Paul Benedict’s portrayal of Harry Bentley, the British neighbor on The Jeffersons, was so charming and so convincing that for his entire life after the series ended, he had to convince people he wasn’t actually an Englishman. And while his neighborliness at first gets on the nerves of his prickly neighbor George Jefferson, fans of the show will remember that the dynamic between the two softened as the show wore on.
This was likely due to a decision to soften George overall to make him more likeable for audiences (a problem Benedict never had, potentially due to his famous recurring role on Sesame Street as The Number Painter). But there was also the curious thing where Harry Bentley just straight up disappears between 1981 and 1983 on The Jeffersons, and when the character comes back, you could definitely say the dynamic between him and George took a running leap toward friendship and never looked back. Just look at the way George greets Harry in the 10th season episode “The Return of Harry Bentley!”
On the show, Bentley’s disappearance is explained away like this: Bentley works as a Russian interpreter for the United Nations. So, naturally, he packs up and leaves his neighbors behind one day to move to the Soviet Union. (That takes the concept of “moving on up” way too literally if you ask us!)
In actuality, Benedict left the show to pursue other work, and the writers simply wrote him off and cut him free to do it. The actor was immensely talented, and Norman Lear first came across him when he cast him in his 1971 movie Cold Turkey. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Sherman Hemsley can’t even think back on working with Benedict without bursting into a laugh. He explained of his friend and castmate, “… He could keep a straight face longer than anybody else.” After leaving The Jeffersons, Benedict returned to the big screen for a couple movies, including memorably playing the butler in the Steve Martin hit The Man with Two Brains. He also took a starring role in the Emmy-nominated Ray Bradbury-penned sci-fi TV movie The Electric Grandmother.
While it was surely nice to have a change of pace and to press pause on his British accent, Benedict couldn’t stay away from The Jeffersons. He returned in 1983 and remained a central part of the show until it ended in 1985. It could’ve been the camaraderie that drew the actor back. Jack Shea, who directed 110 episodes of The Jeffersons, sums up what it was like to be on set with Hemsley, Benedict, Sanford, Gibbs and the whole crew: “Again, what was wonderful for me, they were professional actors who liked what they were doing, who liked working like actors, and it made every day fun days to be there.”