James Murray (American actor)

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James T. Murray
Poster - Frisco Jenny 02.jpg
Lobby card for Frisco Jenny (1932)
Born (1901-02-09)February 9, 1901
The Bronx, New York City, New York, U.S.
Died July 11, 1936(1936-07-11) (aged 35)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Drowning
Resting place Calvary Cemetery
Occupation Actor
Years active 1924-1936
Spouse(s) Lucille McNarre (m. 1928; div.?)
Marion Sayers (m. 1933; div. 1933)

James Murray (February 9, 1901 – July 11, 1936) was an American film actor best known for starring in the 1928 film The Crowd.


Born in The Bronx, James T. Murray was the second of seven children of Mary (née Casserly) and Christopher Murray.[1][2][3] His mother was a native of Ireland, as was his father, who by 1910 was employed in New York as an insurance inspector for MetLife[2] In 1923 James performed in his first film, portraying Captain John Alden in the Pilgrims, a three-reel production shot at Yale University and in the surrounding area in Connecticut.[4][5][6] Following the release of that silent short the next year, Murray moved to Hollywood with hopes of continuing an acting career. There he worked for several years, mostly as an extra, before he was "discovered" by director King Vidor, who saw Murray walking near the casting office at MGM.[4] Vidor at the time was preparing a new film and thought Murray looked right for the lead. Murray, however, failed to show up for a meeting arranged by Vidor, apparently thinking the prospective offer was simply a joke. The director subsequently tracked him down and hired him for The Crowd. Murray's performance in the film was lauded by both the critics and the public. Shortly before working in Vidor's production, Murray also starred alongside Joan Crawford in Rose-Marie, which was released only a month prior to The Crowd's premiere.[7]

Despite appearances in subsequent MGM films such as Lon Chaney's The Big City and Thunder, Murray's career began to decline due to his excessive drinking. In August 1930, he was sentenced to six months in jail for appearing in court drunk on a previous drunk-driving charge.[8] Later, after serving another four months of hard labor, Murray was released and attempted to make a comeback professionally. He stopped drinking for a time, and in February 1933 he was signed to a seven-year contract with First National Pictures and Warner Bros.[9] That same year he married "Miss Florida" Marion Sayers. The marriage and Murray's sobriety proved to be short lived; Sayers was granted a divorced in November 1933 on the grounds that Murray drank excessively and forced Sayers to work to support him.[10] Sayers and Murray later reconciled and remarried, but they separated again as Murray's decline continued.

Murray by 1934 was out of work and panhandling on the street. Around that time, director King Vidor was casting his upcoming film, Our Daily Bread. He immediately thought of Murray and set out to find him. Upon discovering a much heavier and unkempt Murray begging for money on the street, Vidor bought Murray a drink and offered him the lead role in Our Daily Bread, provided he pull himself together. Murray rejected the offer and reportedly stated, "Just because I stop you on the street and try to borrow a buck you think you can tell me what to do. As far as I am concerned, you know what you can do with your lousy part."[11]

Murray appeared in a total of 36 films. In most of his films in the sound era, particularly those made during the last few years of his career, he was cast in uncredited bit parts or as an extra.


On July 11, 1936, Murray drowned after falling from the North River pier.[12] The medical examiner determined that the cause was "asphyxia by submersion," without ruling on whether his death was an accident or suicide.[13] He was interred at the Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York. Decades later, Vidor remained so haunted by Murray's decline and early death that the director wrote a screenplay titled The Actor, although his work was never produced.[14]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1927 In Old Kentucky Jimmy
1928 The Big City Curly
1928 The Crowd John "Johnny" Sims
1928 The Little Wildcat Conrad Burton
1929 Thunder Tommy
1929 The Shakedown Dave Roberts
1930 Hide-Out Jimmy Dorgan
1932 The Reckoning Terry
1932 Frisco Jenny Dan McAllister


  1. ^ "New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949", New York Municipal Archives, New York. FamilySearch; retrieved October 23, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910", original enumeration page, April 21, 1910, Borough of the Bronx, New York City, New York. FamilySearch; retrieved October 23, 2017.
  3. ^ "Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930", original enumeration page, April 11, 1930, Borough of the Bronx, New York City, New York. FamilySearch; retrieved October 23, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Brumburgh, Gary. "James Murray", mini-biography, Internet Movie Database (IMDb), a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Seattle, Washington; retrieved October 23, 2017.
  5. ^ A full three-part digital copy of the silent short The Pilgrims (1924) is available for viewing on YouTube, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc., Mountain View, California; retrieved October 23, 2017.
  6. ^ "James Murray", biography, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, New York, N.Y; retrieved October 23, 2017.
  7. ^ "Destined As Fine Actor, Couldn't Take His Success". The Milwaukee Journal. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. August 2, 1936. p. 7. Retrieved June 6, 2016. 
  8. ^ "Actor Appears In Court Drunk". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. August 30, 1930. p. 1. Retrieved June 7, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Marion Sayers, Local Girl, Gets Credit For James Murray's Comeback in Films". St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, Florida. February 4, 1933. p. 5. Retrieved June 7, 2016. 
  10. ^ "Marion Murray Given Divorce". The Evening Independent. St. Petersburg, Flrodia. November 2, 1933. pp. 3–A. Retrieved June 7, 2016. 
  11. ^ Thomson, David (2012). The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 115. ISBN 0-374-19189-1. 
  12. ^ "Former Film Star Drowning Victim". Motion Picture Herald. Quigley Publishing Company: 32. July 1936. 
  13. ^ Roberts, Sam (May 15, 2005). "CITY LORE; A Pair of Dreamers". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2009. 
  14. ^ Durgnat, Raymond; Simmon, Scott (1988). King Vidor, American. University of California Press. p. 86. ISBN 0-520-05798-8. 

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