Paula Ragusa is an American actress better known by her professional name, Paula Prentiss. A Texan native, she studied drama at Northwestern University. During this period, she was spotted by a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive who immediately signed her. She drew much attention with her debut role as Tuggle in ‘Where the Boys Are’ and went to appear in several other MGM films. She had her TV debut in a 1963 episode of ‘77 Sunset Strip’. During the filming of her 1965 film ‘What’s New Pussycat?’, she had a nervous breakdown and subsequently took a break from the world of glamour. She returned to co-star with her husband, actor and filmmaker Richard Benjamin, in the CBS sitcom ‘He & She’. Her most recent project is the horror-thriller ‘I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House’, which was released in 2016.
While Paula Prentiss was a student at Northwestern, she was spotted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). They subsequently signed her and cast her in the 1960 romance drama ‘Where the Boys Are’. She played Tuggle Carpenter, the romantic interest of Jim Hutton’s TV Thompson. The role ushered her into the spotlight. The audience especially loved her chemistry with Hutton. MGM noticed this and they cast the actors together in three comedies: ‘The Honeymoon Machine’ (1961), ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ (1961), and ‘The Horizontal Lieutenant’ (1962). The pair was being billed as the new “William Powell and Myrna Loy.” Prentiss and Hutton were supposed to act together once more in the 1963 comedy ‘Follow the Boys’, but Hutton left the project and was replaced by Russ Tamblyn.
Her first non-MGM film was ‘Man’s Favorite Sport’ (1963), in which she shared screen space with Rock Hudson. The director of the film, Howard Hawks, was critical of her, stating that “she could not remember what she was doing from one shot to the next.”
Prentiss strengthened her résumé by appearing in a production of William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. She worked with Peter Sellers in the 1964 comedy film ‘The World of Henry Orient’ and John Wayne in the 1965 war film ‘In Harm's Way’. In 1964, she appeared as herself in Hutton’s musical film ‘Looking for Love’.
After she suffered the nervous breakdown on the set of ‘What’s New Pussycat’, Prentiss took a prolonged break from acting. In 1967, she made her return in the CBS sitcom ‘He & She’. Paula portrayed social worker Paula Hollister opposite her real-life husband Richard Benjamin’s cartoonist Dick Hollister. Her performance in the show was well-received by the critics and she even earned an Emmy nomination for it. ‘He & She’ was cancelled in 1968 after airing 26 episodes. She and Benjamin appeared opposite each other once more in the 1983 ‘Packin’ It in’. He also directed her in his 1996 romance drama ‘Mrs. Winterbourne’. However, her appearance was uncredited. After the 1981 film ‘Buddy Buddy’, Prentiss did not make any credited appearance in films prior to her 2016 outing in ‘I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House’.
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Family & Personal Life
Born on March 4, 1938, in San Antonio, Texas, USA, Prentiss is the sole surviving daughter of Paulene (née Gardner) and Thomas J. Ragusa. Her younger sister was the late actress Ann Prentiss. Her father, who was of Sicilian descent, was affiliated with the San Antonio's University of the Incarnate Word as a social science professor. There have been rumours that both Prentiss and her sister were sexually abused by their father
Prentiss has always garnered attention for her height (5 ft 10 in / 1.78 m) and striking good looks. After graduating from Lamar High School in Houston, Texas, she enrolled at Northwestern University. It was there, in 1958, that she became acquainted with her future husband Richard Benjamin, who, at 6 ft 1 in (1.87 m), was taller than her. He was a brilliant and cosmopolitan young man and it did not take her long to fall for him. They married on October 26, 1961, and have two children together: son Ross (born March 23, 1974) and daughter Prentiss (born July 3, 1978).
While she was filming ‘What’s New Pussycat?’, the 1965 comedy that also starred Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole, and Romy Schneider, Prentiss experienced a severe nervous breakdown, probably the result of the abuse she suffered as a child. She attempted to commit suicide by leaping off one of the studio beams. Fortunately, a stagehand saved her. Benjamin was then forced to put his wife in a mental institution.
Ann tried to follow in her older sister’s footsteps as an actress with less success and eventually also suffered a mental breakdown and committed a series of crimes. In 1977, she was arrested for assaulting their 86-year-old father with a firearm. While she was incarcerated, she tried to get someone to kill their father and Benjamin. She was subsequently sentenced to 19 years in jail. Ann Prentiss died in prison on January 12, 2010.