The New York Times
November 27, 1981

At the Movies: An Actor Turns Into a Director
By Chris Chase

RICHARD BENJAMIN is a happy man.  The actor is directing his first feature film, called ''My Favorite Year,'' and he's never had a better time.  Richard Benjamin is also a man who is all keyed up.  He says even sleep doesn't do him any good, ''because I dream about the picture.''

''My Favorite Year'' concerns a live television show called ''Comedy Cavalcade'' in the year 1954 (if ''Comedy Cavalcade'' reminds you of the old ''Your Show of Shows,'' it won't be surprising) with Joseph Bologna playing the top banana, or Sid Caesar part, and Mark Linn Baker as a young writer.

The producer Michael Gruskoff, who had the idea for the project, says the character assigned to Mr. Baker, a young, Yale-trained stage actor, is ''a combination of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen at the age of 22, standing smack in the middle of television's most exciting decade.''

Before he was hired, Mr. Baker endured three and a half months of anxiety.  ''I met Richard,'' he says.  ''I met Michael.  I met everyone who worked for M-G-M on the East Coast, and everyone who worked for M-G-M on the West Coast.  I did the screen test.  I even thought of inventing an obscure rule, and then invoking it.  The rule would be that, after you meet 30 people, they have to give you some part.''

Work on ''My Favorite Year'' began in New York in September.  The company shot in Central Park, in Shubert Alley, in front of Radio City Music Hall, in front of St. Bartholomew's Church, in front of the Waldorf Towers.  Then they went back to Stage 30, at M-G-M in Hollywood, and created NBC.  They built Studio 6B right over the tank where Esther Williams used to do her trout act.  ''You might as well create that studio in Hollywood as in New York,'' says Mr. Benjamin.  ''We had to build it anyway.  In terms of 1954, it doesn't exist anymore.''

Himself a transplanted New Yorker, Mr. Benjamin worked at NBC as a page, while he was trying to get his first acting jobs.  (''I remember making rounds,'' he says.  ''After I'd leave a casting office, I'd stand outside the door, and hear a click; it was the sound of my picture being thrown into the wastebasket.'')

For his maiden effort as a director, Mr. Benjamin has imported a lot of talent from the big city.  Not just Mr. Baker, but Tony Di Benedetto, Anne De Salvo, Bill Macy and Adolph Green.  Mr. Green, who plays the producer of ''Comedy Cavalcade,'' finds it strange to be back at M-G-M where he and Betty Comden worked on musicals like ''Singin' in the Rain.''  ''We wrote nine movies here,'' he says. ''I used to know every inch of this lot.  This was our home.''

Jessica Harper is the film's leading lady, and Peter O'Toole stars as a swashbuckling, hard-drinking movie star signed to make a guest appearance on ''Comedy Cavalcade.''  The question then becomes, can they keep him off the sauce long enough to get him on the tube?

On a recent morning, Stage 30 was aquiver with activity.  Actors huddled in small groups, running lines.  Miss Harper, dressed in baggy jeans and an old linen jacket, her hair in rollers, waited patiently to be called and watched a scene that involved a tall young woman wearing a cigarette box covering her head and trunk, so that only her legs showed, and a short young woman wearing a matchbox covering her head and trunk, so that only her legs showed.

Mr. Benjamin was smiling. He said the trick was to hire terrific actors, and then listen to everything they suggested.  ''When an actor says, 'Suppose we try this or that,' '' said Mr. Benjamin, ''it can be absolute gold.''