Photo by Lloyd DeGrane/special to College of DuPage
“Sweetheart, I want you to study something practical. It’s a tough world out there. You need a skill you can make a real living doing.”
~ Father to daughter in Raymond Benson’s Black Stiletto
Raymond Benson has been an actor, director, composer, critic, computer game creator, authority on James Bond, and author of more than 25 books, including two Tom Clancy tie-ins and nine James Bond novels and film novelizations.
He’s also a part-time film-history teacher at College of DuPage.
On the surface, it appears that Benson, 56, ignored the advice that fictional father gave his fictional daughter Black Stiletto.
But in reality, he epitomizes the career benefits of discipline, lifelong learning, adaptability and resourcefulness. And for COD’s Motion Picture and TV students and others pursuing arts careers, Benson has one other piece of advice:
“You have to have passion. If you don’t get excited by it, you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Benson’s passion has not only driven his career, but also led him to COD.
While most COD faculty teach full time and bring advanced degrees and on-the-job experience to the classroom, the College also pursues working professionals who want to teach a class or two and share their expertise with COD students.
Benson, for one, is grateful for the opportunity.
“Some colleges and universities don’t hire potentially great teachers because they don’t have a master’s,” Benson said. “Steven Spielberg could not teach at many universities because he doesn’t have a master’s. Certainly, if you have an advanced degree, that’s great. But if you have extensive experience in the industry, that should suffice.”
Through his own life experiences, Benson shows how far you can go when you’re open to new possibilities. Theater directing led to writing. Writing theater led to writing video games. That led to the nonfiction James Bond Bedside Companion, which led to writing James Bond novels. Those, in turn, led to his own novels, and projects with Clancy.
Of all his careers, Benson prefers writing books.
“You’re your own boss,” said Benson. “You don’t have to answer to anyone. I start work when I want and I can work in my underwear.”
But make no mistake, Benson’s a disciplined writer—first outlining, then writing one scene per day. “If it’s a long scene, I might be at it all day. If it’s a short scene, I might get done early and go to a matinee movie.”
In addition to teaching film history at COD—from Edison’s invention of the medium through key periods, directors and films—Benson also gives back to the community. He plays piano at his synagogue; performs occasional concerts; and for the past six years, has teamed with friend and fellow film critic Dann Gire to present “Dann and Raymond’s Movie Club”—a discussion of films at public libraries in Schaumburg and Arlington Heights.
As an arts industry veteran, Benson sounds much like the father in his book:
“It’s a tough world to be in the arts,” said Benson. “You have to make the commitment if that’s what you want to do—because you won’t be happy doing anything else. You also have to be willing, for many years, to live a lifestyle that’s subpar.”
But hey, if you’re disciplined enough, you just might get to be James Bond or at least create a hot heroine in black stilettos.