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September 08, 1989 - Image 69

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-08

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Jan Murray has been
entertaining audiences
for nearly 50 years.


Special to The Jewish News


ure, he admits, he's
human, so he's got
some regrets.
"I was always too
much of an ad-lib
comedian," says Jan Murray
from his home in California.
"I wasn't developed enough. I
wasn't planned enough. If I
had to do it over again I would
have had much more struc-
ture in the beginning of my
career. I would have organiz-
ed my material, created new
stuff. I just didn't do enough
when I was young because I
was considered a natural?'
Those natural abilities sur-
faced when Murray's mother,
a vaudeville buff, took her
young son to the vaudeville
houses at least twice a week.
"When my mom became ill,
I brought the shows home for
her. I'd see the shows, then
come home, stand at the foot
of her bed„ and describe all
the acts. I memorized the com-
edy routines and did them all
for her to make her laugh?'
Still, he insists, he never
had any intention of turning
professional. "The fact that I
wound up in show business is
the biggest mystery in the
world;' he says. "Nobody in
my family was ever in or even
remotely associated with show
business. I was never the class
clown. I was never given sing-
ing or dancing or violin or
piano lessons when I was a
kid. I was never even in a
school play. Nothing.
"I started with an audience
of one," Murray continues.
"But my family and the
neighbors always knew I was
funny. Those are the places I
felt safe."
Obviously, mirales do hap-
pen. At least they did in Mur-
ray's case. At the age of 15 he
was invited to a party where
he did one of his comedy
routines. As a result, he was
invited to join a neighborhood
social club which presented
variety shows every Saturday
"Those were the depression
years," Murray recalls. "Guys
had no money to date, so
they'd rent out somebody's
basement, congregate and
dance — all for a 25-cent fee."

He soon became president of
the club and chief entertainer
every week. Before long he
had gathered a large
One night, a man in the au-
dience who owned a summer
hotel in the Borscht Belt, saw
him and offered him a job. At
three dollars a week, Murray
turned professional.
Returning to New York that
fall, he began making the
rounds of agents, all of whom
were totally disinterested in
his new talent. But in true
show business tradition he
was called to fill in for an ail-
ing comedian at a hotel in
Lakewood, N.J. Scheduled for
one night, he stayed on for 20
Fate stepped in once again
when the wife of the owner of
the Eltinge Theater on Broad-
way, one of the top burlesque
theaters in the country,
caught his act and quickly
brought her husband to the
show. At age 18, Murray found
himself the youngest "top
banana" in burlesque.
"Here I was, a kid, 18 years
old and on Broadway. I was so
young I used to put powder on
my face every day before I
came to work so people would
think I shaved."
Murray says he looks back
on those days as some of the

'Here I was, a kid
. I was so young
that I used to put
powder on my face
every day before I
came to work so
people would think
I shaved:

happiest, most memorable
times in his life.
"The big things that happen
to you are all comparable to
where you are in life. For in-
stance, when I started in
burlesque on Broadway, I had
a one-week contract and was
paid the minimum salary,
which was $40. After my third
performance on opening day,
they tore up my one-week con-
tract and signed me to 30
weeks at $85 a week. If I'd
been signed to the second
week at $40, I'd have been


SEPT. 8-14



Henry Ford Museum and
Greenfield Village, Dear-
born, Old Car Festival,
Saturday and Sunday,
admission, 271-1620.
25630 Evergreen Road,
south of Civic Center
Drive, Second Annual
Autumnfest, 10 a.m.
Sunday, free, 354-4717.
2801 W. Big Beaver
Road, Troy, Egyptian
Master Rug Weavers,
tour and demonstration,
Tuesday through Sept.
17, free, 643-6360.


1560 Woodward,
Bloomfield Hills, The
Ron Coden Show, 8:30
p.m. Fridays and
Saturdays, through
September, free,
2593 Woodward, Berkley,
Glenn Hirsch, today and
Saturday; Thom Sharp,
Tuesday through Sept.
16, admission, 542-9900.

Jan Murray:
A natural.

thrilled. But $85 a week for 30
weeks? I'm telling you, if
somebody gave me a contract
for a million dollars right now
to make a picture or whatever,
it probably wouldn't excite or
thrill me as much as that con-
tract did then?'
And the thrills continued.
By the time he was 24, Mur-
ray was already a headliner at
the nation's leading
nightclubs and vaudeville
His early television ap-
pearances read almost like a
history of the medium. He
starred in practically every
major variety show since the
start, including "Milton
Berle's Texaco Star Theater:'
and "The Ed Sullivan Show?'
He admits he's been in-
fluenced by some of the best.
Red Skelton and the late Dan-
ny Kaye were some of his
idols. "And Milton Berle af-
fected most comedians of my
generation. His type of
pyrotechnics and excitement
on stage was rare — and con-

Murray says he was also in-
fluenced by his father and
mother, aunts and uncles,
who's wry sense of humor fill-
ed his household with
"Maybe there is something
in the Jewish soul that comes
out in all of us;' he suggests.
"A great deal of comedy is
born out of frustration and
anger. People who have been
oppressed, who have lived in
ghettos, who have it tough,
find a great way to overcome
all of that with humor. In fact,.
for many people, that's the on-
ly way to overcome hardship."
And although the basic
premises may be slightly
altered, Murray says "there
will always be comedy. It just
changes from decade to
decade. Take Robin Williams,
Steve Martin, Billy Crystal —
they're as good as anybody.
And since comedy clubs have
proliferated all over the world,
the young comics of today
have a great school in which
to practice their craft. They
just have to be careful to stay


3011 W. Grand Blvd.,
Les Miserables, today
through Nov. 26,
admission, 872-1000.
Henry Ford Museum
Theater, Dearborn, The
Royal Family, through
Sept. 17, admission,
205 W. Long Lake Road,
Troy, There is a Beautiful
Land, today, Saturday,
Sept. 16 and Sept. 17,
admission, 644-8328.
135 E. Main Street,
Northville, The Foreigner,
today through Sept. 24,
admission, 349-8110.

Continued on Page 78


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