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.