Ken Murray (entertainer)
|Born||Kenneth Abner Doncourt
July 14, 1903
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 12, 1988
Burbank, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Charlotte LaRose (m. 1923; div.?)
Cleatus Caldwell (m. 1941; div. 1946)
Betty Lou Walters (m. 1948–88)
Ken Murray (July 14, 1903 – October 12, 1988) was an American comedian, actor, radio and television personality and author.
Murray was born Kenneth Abner Doncourt in New York City to a family of vaudeville performers. He had an older brother, Joseph. According to Murray's autobiography Life on a Pogo Stick, as a teenager he learned that Joseph was actually his father and the couple whom he thought were his parents were in fact his grandparents. The family withheld the truth from Murray because Joseph, who was also a vaudevillian, did not want the public to know that he had a young son. Joseph had divorced Murray's mother and decided that his parents would provide a more stable life than he was able to as a traveling performer. Murray also wrote of his quest to find his mother in his later years.
Before embarking on a career in show business, Murray changed his name because he did not want to ride the coattails of his father's success; he wanted to make a name for himself.
Vaudeville and stage
Murray got his start in show business on the stage in 1920s as a stand-up comedian. He performed his comedy act on the vaudeville circuit and in burlesque. He found success as a stage performer after appearing in Earl Carroll's Vanities on Broadway in 1935.
In the 1940s, Murray became famous for his Blackouts, a racy, stage variety show featuring Marie Wilson (among others) at the El Capitan Theatre on Vine Street in Hollywood. The Blackouts played to standing-room-only audiences for 3,844 performances, ending in 1949. Later that year, the show moved to Broadway with Marie Windsor replacing Marie Wilson. It received devastating reviews and closed after six weeks.
Radio, films and television
After finding success on the stage, Murray made his film debut in the 1929 romantic drama Half Marriage, followed by a role in Leathernecking in 1930. During World War II, Murray was one of the many celebrities to volunteer at the Hollywood Canteen. He later was the original host (1945–57) of Queen for a Day, on the Mutual Broadcasting System radio broadcast, which was simulcast on KTSL (now KCBS-TV), Channel 2 in Los Angeles. In 1947, he produced Bill and Coo, a feature film using trained birds and other animals as actors. Bill and Coo won a special Academy Award for "novel and entertaining use of the medium of motion picture" and "artistry and patience" . He was also the host of The Ken Murray Show, a weekly music and comedy show on CBS Television that ran from 1950 and 1953. The show was the first to win a Freedom Foundation Award. Murray also guest starred on several television series including The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford and The Bing Crosby Show.
Over the course of his career, Murray filmed Hollywood celebrities using his 16mm home movie camera. He began filming the footage to send back home to his grandparents in lieu of writing letters. His grandmother saved the footage which featured Hollywood stars including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Jean Harlow. Murray later assembled the footage in compilation films such as Hollywood Without Make-Up (1963). Footage filmed by Murray was also used in several television specials including Hollywood: My Home Town and the feature length film Ken Murray's Shooting Stars.
In 1962, Murray portrayed the top hat wearing, cigar chewing, drunken "Doc Willoughby" in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance starring John Wayne and James Stewart, arguably his most memorable screen role. Paired off for most of the picture with Edmond O'Brien as an alcoholic newspaper editor, he drunkenly rolls over the gunshot corpse of villain Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) with his boot, looks around off-handedly, and says, "Dead" to the surrounding crowd of euphoric Mexicans.
In 1964, Murray played Whipsaw, the operator of a Utah stagecoach depot, in the episode "Little Cayuse" of the syndicated western television series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. He and his partner take in a Cayuse orphan (Larry Domasin), who demonstrates his loyalty to the men during an Indian attack.
Murray was also the author of a number of books, including his autobiography published in 1960, The Golden Days of San Simeon (1971), and the only complete life story in print of Broadway theatre impresario Earl Carroll entitled The Body Merchant (1976).
Murray was married three times and had four children. He married vaudeville and burlesque performer Charlotta (Charlotte) La Rose in 1923. The couple appeared in vaudeville together and later divorced. On July 4, 1941, Murray married model Cleatus Caldwell at the home of actor Lew Ayres in Hollywood. Edgar Bergen served as Murray's best man. The couple had two sons, Ken, Jr. (1942-1979) and Cort Riley (born 1944), before divorcing in September 1945.
Ken Murray died on October 12, 1988 at Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, aged 85. For his contribution to the radio industry, Murray has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street.
- Half Marriage (1929)
- Leathernecking (1930)
- You're a Sweetheart (1937)
- Juke Box Jenny (1942)
- Bill and Coo (1947)
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
- Son of Flubber (1963)
- Hollywood Without Make-Up (1963)
- Hollywood, My Home Town (1965)
- Follow Me, Boys! (1966)
- The Power (1968)
- Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)
- Ken Murray's Shooting Stars (1979)
- Crooner 1932 David Manners, Ken Murray TMC Movie Channel
- Foolin' Around (1932)
- Ken Murray's" Blackouts of 1943" (1943)
- Ken Murray's "Blackouts of 1947" (1947)
- Hellion's Hole/Feud In Piney Flats (1953)
- Hellions' Hole (1953)
- Ken Murray's Giant Joke Book (1954)
- Life on a Pogo Stick: Autobiography of a Comedian (1960)
- The Golden Days of San Simeon (1971)
- The Body Merchant: The Story of Earl Carroll (1976)
- John T. McQuiston (October 13, 1988). "Ken Murray, 85, Vaudeville Star Who Later Recorded Hollywood". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-06.
Actor and comedian Ken Murray, who spent more than a quarter century in vaudeville and in films, died yesterday in Burbank, Calif. He was 85 years old and lived in Beverly Hills.
- Cullen, Frank. Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Volume 1. Psychology Press. p. 805. ISBN 0-415-93853-8.
- Thomas, Bob (July 2, 1960). "Ken Murray Has Book On His Life". Park City Daily News. p. 10.
- Lyons, Leonard (February 15, 1960). "Ken Murray's Not Very Likely To Run Out of New Challenges". Lawrence Journal-World. p. 4.
- "Comic Ken Murray turns author". Rome News-Tribune. December 9, 1976. p. 2A.
- "'Blackouts' star Ken Murray dies". The Milwaukee Journal. October 13, 1988. p. 8A.
- "Ken Murray, veteran actor, dies at age 85". The Free Lance-Star. October 13, 1988. p. 35.
- Jones, Jack (October 13, 1988). "Ken Murray, 85; Producer of WWII Revue, Actor". latimes.com.
- "Little Cayuse on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 6, 2015.
- Slide, Anthony (1994). The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Greenwood Press. p. 363. ISBN 0-313-28027-4.
- "Ken Murray Marries Photographer's Model". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 5, 1941. p. 4.
- "Cleatus Caldwell". lamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com.
- "Ex-Model Divorces Comedian Murray". The Miami News. September 22, 1945. p. 2.
- "Actor Ken Murray Marries Miss Walters". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. December 3, 1948. p. 6.
- "Ken Murray: Hollywood Star Walk". latimes.com.