Joan Benedict Steiger Keeps on Dancing Through Life
by Steven Bryan / Associated Content
Published April 01, 2010

The Wife of the Legendary Rod Steiger, Benedict Steiger Can Dance Circles Around Most People

No matter if she's attending her regular tap classes in Malibu or conducting an interview over the phone, Joan Benedict Steiger can dance circles around just about anyone. The widow of the legendary actor Rod Steiger, her career and the great guys that she has loved let her keep dancing through life.

"I wasn't built for ballet"

Although nobody in her family was in show businesses, Steiger said that her mother could see that she loved dancing at an early age. "She sent me to Europe and I became a member of the Royal Opera Ballet School," Steiger said during a phone interview with Associated Content.

"I soon found out I wasn't built for ballet. You really have to be constructed for ballet—it's very acrobatic for your body, and I love tap better. I'm still tapping," she said. "I'm on my way to my tap class. I tap 3 times a week, and I have since I was 7. We have a great choreographer, and most of us have been together here in Malibu for 5 or 6 years."

Joan Benedict Steiger as the "Lady with a feather" on "Candid Camera"

As she was starting her career, Steiger said she worked on the series "Candid Camera." The reality show that inspired such contemporary hits as Ashton Kutcher's "Punk'd," "Candid Camera" put ordinary people in strange situations, capturing their reactions on film.

Steiger said that after one episode, host Arthur Godfrey said she should have won an Academy Award. "I was sitting in a bus terminal and I had this long hat with this huge curled and long feather. I was supposed to engage someone in conversation and ask them for directions," she said. "I had this fellow. He sat next to me and we were looking at a map. He was so helpful, and I felt so sorry for him. Every time he would come close, I would move the map in certain ways so I could get the feather up his nose and in his ear."

Joan Benedict Steiger and the first of her "great guys"

As a working actress in New York City, Joan said that she was doing a television show opposite Rod Steiger, and that's how the two of them met. "I remember we were in makeup and he said 'Come here, little girl.' We dated for about a year, and he came back to California. He had a movie to do," she said.

Although he originated the title role in Paddy Chayefsky's "Marty" on television, Rod Steiger declined to do the role in the movie adaptation. Ernest Borgnine went on to star as the lonely Bronx butcher, winning an Academy Award for his performance. "But he (Steiger) went on to do so many other things. He would only do roles that were in keeping with his ideals and everything. He was just a great guy—a wonderful actor and wonderful to me. Whenever the parts and the scripts came around, he would say 'Well, did you pick your part yet?,' she said.

A romantic detour with John Myhers and "The Sound of Music"

While Steiger was working in California, Joan said she met John Myhers, a comedian and singer that she called another genius. "Richard Rodgers saw him on the Jack Paar Show and called him into the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. He was signed to the first National Company of 'The Sound of Music'," Steiger said. "John wanted to marry me and come on the tour."

Even though her own career was just starting, Joan went with Myhers, eventually marrying him in Chicago. She said that three years after Myhers passed away from cancer, Rod Steiger gave her a call. "I said 'How did you find me?' and he said 'Joan, I'm Rod Steiger,'" she said, laughing. "Our love life was all rekindled."

Life after Rod Steiger

Joan said that she and Rod Steiger were inseparable until he passed away from cancer in 2002. In the years following his death, she met actor Jeremy Slate, the third great guy in her life. "I hate cooking, and I never had to cook, not with my three guys. They took me out or my first husband cooked. I never had to do that. I'm not a kitchen person," she said.

Like Steiger and Myhers, Slate passed away from cancer in 2006. "They all passed away from different forms of cancer," she said.

"I just want to get working"

These days, Joan Benedict Steiger keeps on tapping and tapping. She played a guest-starring role on the now-canceled series "Dollhouse," and she said she just wants to get working again. "I'd love to be doing a series. I'm healthy, I love life and I still think that I'm 16. I hope no one tells me otherwise," she said.
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