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Theatre replenishes his spirit, television his purse. Rene Auberjonois was six years in TV's "Benson."

Miller's music. I hoped he would write another show, but I suspect he's sitting on his porch in New Mexico, rocking and relishing the scenery."

Theatre replenishes his spirit, television his purse. He was six years in "Benson," which threatens to linger in reruns till the final bugle blows. "Television is the only place where actors can get serious money," he says. "'Benson' allowed me to be at home in Los Angeles with my wife Judith and the children, our son Remy and our daughter Tessa. I got up and made their breakfast every morning, packed their lunches and drove them to school.

"We don't talk about money in our family, but I was driving Tessa one day when she asked how much money I made. I told her what I earned every week, and there was silence, and she said, 'That's sick.' I understand that, but for a lot of my life, as I explained to her, I've worked for very little money. I can walk around New York in comfortable anonymity, but when I took my sister to the South Street Seaport--she was visiting me from Switzerland--it was as if I was the ghost of Elvis Presley. She had no idea television had that kind of power.

"Sometimes people mention a stage role I've played, and that's wonderful. 'Benson' was a great job, and I'd do it again in a minute. Angela Lansbury is in nearly every shot in her series and that's brutal, but 'Benson' was easy. We worked four days a week, three weeks a month, about six months of the year."

For a long time he's had an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. "It's saved my life. My wife flies to see me--we met at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh--and I went home for Tessa's high-school graduation; that was in my contract from the beginning. Judith didn't work when the children were small, but now she's a theatre producer in Los Angeles, and she was a theatre critic." Tessa Enters Sarah Lawrence College in the fall, and he will lay upon the altar of higher education $21,000 a year, which doesn't include clothes or going-around money and other indispensables.
About that name, it's Swiss and of French origin. Rene is a first-generation American, born in New York City at Flower-Fith Avenue HOspital. He grew up in Cockland COuntry, N.Y., and abroad. Intimidating as it looks, his name is easy to say after he breaks it down: "O-bear-jun-wah." His father, Fernand Auberjonois, was a foreign correspondent for the Block newspapers in the Midwest. "he tried simplifying his name, but it didn't work. People who know how to pronounce it like to shout it at me on the street, they're so proud. At the dry cleaner's I'm 'Auber.'"

On his visit home for Tessa's graduation, he arranged an exhibit of his "photographics"--an elaboration of pictures he took in Nicaragua--and attended the gallery opening. "The country was tragic when I was there. They're supposed to be our enemy, and they seem to love everything American. They're a lively, beautiful poeople, and they are poets."

This sandy-haired six-footer is in his dressing room, up three flights, at the Virginia Theatre. He is dressed for cycling, in a T-shirt and shorts, and one can't help noticing the well-turned calf and thigh. He rides a bike to work and, fearlessly, all around New York. "It's the quickest way. I suppose it's dangerous, but I wear a helmet, and I'm very careful. When I'm cycling I hate pedestrians and cars, and when I'm walking I hate cyclists and cars."

City of Angels may be his biggest hit. 

"I was in Fire!, which lasted a week; Tricks ran a week. I got a Tony nomination in The Good Doctor. Break a Leg ran only one night, but it was at the Palace, so I've played the Palace. Every other show I've done seemed to run, and every time I'm in a show that runs I get a Tony nomination. I've always been a character actor. If you're a character actor, and if you're in the right place at the right time, you keep working."


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