Where Are They Now? Don Murray of "Knots Landing"
Audrey T. Hingley catches up with the retired actor.
A tall, dark and handsome Broadway actor, Don Murray burst onto movie screens portraying a naive Montana cowboy who romances Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop (1956). He was surprised when his debut film earned him a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar nomination.
Working with Monroe was also surprising.
“No one was more beloved by the camera than Marilyn, but she was always late. Her behavior wasn’t meanness; she was late because of her insecurity,” he explains. “She not only came late, she would break into a rash and they would have to make up [her body] to cover it. She would lose her concentration and get off her marks.”
Several days into filming, the director even had to advise Murray to put his hands on Monroe’s hips and literally move her to her “mark,” the spot she had to stand for filming.
What’s not surprising, Murray says: still being asked about Monroe so many years later.
“Her dying young added to the mystique, but I think the mystique would still be there,” he says. “She was magical on the screen.”
STRONG ROLES, CLASSIC FILMS
Murray and Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop
Brought up in a show-biz family, Murray always wanted to be an actor.Bus Stop heralded a string of now-classic Murray films, including A Hatful of Rain (1957), From Hell To Texas (1958), Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), Hoodlum Priest (1961),Advise & Consent (1962) and Baby The Rain Must Fall (1965).
Unlike many 1950s-’60s heartthrobs, the lean, 6-foot-2 actor often chose serious roles, like the Korean War veteran/closet drug addict he played in A Hatful of Rain, or the Bible-reading cowboy who accidentally kills a powerful rancher’s son in From Hell To Texas. Along the way, he worked with stars like Eva Marie Saint, Dennis Hopper, James Cagney, Henry Fonda and Steve McQueen, and was awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Registered as a conscientious objector because he wanted to serve his country in a healing capacity, Murray was never drafted. A pivotal life event came when he volunteered during the Korean War with Brethren Service to work with homeless refugees in Italy.
“That experience tempered everything, even my selection of [future] films,” he notes. “I tried to pick films I thought had a constructive theme.”
His first directing job was 1970’s The Cross And The Switchblade with Pat Boone, a film portraying the true story of the late Rev. David Wilkerson’s work with New York drug addicts. Murray, who co-wrote the screenplay based on Wilkerson’s best-selling book, remembers the film as “crucified by critics.”
“But it broke all records in 45 different theaters, was translated into 30 languages and made more money at the box office than Bus Stop,” he explains. “The New York Times gave it an excellent review but [other critics] made fun of it – I am proud of it.”
From the 1970s through the 2000s, Murray acted on stage and screen and in numerous made-for-TV movies and TV shows like Murder, She Wrote; Police Story; and Matlock. He was nominated for a daytime Emmy for a 1994 ABC-TV children’s special, Montana Crossroads, and enjoyed a high-profile role (1979-81) as Sid Fairgate on the long-running Knots Landing (1979-93). He also appeared in a nonfiction Knots Landing television special in 2005.
KEEPING THE MAGIC GOING
Today he lives on a ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif., with his wife, Bettie, a former model, and has five children and four grandchildren. Actor son Christopher and daughter Patricia, a rancher, are from his first marriage to the late actress Hope Lange. He and Bettie, married since 1962, are parents to Mick, an actor/writer; Sean, a composer; and Colleen, married to artist/musician Christopher Otcasek.
Murray was to screen and discuss his latest film, Breathe, about divers trapped in an underwater cave with their air supply running out (based on the real-life experience of underwater filmmaker Tom Campbell), at The Williamsburg Film Festival March 5-8 (see sidebar at bottom of page). Issues at his ranch caused him to pull out of the festival. Scheduled for release later this year, Breathe is a family affair: Murray directed; Mick portrayed Campbell; and Sean composed the film’s score. Murray seems amazed by recent tributes in New York and Hollywood “at this time in my life.” A documentary film about his life,Unsung Hero, also is scheduled for release this year.
Beyond that, Murray spends most of his time writing; he’s working on a book/possible movie called Marilyn & Me. “The most wonderful thing to me was seeing the magic of movies,” he says of that first screen role in 1956.
The magic is still there for Murray.
“When people ask the question, how you like to die — I say … ‘belatedly,’ ” he laughs.
Audrey T. Hingley is a Richmond-based freelance writer who writes frequently for BOOMER. Her website is AudreyTHingley.com.
The Williamsburg Film Festival, March 5-8
Holiday Inn – Patriot Convention Center, Williamsburg
Guest stars: Veronica Carlson, Alex Cord, Robert Fuller, Sherry Jackson, Ron Masak, Lee Meriwether, Larry Storch and Monique Vermont.
Details: WilliamsburgFilmFestival.org and wff5.tripod.com