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Murray, Jan, 1916-2006


Biographical / Historical Note

Jan Murray was a stand-up comedian who started out in theaters and then moved to television, becoming the first established comedian to break into television as a game show host in the early 1950s. Born Murray Janowsky in 1917 in New York, Murray became interested in comedy as he memorized vaudeville acts and performed them for his bedridden mother as a child. He received his first booking at the Bronx Opera house in 1933. He would go on to hone his craft in the "borscht belt" circuit, a group of resorts in the Catskill Mountains that catered to Jewish vacationers. During World War II, he was one of many comedians who performed in USO troupes.

In the post-war years, Murray continued his comedy career using Jewish ethnic humor in vaudeville houses and later becoming a marquee headliner in Las Vegas. In the early years of television, Murray became the first comedian to host a game show and became sought after for his talent as an emcee. Hosting such programs as Dollar A Second, Jan Murray Time, and Treasure Hunt, he would become an example to new and established comedians looking for an alternative avenue for their skill while improving their material and technique. With his quick wit and lively storytelling, Jan Murray was also a frequent guest on late night talk shows and variety shows.

Murray moved to Los Angeles to begin an acting career in 1956, though the film roles would come to be few in number. His roles included guest appearances on sitcoms like The Lucy Show, while occasionally providing a dramatic appearance. During this time Murray also acted in stage plays on and off Broadway, often receiving first billing. In the 1970s Murray had leading roles in minor films including The Day of the Wolves and Which Way to the Front? with Jerry Lewis. In later years, he would become a mainstay celebrity roaster, and was the subject of a roast by the Friars Club. He also spent time supporting many Jewish charities and causes, including hosting the annual West Coast Chabad Lubavitch telethon for several years.

Murray's health declined in his 80s due to asthma and emphysema and later died of complications from pneumonia and emphysema at the age of 89 on July 2, 2006. He is survived by his wife Kathleen (Toni) Mann, four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandsons.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Bill Dana Oral History Interview Collection

 Collection — Record carton ACC-MSS 002 Box 01
Identifier: ACC-MSS 002
Scope and Contents The Bill Dana Oral History Collection, 2005-2007, 2016-, consists of sixty-eight audio-visual interviews of a cross section of comedy experts, writers, producers, directors, and noted comedians who have had a direct influence on the history of the art form in the United States Interviews with Bea Arthur, Eddie Brill, Barbara Feldon, Jamie Masada, Vin diBona, Norman Lear, Fred Willard, and Diane English are representative of the diverse experiences that are documented. Among the topics...
Dates: 2005 - 2020

Funny Fables and Fairy Tales, 1984

 Item — Box ACC-MSS 004 Box 14: Series US MBE ACC-MSS 004-1
Identifier: US MBE ACC-MSS 004-1
Scope and Contents From the Series: This series documents stand-up and improvisational comedy, and humorous music from 1955-1988. In addition to the recordings of individual comics such as Morey Amsterdam, Nan Blackstone, Belle Barth, Shelley Berman, Buddy Hackett, the Smothers Brothers, and Jackie Vernon, the series contains compilations featuring the work of Billy DeWolf, and Jane Foray, and Marty Brill. The voices of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Eugene McCarthy are among the recordings that comprise the political humor...
Dates: 1984

Jan Murray Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: ACC-MSS 008
Scope and Contents The collection consists of the original footage of several episodes of game shows hosted by Jan Murray on 16mm film reels. The footage was transferred from the original reels to Betacam tape, from which DVD reference copies were made. Most of the transfers are Kinescope transfer, with the exception of the "Jan Murray Travelogue" footage, which was a 16mm reversal transfer. The footage, dating from the mid-to-late 1950s, consists of episodes from Dollar-A-Second, Jan Murray Time, and Treasure...
Dates: 1936 - 2007