knotts and Tim Conway in “The Prizefighter” and had other roles in television shows such as “The Incredible Hulk,” “Kojak,” “Hotel,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Fantasy Island,” and “Dollhouse.”
It is not only her long, active career that stands out about Benedict Steiger – her personal life in Hollywood is nothing short of miraculous, what with two successful marriages and one long partnership in an industry where being married/together for a few years is practically a lifetime. Her first marriage to stage actor John Myhers lasted 30 years, her second marriage was to the famous actor Rod Steiger and then there was her partner, actor Jeremy Slate. All have since passed away, leaving Benedict Steiger with some fantastic memories.
Rod Steiger (who won an Oscar for his portrayal of a sheriff in “The Heat of the Night”) is perhaps the most surprising to learn about; known for his rough-and-tough characters, Steiger wrote poems and his wife has a book of them. They had met before and dated briefly, meeting again after her first husband passed away. They got married then, travelling all over the world and making two films together.
“I hated to admire anything, because he (Rod) would buy it for me and say to get two! He wrote me poems every day and gave me roses every day,” remembers Benedict Steiger.
“At his memorial, I said, ‘I want to get things straight – the first thing about Rod Steiger is that he is a pussycat!’”
Benedict Steiger explains Steiger’s success in the way that he “worked hard, very hard” – he wasn’t afraid to make mistakes or take chances, even though he already had an inborn talent and stood out on the screen.
As for her success with long relationships/marriages, she says, “You gotta have something common. My relationships were all with actors, I’m not interested in anyone who isn’t in show business – have you ever been at a restaurant and seen couples not talking to each other?”
Benedict Steiger has good tips for actors too – she advises that, just like any other profession, the more people study and the more they know what’s happening in the business, the better. Which means not only studying acting – but also studying body language, how to project , everything.
“I watch Turner Classic movies, the diction (in the films) is so clear. In other (modern) films, when the script dictates whispering, they are really whispering! You gotta whisper with projection, that is so basic. It comes down to studying.”
Now working on her memoirs as well as taking three tap dancing classes a week, Benedict Steiger continues to love acting and would never want anything else.
“The thing is, life is such a gift. To just be here and be a bump on a log – please!”