Ken Murray

Ken Murray
CBS

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Ken Murray
Radio: East side of the 1700 block of Vine Street
Actor | Comedian | Producer | Radio Host | Writer
Born Kenneth Doncourt on July 14, 1903 in New York, NY
Died Oct. 12, 1988 of natural causes in Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, CA

Ken Murray was a cigar-smoking vaudevillian whose racy "Ken Murray's Blackouts" was one of the longest-running stage shows in history.

Murray produced and starred in the World War II-era revue for more than seven years at what is now the Avalon on Vine Street in Hollywood, where the house was virtually always packed.

"Ken Murray's Blackouts" featured bosomy Marie Wilson as the archetypal dumb blond who delivered naive straight lines for Murray's racy, cornball gags.

The audiences of servicemen and aircraft plant workers loved the show that most critics said wouldn't last. It went 3,844 performances until 1949 — when it moved on without Wilson to New York and folded in six weeks.

Murray, a longtime vaudeville performer who had made a few movies, launched "Blackouts" in 1942 with the help of sneeze comedian Billy Gilbert (who later gave way to young Cuban singer-drummer Desi Arnaz).

When Murray moved the show to Broadway, the New York critics were not amused. "Dismal" and "dreadful" were just two of their observations. Murray shut down, deciding he needed a rest.

In 1956, he and Wilson restaged "Blackouts" at the New Frontier in Las Vegas with new acts and new showgirls. It was a hit and played nightclubs and theaters throughout the country for three more years. It later ran for 17 weeks at the Ritz Theater in Los Angeles.

The New York City-born Murray did concerts, television, movies and radio. He found new success in the reels after reels of home movies he had made around Hollywood.

"When I came west as a vaudeville actor on the Orpheum circuit in 1927," Murray once told an interviewer, "it was my first time away from home. I was very close to my mom and pop — actually my grandparents, who brought me up — but I hated to write letters, so instead I bought a 16-millimeter home movie camera and sent back films."

Murray's grandmother carefully stored them, thus preserving countless casual shots of actors including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, John Barrymore, a young Gary Cooper, Jean Harlow in bell-bottom slacks and Charlie Chaplin falling on his bicycle while waving to Murray.

Eventually, Murray assembled all the footage, showing it on television as "Hollywood: My Home Town" and finally as a film called "Ken Murray's Shooting Stars."

In 1947, Murray received a special Academy Award for "artistry and patience" in producing a feature-length film called "Bill and Coo," in which he starred with a bird act from the "Blackouts" show.

Among his television credits were "The Ken Murray Show" and "Where Were You?" and his radio experience included hosting "Queen for a Day." He also wrote several books, including "Life on a Pogo Stick," "The Golden Days of San Simeon" and "The Body Merchant."

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