George Murphy

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George Murphy
GeorgeMurphy.jpg
United States Senator
from California
In office
January 1, 1965 – January 2, 1971
Preceded by Pierre Salinger
Succeeded by John V. Tunney
Personal details
Born George Lloyd Murphy
(1902-07-04)July 4, 1902
New Haven, Connecticut
Died May 3, 1992(1992-05-03) (aged 89)
Palm Beach, Florida
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) (1) Juliette Henkel-Johnson Murphy (married 1926-1973, her death)

Betty Duhon Blandi (married 1982-1992, his death) (1923-1999)

Children Dennis Michael Murphy

Melissa Elaine Murphy

Alma mater Yale University
Profession Actor, dancer, politician
Religion Roman Catholicism

George Lloyd Murphy (July 4, 1902 – May 3, 1992) was an American dancer, actor, and politician. Murphy was a song-and-dance leading man in many big-budget Hollywood musicals from 1930 to 1952. He was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1944 to 1946, and was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1951. Murphy served from 1965 to 1971 as U.S. Senator from California, the first notable U.S. actor to make the successful transition to elected official in California, predating Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.[1]

Life and career[edit]

He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, of Irish Catholic extraction, the son of Michael Charles "Mike" Murphy, athletic trainer and coach, and the former Nora Long. He was educated at Peddie School, Trinity-Pawling School, and Yale University in his native New Haven.[2] He worked as a tool maker for the Ford Motor Company, as a miner, a real estate agent, and a night club dancer.

In show business[edit]

In movies, Murphy was famous as a song-and-dance man, appearing in many big-budget musicals such as Broadway Melody of 1938, Broadway Melody of 1940 and For Me and My Gal. He made his movie debut shortly after talking pictures had replaced silent movies in 1930, and his career continued until he retired as an actor in 1952, at the age of 50.

In 1951, he was awarded an honorary Academy Award. He was never nominated for an Oscar in any competitive category.

He was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1944 to 1946. He was a vice president of Desilu Studios and of the Technicolor Corporation. He was director of entertainment for presidential inaugurations in 1953, 1957 and 1961.

Murphy entered politics in 1953 as chairman of the California Republican State Central Committee, having also directed the entertainment for the Eisenhower-Nixon inauguration that same year.

Elected to U.S. Senate[edit]

In 1964, he was elected as a Republican to the Senate, having defeated Pierre Salinger, the former presidential press secretary in the Kennedy White House, who had been appointed several months earlier to serve the remainder of the late Clair Engle's unexpired term. Murphy served from January 1, 1965 to January 3, 1971, and is credited with beginning the United States Senate tradition of the Candy desk. Murphy assumed his seat two days early, when Salinger resigned from the seat in order to allow Murphy to gain an edge in seniority. Murphy was then appointed by Democratic Governor Pat Brown to serve the remaining two days of Salinger's term.

Murphy was in demand for a time to assist other Republican candidates seeking office. In 1966, he came to Georgia to host a fundraising dinner in Atlanta for U.S. Representative Howard "Bo" Callaway in the first gubernatorial campaign undertaken by a GOP candidate since the Reconstruction era. Callaway ultimately lost the election when the state legislature resolved an impasse and chose the Democrat Lester Maddox to fill the position.[3]

In 1967 and 1968, the year Richard M. Nixon was elected as U.S. President, Murphy was the chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee. In 1970, Murphy ran for reelection but was defeated by Democratic U.S. Representative John V. Tunney, the son of famed heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney. During his Senate term, Murphy suffered from throat cancer, forcing him to have part of his larynx removed. For the rest of his life, he was unable to speak above a whisper.

Murphy lost to Tunney, 44.3 to 53.9 percent. He was in his late sixties, and his speaking voice was reduced to a gravelly whisper from throat cancer while Tunney was youthful, energetic, and blatantly comparing himself to the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Murphy's staunch support for the lingering Vietnam War also worked against his reelection. As the general election approached, Tunney overtook Murphy in the opinion polls. Tunney's successful Senate race in 1970 was reportedly the inspiration for the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate.[4]

Murphy subsequently moved to Palm Beach, Florida, where he died at the age of eighty-nine from leukemia.

Murphy's move from the screen to California politics paved the way for the successful transitions of actors such as Ronald Reagan and later Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reagan once famously referred to George Murphy as his own John the Baptist.

During his tenure in the Senate, Murphy created the candy desk by placing a supply of confectionery on his desk on the U.S. Senate floor. After 1971, the candy-desk duties were bequeathed to a string of successors; as of 2011, the keeper of the candy desk is Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican.

In satire[edit]

George Murphy was the subject of a 1965 song by satirist Tom Lehrer, who declared in mock vaudeville style: "Oh, gee, it's great, at last we've got a Senator who can really sing and dance." Lehrer began the song:

Hollywood's often tried to mix

Show business with politics.
From Helen Gahagan

To. . . Ronald Reagan??

Lehrer also alluded sarcastically to an infamous remark Murphy once made during a debate about the Bracero Program that granted temporary work visas to Mexican migrant farmhands:

Should Americans pick crops?

George says no;
'Cause no one but a Mexican would stoop so low.
And after all, even in Egypt, the Pharaohs

Had to import—Hebrew Braceros.

Murphy had stated that Mexicans were genetically suited to farm labor; because they were "built lower to the ground," it was supposedly "easier for them to stoop." Oddly, some years earlier, in 1949, Murphy himself had starred next to Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban in the film Border Incident, which cast the exploitation of the Braceros in a negative light. Mr. Lehrer further satirized Senator Murphy with the line: "Think of all the musicals we have in store, imagine "Broadway Melody of Nineteen Eighty-Four".[5]

This connection is also referred to by folk singer Phil Ochs on the spoken-word introduction to "Ringing of Revolution", when Ochs describes a fictional film based on that song, and Murphy is played by Reagan. Ochs also imagines that Lyndon Johnson would "play God" and Ochs would "play Bobby Dylan."

Personal life[edit]

Murphy was married to his ballroom dancing partner, Juliette "Julie" Henkel-Johnson, from December 18, 1926, until her death in 1973. They had two children, Dennis Michael Murphy and Melissa Elaine Murphy. He was married to Bette Blandi from 1982 until his death in 1992.[6] His widow died in 1999.

Films[edit]

in the film London by Night (1937)

References[edit]

  1. ^ In 1944 Democrat Jimmie Davis (1899–2000)—popularizer of "You Are My Sunshine"—was elected to his first term as Governor of Louisiana. In 1948 Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff won the Republican nomination for Governor of Tennessee but was defeated in the general election.
  2. ^ George Lloyd Murphy, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Accessed February 27, 2011.
  3. ^ Billy Hathorn, "The Frustration of Opportunity: Georgia Republicans and the Election of 1966", Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South, XXXI (Winter 1987-1988), pp. 42, 47
  4. ^ Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films by Terry Christensen and Peter Hass, p. 146
  5. ^ Tom Lehrer- George Murphy on YouTube
  6. ^ Zan Thompson (12 June 1986). "The Personal Side of George Murphy at Age 83". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
Pierre E. G. Salinger
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
1965–1971
Served alongside: Thomas H. Kuchel, Alan Cranston
Succeeded by
John V. Tunney
Party political offices
Preceded by
Thruston B. Morton
Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
1967–1969
Succeeded by
John G. Tower
Preceded by
Goodwin J. Knight
Republican Party nominee for United States Senator from California
1964, 1970
Succeeded by
S.I. Hayakawa