Zack: THE BOYS OF SUMMER
There’s Something About Southern Boys
Some people haven’t heard of Austin, Texas. We all know Texas, the Lone Star State, and that it’s hot, hot, hot there. We’re aware of such big cities as Houston or Dallas, but Austin? No. But there’s a lot to be said about Austin . . . especially since it’s where our first hottie, Benjamin McKenzie Schenk- kan, was born and raised.
Ben is part of a well-established, old Austin family. He’s the eldest son of Pete and Frances Schenkkan. His parents are both smart, a quality Ben and his brothers seem to have inherited. Dad Pete (Pieter) is an attorney, and mom Frances is a poet and writer. Ben shares a lot with his parents, and especially with his mom: they’re both in pretty close touch with their creative sides.
Ben’s mother got her college degree from Centenary College in Louisiana, one of the oldest liberal arts colleges west of the Mississippi River. Ever since then she seems to have been busy in the creative arts. While she isn’t an actor like her son, she writes poetry and short stories.
All About Austin, Ben’s Hometown!
• Known as “the playground of Texas.”
• Population: over 600,000.
• Origin of name: Native American word for “friend.”
• Official motto: “Live music capital of the world.”
• Home to the University of Texas, where Ben’s mom takes graduate courses.
• Boasts a large creative population: musicians, artists, writers . . . and, as we know now, actors!
• Averages over 300 days of sunshine a year.
• Capital of the state of Texas.
• Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, also known for beating cancer, hails from Austin.
• Named after Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas.”
All About Benjamin
Full name: Benjamin McKenzie Schenkkan
Date of birth: September 12, 1978
Birthplace: Austin, Texas
Hair: Sandy brown/dirty blond
Eyes: Baby blue
Height: 5' 9"
Family: Parents Peter and Frances, and brothers Nate (two years younger than Ben) and Zack (five years younger than Ben)
High school: Austin High, Austin, Texas; graduated 1997
College: University of Virginia; B.A., 2001
Marital status: single
Residence: Santa Monica, California
Astrological sign: Virgo
Ben can be proud of his mom for a number of reasons. For one, she recently won second place in the second annual Austin Chronicle short story contest. Her story, “Something for the Kids,” is all about a dad whose marriage is in trouble and who wants to keep his kids from being glued to the tv in the summer (maybe not if The O.C. is on!).
Another short story Frances wrote is called “No Singing.” It’s about a boy whose grandmother has just died. With some other kids from his school, he goes to a local nursing home to sing to, and help, the residents there.
Ben’s mom has also been a newspaper reporter and editor, and as of this writing is getting her master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin. She’s already shone at the university, receiving the Adele Steiner Burleson prize in poetry.
Ben’s mom is also active in her local community. In 2003 she coproduced a poetry series for a program called Arts Eclectic. It was hosted by Austin radio station KUT 90.5 FM. The series featured contemporary American poems read aloud by famous people who live in Austin.
But mom isn’t the only one in the family besides Ben to possess such creative genes. Ben’s paternal grandparents both did some acting when they were young, and Ben’s paternal uncle, Robert, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1992 for his play The Kentucky Cycle. The play was also nominated for a Tony award.
Robert’s play is about three generations of a Kentucky family. It’s a compelling tale about the growth of the family’s men and women from colonial times onward. It holds the honor of being the first play to have won a Pulitzer before being performed in New York! (By the way, it took about ten years after Robert received the prize for his play to be performed in Austin—surprising, considering that its playwright grew up in Austin, and was a graduate of both Austin High and the University of Texas at Austin.)
Ben’s uncle Robert is more than a playwright. He’s also a screenwriter, responsible for co-penning the screenplay of The Quiet American, based on a novel written by best-selling author Graham Greene. Greene’s novel is a complicated love story dealing with deception and human relationships.
Uncle Robert eventually proved to play a pivotal part in the first major role of Ben’s acting career (more on this later), and that’s partly because Robert is also an actor. He appeared as Lt. Cmdr. Dexter Remmick on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and has appeared on other shows including L.A. Law and The Twilight Zone.
So Ben is coming from a family that’s smart . . . creative . . . and likes to act. Pretty incredible, huh?!
There’s More . . . of Ben!
Ben is close to his family, not only his parents but also his two brothers, both of whom are also smart and creative. Ben’s the eldest, followed by brothers Nate and Zack. His brother Nate went to Yale University, graduating in 2002.
The Facts on Yale University
• Founded in 1701.
• Original name: Collegiate School.
• Renamed in 1716 and moved to New Haven, Connecticut.
• Named after Elihu Yale, who gifted the school with “9 bales of goods, 417 books, and a portrait and arms of King George I,” according to www.yale.edu.
Nate shares his brother Ben’s love of acting, and during his college years was extremely involved in theater productions. In 1999, he played Mark in the play Still Life by Emily Mann. Mann’s play is about the Vietnam War, and how it affected three people as well as America in general. The Yale Daily News said about the production, “The talent is great . . . Mark, played by Nate Schenkkan ’02, is the GI who came home psychologically and physically wounded. . . . Schenkkan was suited for the role—he’s spot on for the guy next door who went to war, but came back somehow different.”
In the play The Dumb Waiter, written by Harold Pinter, Nate played a criminal character . . . named Ben! Along with another accomplice, the character of Ben is stranded by his benefactor in a windowless room and receives instructions via a dumbwaiter. The Yale Herald commented that Nate and his fellow actor showed “real chemistry” in their performance.
During his time in college Nate also was involved in producing plays. One play he created and produced was a two-man show, The Failure of Things. He also directed Tom Murphy’s The Morning After Optimism. The Yale Herald called the production “hot” and said Nate “has clearly gone a long way toward bringing out the questions and concerns raised by the script. He has also endowed the show with an eerily vaudevillian quality through the vanity-bulb light cast upon the characters . . . their exaggerated and caricatured movements, and their asides to the audience.”
Nate is currently living in New York City. He has interned with the acting troupes Mabou Mines and Richard Foreman’s Ontological Theater Company. Nate is what’s known as an avant-garde actor; this means that he acts in unusual or experimental theater productions—productions that are at the forefront of the theater scene.
For example, Nate appeared in the March 2004 production of 131, which blended dance with a dramatic performance. The show was written about in The New York Times and New York’s The Village Voice. The Voice praised the performance, saying it is “utterly engrossing, perfectly pitched, and doesn’t miss a beat.”
Ben’s baby brother Zack is currently attending Pomona College. Pomona is about a half hour away from Los Angeles, in southern California. Zack hasn’t shared what he plans to do with his life yet. . . and we can only hope that perhaps one day he’ll decide to follow in his brothers’ footsteps!
The Stats on Pomona
• Founded in 1887.
• Liberal arts college.
• Located in Claremont, California, 35 miles east of Los Angeles.
• Student population: 1,500.
• Average class size (as of 2004): 14.
Ben as a Boy
So enough about Ben’s brothers! Where did Ben go to school? And what was he like growing up?
Ben, as you might expect when you look at the academic success and intellectual achieve- ments of his family, was a smart kid who did well in school. He even took advanced courses in his high school, Austin High, located in Austin, Texas. Austin High is the same school President George W. Bush’s two daughters, Jenna and Barbara, attended. In fact, Ben was a senior there when they were freshmen!
Back in high school, Ben was a self-confessed loner. He only dated a few girls in high school, and told eonline.com, “I’ve always been a kind of loner . . . I played football . . . but I didn’t really hang out with the jocks. I did honors courses, but I didn’t hang out with those kids, either. I sort of had my own group I hung with occasionally, but I’ve always been kind of by myself.”
Ben played two positions on his high school’s football team: wide receiver and defensive back.
What’s Sweet About “6”?
Lucky number six was the number on Ben’s football jersey when he played for Austin High!
A wide receiver is a player on the offensive team who goes out to catch a pass. He’s usually very fast and agile on the field, and displays great eye-hand coordination. A defensive back is the person on the defensive side who plays against the other team’s wide receiver. His purpose is to protect against successful passes by the opposing team. He too must be very fast and cover a lot of ground.
Ben’s defensive back position was actually that of a starting strong safety. What that means is that Ben played far back on the defensive back field, in a position that requires a lot of speed and the ability to hit somebody. For example, if the running back on the other team breaks away from the rest of the players, it would be a player like Ben who would provide the last line of defense between the running back and his team’s goal.
It was a bit unusual for Ben to be chosen for such a prime spot. Austin High was a large school, and Ben was on the smaller side, at only five foot nine and 170 pounds. Usually starting strong safeties are bigger players who move very quickly. So for Ben to succeed at this position against larger and heavier players, he had to be graced with tremendous speed and agility.
Luckily, Ben was in great shape, athletic from an early age. No doubt this led to his joining the football team in the first place! Besides, Ben really enjoyed the sport. He liked the intensity of the game, and football was one of his favorite sports. Still, that doesn’t mean that Ben was doing what he really wanted to do!
As reported in steppinoutmagazine.com, Ben had thought about acting since he was young. Yet since he was growing up in a state that prized football highly and supported its football teams, Ben chose to go the way of the pack. That’s right: Ben has confessed that he was simply too shy and nervous to tell anyone at the time that what he was thinking about, and really wanted to do, was act!
Ben felt that in Austin, you had to pick very carefully what you wanted to do. For in Austin, actors and athletes were two very different creatures. As Ben said, “I couldn’t work up the nerve to tell the [football] coaches that I wanted to act in a school play . . . I don’t know what would have happened, but it could have been nasty.” (steppinout magazine.com).
Where “Everybody Is Somebody”
Here are the facts on Ben’s alma mater, Austin High:
• Founded in 1881.
• Has had over three hundred National Merit Scholarship semifinalists since 1974.
• The school’s athletic colors are maroon and white.
• Austin grads are known as the “Maroons.”
• Boasts more than 3,600 “Austin Maroon” graduates. Their motto? “Loyal Forever” to their school.
• The school’s mascot is “Mister Maroo,” and his shape constantly changes. When the mascot was adopted, he was a “hairy, 1.1 meter tall, mutant transmorph with extraterrestrial parents.” Austin High’s Web site goes on to say that “the Mascot is supposed to be the ‘embodiment of the Maroon Spirit,’ a fellow who can be mean or nice depending on how you treat him/her.”
• “Everybody is somebody at Austin High” is the slogan of the school. The slogan was created by then-Principal Jacquelyn McGee in 1975.
• Austin High alumni can keep in touch with one another through the Web site www.austinhigh.org, started by Austin Chin of the class of 1984.
Despite spending a lot of time playing football in high school, Ben made sure to study, and when he decided to go to college, he was able to get into his grandfather’s and his dad’s alma mater, the University of Virginia. There he displayed a lot of ambition and drive by majoring in two fields of study: economics and foreign affairs.
Ben might have had a hard time being accepted to UVA simply because he was an out-of-state student. For example, in 2003, 52 percent of those admitted by UVA were in-state applicants.
Benjamin’s father, Pete, had been a star undergraduate student at UVA. In 1969 the university endorsed him as a Rhodes Scholarship applicant, and Peter won! Students around the world who win a Rhodes Scholarship receive funds to study at Oxford University in England, usually for two years. According to rhodesscholar.org, the criteria by which a winner is chosen include “high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor.”
In any event, UVA correctly assessed Ben’s potential, and in the fall of 1997 Ben was one of the many nervous and eager first-year students residing on the grounds of UVA and registering for class.
The University of Virginia has an absolutely beautiful campus, and Ben probably fell in love with the place at first sight.
Alumna Jennifer Morgan Gray ’97, who graduated the year that Benjamin was a first-year stu- dent there, says, “The university is a terrific place to go to college—it’s absolutely idyllic. The spirit of Thomas Jefferson—who lived nearby at Monticello and who founded UVA, one of his proud- est accomplishments, is everywhere, and resonates throughout the school. His influence extends to everything, even the lingo! For example, you don’t live ‘on campus,’ you live ‘on grounds.’ You’re not a ‘freshman,’ you’re a ‘first-year student.’ UVA is not only a beautiful place to learn, but is also really steeped in history. It isn’t stuck in the past, though: it’s incredibly vibrant intellectually, too. You walk in and you feel as though it’s the quintessential college environment in the quintessential college town. . . . The place is really tinged with some magic, I think.”
U.S. News & World Report recently rated the University of Virginia as the number-one public university in the nation in its 2003 “America’s Best Colleges” issue. And, interestingly enough, economics, one of Ben’s majors, is currently the school’s most popular undergraduate major, with 12 percent of the student body majoring in it. Ben’s other major, foreign affairs, is fifth in popularity among UVA students.
UVA is a bit larger than some other colleges and universities. Its 2003 freshman class alone included 14,627 applicants. And it’s been a strong school since the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson was so excited and proud about his role in creating the school that he made sure it was mentioned on his tombstone.
At college, Ben took school seriously, as we can tell from his choice of a double major in foreign affairs and economics. Most other undergraduates have their hands full simply completing the course requirements for one major, and don’t think seriously about taking on the added requirements for another major . . . but Ben did. That shows he’s focused, ambitious, and driven . . . qualities that would help him out later in life, when it came to following his true calling and making a career for himself as an actor.
In support of his major, Ben applied for, and was given, an internship with a U.S. representative from his home state of Texas: Lloyd Doggett. Doggett, a Democrat, is a former Texas Supreme Court justice and has been representative for the 10th District of Texas since 1995. He was born and raised in Austin, just like Ben, and is Ben’s representative for the Austin area.
The Facts on the University of Virginia
• Founded: 1819.
• Founder: Thomas Jefferson.
• First class had 123 students, who started attending UVA in 1825. The first degree, given in 1825, was an M.D.
• President of UVA when Ben attended (and currently): John T. Casteen III, president since 1990.
• UVA’s athletic colors: orange and blue (the latter color looks great on Ben!).
• Mascot: A cavalier. (Cavaliers were Englishmen who were loyal to King Charles I during Cromwell’s Revolution.) The mascot is also referred to as the “Wahoo.”
• Alma mater: “The Good Old Song,” with the lyrics sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.”
• Nickname for UVA students: Wahoo. The word is also part of a UVA cheer, “Wahoo-wah!”
• Name of the school’s yearbook: Corks & Curls. Check out Benjamin Schenkkan’s senior photo in the 2001 yearbook!
• For more information about UVA and some great pictures, check out the school’s official Web site, www.virginia.edu.
Ben really enjoyed the time he spent working for Representative Doggett: “I loved working on Capitol Hill, even though I lived in a dorm without air-conditioning.” (steppinoutmagazine.com).
One of the things that attracted Ben to Washington was the fact that he got to observe a lot of different people and their activities. For example, the pace of D.C. was fast—much faster than it was in either Austin or at UVA. So Ben got to watch how people hustled, cajoled, and got things done in a fast-paced town.
Back at school, despite all the extra work that came with being a double major, Ben knew that there was something he wanted to do during the spare time he had available: act. Feeling more secure and being more mature, he tried out for a number of campus stage productions. As he put it to People magazine, “It was a great way to be crea- tive. . . . Charts and graphs [which I had to rely on in my majors] were really boring!”
So there’s a lot to thank UVA for today, because that’s the place where Ben really started to get interested in acting. And that interest would change the future direction of his life.
As Benjamin told In Focus, “I had planned to follow a career in either the foreign service or in some government agency. . . . But . . . I realized [later] how much I loved the acting I did in school and decided this is what I want to do, probably for the rest of my life.”
The rest of his life? Cool! We would love to see this hottie acting for the rest of his life—that means more big screen, tv screen, or live theatrical performances where we can enjoy his acting talents as well as his striking good looks!
UVA’s theater department featured productions that, according to Jennifer Morgan Gray ’97, “ran the gamut, from modern musicals like Hair to traditional Shakespearean works to more avant-garde pieces. UVA’s drama program is a well-regarded one, with a very devoted, close-knit group of people involved with it. At the same time, though, people who were involved with the plays were not drama majors, since the student body is so well-rounded with many different interests. . . . So sometimes an unexpected person in one of your classes would be up on the stage, one of the stars of the show.”
Ben won a lot of parts in UVA’s plays, so undergraduates attending UVA at the time would have been lucky to see him in a number of campus productions. He was in Edward Albee’s Zoo Story, which is about a man who is so lonely that he strikes up a conversation with another man on a bench in New York City’s Central Park.
In November of 1999 Ben starred in Harold Pinter’s Homecoming. Ben played Teddy, an academic and the oldest son of a dysfunctional, working-class family. The story begins when Teddy returns home and introduces his cultured and sophisticated wife to his family.
The Cavalier Daily, UVA’s school newspaper, praised the production of this intense drama, and commented, “Schenkkan imbues Teddy with an opaque stoicism appropriate to the role.”
In November of 2000, Ben starred as the son in a modern play called Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello. In this play, a director and a group of actors who are in the process of shooting a film are interrupted by the arrival of six people. Those interrupting are fictional characters who are trying to find their writer, someone who has abandoned them and their story!
In February 2001, Ben starred in Shakespeare’s classic Measure for Measure, a comedy that blends both comic and tragic elements.
The story centers around a young woman, Isa- bella, who pleads for her brother Claudio’s life after he’s been arrested. Lord Angelo, the man ruling Vienna in the absence of its duke, Vincentio, has declared that Claudio be put to death. But when Isabella requests that Lord Angelo spare her brother’s life, Lord Angelo says that he will consent to her request, at a price that is too high for Isa- bella to pay. Intervention and rescue arrive in the shape of the Duke, who is disguised as a friar.
Ben starred as the Duke during UVA’s production of the play. He dressed in long, dark robes, for although UVA put on a fairly modern production of Measure for Measure, the costumes were still reflective of the time period.
As the Duke, Ben proposed that Isabella pretend to agree to Lord Angelo’s request. In reality they would fool Angelo by switching Isabella with Mari- ana, Lord Angelo’s former fiancée, whom Lord Angelo had jilted once he found out she no longer had a dowry.
The Duke’s ruse goes as planned, and the story ends with the Duke asking Isabella to marry him. So it was that even early on in his acting career, Ben was a romantic lead!
According to The Cavalier Daily¸ Benjamin thought that Measure for Measure was “very funny. It’s a comedy on a certain level; Shakespeare is entertainment. Second, it discusses questions with moral issues in a very modern way.”
Ben also had a role as Bennie in Getting Out. In the play, Bennie is a prison guard who quits his job and tries to help a female convict who has just been released from prison.
Ben was lucky to discover that he had a lot of support when he tried his hand at acting. His parents, Peter and Frances, tried to come up to Virginia as often as possible to see their oldest son act. “It was clear he was happy doing it [acting] and he showed great promise,” commented proud father Pete Schenkkan to Diane Holloway, a television writer for the Austin American-Statesman.
These appearances, though, just signaled the start of Ben’s acting career, and like many other graduates of UVA, Ben would go on to make quite a mark for himself in his chosen field. And he’s not the only one, for Ben joins a long list of UVA alumni who are famous. Here are some names you might recognize, although there are dozens of others who are well-known in politics, business, entertainment, science, and more.
Big Names from UVA
• Edgar Allan Poe, writer
• Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President (although he left UVA after a year because of his poor health)
• Melissa Stark, reporter for ESPN and ABC’s Monday Night Football
• Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live writer and “Weekend Update” anchor
• Sean Patrick Thomas, actor, Barbershop, Save the Last Dance, Courage Under Fire
• Katie Couric, host of NBC’s Today
• Stan Winston, renowned motion picture special effects expert
• Tiki Barber, New York Giants running back
• Richard Byrd, explorer, who led five expeditions through Antarctica. He first flew over the South Pole, and is also credited with being the first person to fly over both the North and South Pole!
Indeed, it wouldn’t take long for Ben to graduate from UVA and snare the prime role on The O.C. . . .From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Boys of Summer by Elizabeth Zack. Copyright © 2004 by Elizabeth Zack. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.