Watauga Democrat
April 2, 2007

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From left, Karla DeVito, Zephyr Benson, Lyric Benson and Robby Benson will soon take up residence again in Boone after a year in New York. Photo submitted

Bensons plan return to Boone
By Yozette “Yogi” Collins
Special to the Watauga Democrat

Three years ago, my husband and I moved from Washington, D.C. to Boone. While we were thrilled to leave the terrorism and road rage, I was a bit ambivalent about leaving a job I loved with NBC News. However, having kids changes your priorities and, strange though it may sound, our move was somehow validated to me by a couple I didn’t know personally who had done the same thing with their family three years before.

You’re likely familiar with Robby Benson whether you realize it or not. Robby is an accomplished actor/heartthrob (“Ice Castles,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” the voice of Beast in “Beauty and the Beast”), director (“Ellen,” “Friends”), screenwriter and composer.

His wife, Karla DeVito, an accomplished actor and singer, has starred on Broadway (“Pirates of Penzance”) and, among other things, in Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” video and tour. They are immensely talented people, but their principal roles are as parents to daughter Lyric and son Zephyr.

Robby and Karla are radical parents, especially in the entertainment business. They have made career choices after making family choices, not the other way around.

A few years ago, at a time when DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg referred to Robby as “one of the top three directors in television,” the Bensons decided to leave Hollywood and move to North Carolina.

They wanted to find a healthier family environment for themselves, Lyric and Zephyr. Wooed by the beauty of the mountains and the friendliness of the community, the Bensons relocated to Boone and lived here for three years, volunteering at Hardin Park School, becoming “regulars” at Espresso News, and enjoying their pet Jersey cows.

They love Boone, so it was with mixed emotions that last summer Robby accepted a one-year commitment to teach at New York University’s Kanbar Institute of Film & Television, part of the famed Tisch School of the Arts.

Though Robby and Karla enjoyed seeing New York friends and old stomping grounds, they missed their home in Boone. Zephyr, thriving at Manhattan’s academically demanding Loyola School, loved the freedom the New York City subway system allowed and established himself as the starting point guard on his school’s JV basketball team.

Robby and Karla hoped Zephyr wouldn’t be disappointed moving back to Boone after their one-year New York adventure.

Then, Christmas break came, along with a role reversal. After Zephyr visited friends in Boone during the holiday, he returned to New York and told his parents, “Now I understand why you moved us to North Carolina. It’s a great place to raise kids.” He told them he really wanted to return to Boone so he could graduate from Watauga High School.

The problem: Robby had just been nominated for NYU’s Distinguished Teaching Award and was being courted for a fast-track tenured position, an academic goal rarely achieved. It was an incredible opportunity offering stability, at one of the top two film schools in the country.

But, the Bensons made another decision based on family rather than career. “Once we finish this school year in New York we only have three more years with Zephyr until he heads off to college. Our son wants to graduate from Watauga High School, so we are coming home,” Robby said.

Robby said he absolutely loves teaching at NYU, so the decision to leave is bittersweet. Lamar Sanders, chairman of the undergraduate Department of Film and Television, said that in his 25-plus years at NYU, he has never seen such stellar written evaluations for a teacher as those Robby received from his students. “His credits and background are so extensive, we weren’t sure if he was ‘too good to be true.’ He proved better than ‘too good to be true.’ It was a revelation to behold the way he took these two new classes on,” Sanders said. Robby “has been a smashing success and we’re going to miss him greatly.”

It’s a sacrifice many parents wouldn’t consider, but for Robby, putting aside any job so his son can go to a high school with wonderful friends is a sacrifice completely worthwhile. Family comes first…always has, always will for the Bensons.

Watch for Robby’s outrageous inaugural novel about Hollywood, “Who Stole the Funny?” published by HarperCollins on Aug. 28.


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