World traveler, Hollywood actor now local poet

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 11:29 AM.

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Actor, screenwriter and poet Francois-Marie Bénard calls Santa Rosa Beach home, but he was born in Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, where his French Royalist family had self-exiled two centuries ago to escape the French Revolution.

“My father was instrumental in giving Madagascar independence,” he said.

He lived in the jungle there, he said, for 20 years, before leaving to study acting and directing in Paris. While trying to reach his goal of becoming an actor, Bénard worked varied jobs, including as the artistic director for Club Med, a financial adviser at Rothschild Bank and a reporter for L’Express Magazine.

He also studied in Rome and learned photography, making a living as a photographer during that time. In 1974, he moved to New York City and worked for Salvador Dali as a photographer, then for an art director, and found some work on Broadway and in television.

“Working for Dali opened doors in New York,” he said.

One door that was opened was meeting his wife Jo Ann, who was working under the screen name Lee Warrick on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” He was appearing on “The Young & the Restless” at the time.

Bénard moved back to France for a bit, a move that gave him his biggest commercial — for Paco Rabanne cologne.

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