Ken Murray

Active - 1929 - 1979  |   Born - Jul 14, 1903   |   Died - Oct 12, 1988   |   Genres - Comedy, Film, TV & Radio, Musical, Western, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of a vaudeville comedian, American actor Ken Murray entered the "family business" over his father's objections. Not a natural talent, Murray taught himself to dance, sing, tell jokes and even perform rope and whip tricks; by 1925 he was touring in an act with his first wife. Within a year Murray was headlining the Palace Theatre as a monologist, and soon became one of the top acts in vaudeville's declining years. He first went to Hollywood for a stage engagement in 1927, and at that time bought a home movie camera, hoping to take a few shots to send home to his family. He began filming celebrities of the era, the first one being movie star Lew Cody. By the time Murray returned to Hollywood to film his first picture, 1929's Half Marriage, he'd invested a lot of money in his home-movie hobby and was able to coerce even more stars to mug as themselves. By the mid '30s, Murray's candid movies were being used in Columbia's short subject series Screen Snapshots, clips of which still make the rounds as stock footage whenever TV puts together a special on Hollywood's golden era. In 1942, Murray settled into a long Hollywood run as producer/star of Ken Murray's Blackouts, a strange stage conglomeration of racy humor, busty young ladies, musical numbers and novelty acts (the most popular of these being a dog act that never quite seemed to go quite right - perhaps on purpose). Blackouts ran 3,844 performances, a legitimate theatre record. Working in Las Vegas and on TV in the '50s, Murray became a fixture of talk shows by trotting out his venerable home movies. In the '60s, he returned to film acting with a sparkling character role in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). To the end, however, Ken Murray's national fame rested on his ubiquitous "amateur" films of Southern California and its celebrated denizens. Murray's short film on the history of William Randolph Hearst's huge estate San Simeon is still being shown every day to visitors touring that awe-inspiring California landmark.

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