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Benny was an American science fiction writer and ex-naval serviceman living in 1950s New York City who wrote in the Incredible Tales magazine. The editor, Douglas Pabst, and the owner of the magazine were reluctant to reveal that Russell was African-American, at a time when racism was more prevalent in the United States of America. His greatest work chronicled the adventures of a black captain who commands a space station, a work which was based on a drawing by Roy Ritterhouse.
Benny was determined to see the story published despite the opposition to its subject and the racial identity of its author. Benny's friends including his fiancée Cassie and friend Willie Hawkins and especially Jimmy, believed he was wasting his time because white society would not accept or read stories by a black American author of science fiction. Russell cited the works of other influential African-American authors of the time, such as Richard Wright, as evidence that the occasional black voice would be heard.
Even so, his story was never published and the terrible disappointment, as well as a physical assault, led to his eventual commitment to a psychiatric hospital for treatment for a delusional breakdown. In Sisko's mind, the Pah-wraiths tried to deter him from opening the Orb of the Emissary by making him think that Sisko was Benny, writing out his actions on his room walls. Dr. Wykoff tried to have him paint over the writings, making Sisko bury the Orb. Ezri Dax was able to remind Sisko of his promise to Jadzia as Benny finished the story, opening the box. (DS9: "Far Beyond the Stars", "Shadows and Symbols")
Background information Edit
Benny Russell, like Ben Sisko, was played by actor Avery Brooks.
Originally, the main character of "Far Beyond the Stars" would have been Jake Sisko, rather than Ben Sisko, and the episode would have featured a different rationale to account for him being a science fiction writer in the 1950s. Ultimately, Marc Scott Zicree based the character of Benny Russell on a lot of research, such as Harlan Ellison telling him about a particular man. Zicree later explained, "Harlan told me of a successful '50s author (not in science fiction) who hid behind a white pseudonym until he was 'outed' and his career was ruined [....] I also drew some details of Benny's life from Samuel R. Delany, one of my teachers at the Clarion Writers Workshop." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 12, p. 62)
Actor Jeffrey Combs was highly impressed by the portrayal of Benny Russell in "Far Beyond the Stars". "Avery [...] did some incredible work in front of the camera," Combs enthused. "The end when he breaks down, to me, was just riveting, and so fresh and spontaneous and sincere." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 68) Combs also remarked, "Avery was spectacular. There was a scene toward the end where he falls apart with the camera right in front of his nose. It was just riveting." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
There was some talk that the final scene of "What You Leave Behind" would feature Benny Russell sitting outside a sound stage holding a script that read "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine", essentially making the series, and all of Star Trek, a dream. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion; Cinefantastique, Vol. 32, Nos. 4/5, p. 99) Hans Beimler commented, "At one point we were considering ending the series with Benny Russell walking the station, what he imagined. But Benny Russell was something that was introduced in the sixth season. It's important that this series be a seven-year arc, not a two-year arc, so to end on that note I think would have been inappropriate. It's an interesting way to go, [though]." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 32, Nos. 4/5, p. 86)
Jerome Bixby – a real science fiction writer to whom a later Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode entitled "The Emperor's New Cloak" was dedicated (the mirror universe where that the episode takes place was introduced in "Mirror, Mirror", one of four TOS episodes which he wrote) – reportedly used the pen names "Albert Russell" and "J. Russell".
In the Deep Space Nine Millennium book trilogy, the Pah-wraiths play off Sisko's fears that Benny Russell is real and that he himself is imaginary, by trapping Sisko in a Pah-Wraith hell where he is given visions that Benny is sitting in his Harlem apartment writing about Benjamin Sisko's adventures.
In the novel Unity, Elias Vaughn has an Orb experience in which he becomes part of the Benny Russell setting; Sisko's communication with the Prophets is portrayed as Benny becoming a "trustee" at the psychiatric hospital from the Pah-Wraith's vision.