In his earliest youth, Ben was born in the year 1869 in the town of New Orleans, Louisiana. His father was a successful candy merchant, who owned two stores. Not surprisingly, it was his wish that Ben, the second of his three children, would one day follow in his footsteps.
"Not on your life!" was the characteristic reaction.
But, here, why not let Ben tell the story as he gave it in early interviews:
"I decided against the candy business because I was fed up on it and liked beer and cheese at the corner bar a lot better.
"I kept on being the life of the neighborhood until I was seventeen, and then the old man called me in the parlor one night, looked me in the eye and said, 'Kid, you're getting pretty tough. Look, Ben, you ought to get away from here. Go out and see something of the world. Go West. There's lots of chances there. Go to Chicago. Go anywhere!'
"I intended to sell my business here,' he explained ' and move back to New Orleans. I've laid aside a hundred dollars for you. Here it is; take it and get out!'
"'That sounds all right,' I told him; 'but what am I going to do when the hundred's gone?'
"'I'll tell you,'' he answered. 'You get a job. Earn your own living, and don't come back expecting any more money from me, because there won't be anymore!
"'Now here's a hundred bucks for yourself; go out into the world and amount to something.' I took the hundred bucks and we shook hands. A hundred bucks was a lot of dough in those days - 1885."
Ben ended up somewhere in the East, possibly in Jersey City as best he could recollect, and lost the hundred in a crap game.
"Then I was in a fix! I was only a few miles from New York, but I didn't dare go back home.
"I had never ridden a freight train up to that time - didn't know how, or anything about it. But I saw a train in the yards and climbed on, and the next thing I knew I landed in Chicago!"
On wondering how to get something to eat, someone among a group of individuals he met told him to "Hit the backdoors!" To Ben this made a lot of sense, particularly since at the time, he "didn't feel any wish to go and hunt a job…"
"I decided that inasmuch as I was a young man, I'd see the country before settling down. So I became a hobo, and a good one. I've been kicked off of more freight trains between Atlantic and Pacific seaboards than any other five-year man in the business…"
"When I fell off that rattler I decided that now was the time to go to work, so I mosied up town (Pittsburg) and looked around until I saw a sign in front of a restaurant that said, 'Dishwasher Wanted.' I went in and knocked that job off for myself, and what a dishwasher I was.
"I worked hard and was promoted to hash slinger…."
It was not long afterward that Ben got the itch for acting. And it was just a matter of time before he joined a medicine show. One thing led to another and within a couple years he landed himself a high paying job in pictures.
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