April 4, 1895
Podhajce, Kingdom of Galicia, Austro-Hungarian Empire
|Died||March 3, 1991
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
|Occupation||Ballroom dancer, Entrepreneur|
|Spouse(s)||Kathryn Kohnfelder Murray, 1906-1999 (widowed)|
|Children||Jane Murray (m. Dr. Henry Heimlich)
Phyllis Murray (m. Edward Irvine "Ted" McDowell)
His pupils included Eleanor Roosevelt, the Duke of Windsor, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Barbara Hutton, Elizabeth Arden, Manuel L. Quezon, and Jack Dempsey. Television evangelist D. James Kennedy and Little House on the Prairie actress Katherine MacGregor were instructors of Murray's technique.
Arthur Murray was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2007.
Early life and start in dance
Arthur Murray was born in Galicia, Austria-Hungary, in 1895 as Moses Teichman. In August 1897, he was brought to America by his mother Sarah on the S.S. Friesland, and landed at Ellis Island. They settled in Ludlow Street, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with his father, Abraham Teichmann.
Murray was shy as a child and self-conscious about his tall, lanky appearance. He wanted very much to be a part of the social activities that most of his friends enjoyed, particularly the dances, but was afraid to socialize with girls. At the age of 14, Joe Feigenbaum, a friend of his whom he admired because of his popularity with girls, taught him his first dance steps. To get practice on the dance floor, Murray attended weddings in his neighborhood, where he found willing dance partners of every size and age.
Murray won his first dance contest at the Grand Central Palace, a public dance hall where he later became a part-time dance teacher after graduation from high school. The first prize had been a silver cup, but Murray went home with nothing to show for his win. His partner of the evening took it; it was destined for a pawnshop. This loss made an impression on Murray, and in later years every winner in his dance contests took home a prize.
He soon began teaching ballroom dancing to patients from the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, at the Devereux Mansion Physical Therapy Clinic in Marblehead, Massachusetts, before moving to Asheville, North Carolina. At the outbreak of World War I, under the pressure of the anti-German sentiment prevalent in the U.S., Teichmann changed to a less German-sounding name.
In 1919, Murray began studying commerce at the Georgia School of Technology, and taught ballroom dancing in Atlanta at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. In 1920, he organized the world's first "radio dance"; a band on the Georgia Tech campus played "Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech" and other songs, which were broadcast to a group of about 150 dancers (mostly Tech students) situated atop the roof of the Capital City Club in downtown Atlanta.
Murray was inspired by a casual remark made by William Jennings Bryan one evening at the hotel: "... You know, I have a fine idea on how you can collect your money. Just teach 'em with the left foot and don't tell 'em what to do with the right foot until they pay up!" Murray thought about Bryan's remark, and devised the idea of teaching dance steps with footprint diagrams supplied by mail. Within a couple of years, over 500,000 dance courses had been sold.
On April 24, 1925, Murray married his famous dance partner, Kathryn Kohnfelder (September 15, 1906, Jersey City, New Jersey – August 6, 1999, Honolulu, Hawaii), whom he had met at a radio station in New Jersey. She had been in the audience while he was broadcasting a dance lesson.
After their marriage, the mail-order business declined and the Murrays opened a dance school offering personal instruction. Their business prospered, especially in 1938 and 1939 when Arthur picked 2 little-known dances, the "Lambeth Walk" and "The Big Apple", and turned them into dance crazes. They were taught at hotel chains throughout the country, and the name "Arthur Murray" became a household word.
There are now hundreds of Arthur Murray studios globally, with specially trained instructors, making Arthur Murray the most successful dance instructor in history.
Arthur and Kathryn Murray had twin daughters, Jane and Phyllis. On June 4, 1951, Jane married Dr. Henry Heimlich who became famous for the Heimlich maneuver in 1974. Phyllis married educator Edward Irvine "Ted" McDowell.
The start of Arthur Murray Studios
His first business was selling dance lessons by mail, using a kinetoscope. Though the idea was successful, he had problems with the business, which failed. His second business was drawing and selling "footprints" which prospective dancers placed on the floor and followed to learn dancing. This mail-order business remained successful. His third business, launched in 1925, involved selling branded dance lessons through franchising. He trained dance instructors for the Statler Hotel chain, who then went to various hotels and gave lessons; Murray kept some of the profits from each franchise.
This business was expanded more widely in 1938, when an Arthur Murray dance studio franchise was opened in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Others followed. His slogan was: "If you can walk, we teach you how to dance", and the company guaranteed that the pupils learn to dance in ten lessons.
After WWII, Murray's business grew with the rise of interest in Latin dance, and he regularly taught and broadcast in Cuba in the 1950s. Murray went on television with a dance program hosted by his wife, Kathryn Murray, The Arthur Murray Party, which ran from 1950 to 1960, on CBS, NBC, DuMont, ABC, and then on CBS. Among the Arthur Murray dance instructors in the early 1950s was future television evangelist D. James Kennedy, who won first prize in a nationwide dance contest.
The Murrays retired in 1964; but they continued to be active for some time, appearing as guests on the Dance Fever disco show in the late 1970s. By then, there were more than 3,560 dance studios bearing his name. In 2007, about 220 Arthur Murray Studios remained in operation. Arthur Murray Dance Studios claims to be the second-oldest franchised company (the first, A&W Restaurants, began in 1919).
In popular culture
- The Murray name and franchise were featured in the 1942 hit song "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry", written by Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger.
- Hal Borne and His Orchestra recorded the Mercer-Schertzing song in a Soundie released May 25, 1942 with the Three Murtah Sisters.
- In the 1954 Mark Robson directed film, Phffft! starring Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday, and Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon's character (Robert Tracey) is seen walking into an Arthur Murray Dance Studio in New York to work on his Rumba with teacher Merry Anders.
- In 1957 Buddy Holly and The Crickets performed a live show at the Arthur Murray Dance Party consisting of "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue". This is the only known live footage of Buddy Holly in his short lifetime.
- Arthur Murray is portrayed in an episode of the HBO television drama Boardwalk Empire.
- The Arthur Murray "footprints" are satirized in several animated cartoons from the 1940s. details needed
- in Dirty Dancing, Johnny Castle tells Baby he got his start in dancing when Arthur Murrary was looking for new dance instructors.
- The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: 1997-1999 By Kenneth T. Jackson
- Obituary Variety, March 11, 1991.
- "Arthur Murray Taught the World to Dance". Tech Topics (Georgia Tech Alumni Association). Summer 1991. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2007-06-11.
- Chandler, E. Russell (1972). The Kennedy Explosion. Elgin, IL: David C. Cook Publishing. ISBN 0-912692-02-2.
- The Soundies Distributing Corporation of America: a history and filmography of their "jukebox" musical films of the 1940s. Terenzio, MacGillivary, Okuda. 1954. page 79. ISBN 0-89950-578-3