Raised in the New York City suburbs, Murray graduated from East Rockaway High School in 1947 and then studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Soon after graduating in 1951, he made his Broadway debut as the sailor in The Rose Tattoo. He made his film debut in 1956’s Bus Stop opposite Marilyn Monroe, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He married his young co-star from that film, Hope Lange, that same year. Lange would receive an Oscar nomination of her own the following year for Peyton Place.
Eminently successful right off the bat, Murray had the starring roles in two highly successful 1957 films, The Bachelor Party for which Carolyn Jones received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and A Hatful of Rain for which Anthony Franciosa, third billed behind Eva Marie Sant and Murray received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He was then seen in 1958’s From Hell to Texas opposite Diane Varsi, 1959’s These Thousand Hills co-starring Richard Egan, Lee Remick, Patricia Owens and Stuart Whitman, and the same year’s Shake Hands with the Devil co-starring James Cagney, Dana Wynter and Glynis Johns.
Murray was divorced from Lange, with whom he had two children, in 1961. He married second wife Bettie Johnson in 1962, with whom he would eventually have three children. Lange would marry her second husband, producer-director Alan J. Pakula in 1963.
The actor’s early 1960s output included 1961’s The Hoodlum Priest for which he also wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym, 1962’s Advise & Consent co-starring Henry Fonda and Charles Laughton, 1963’s One Man’s Way (as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale) and the same year’s Baby the Rain Must Fall co-starring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick, after which he drifted to smaller supporting roles in film and TV. He had his biggest role in some years in 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes in support of Roddy McDowall.
Murray was Brooke Shields’ father in 1981’s Endless Love opposite Shirley Knight as his wife and Robert MacNaughton’s father in 1983’s I Am the Cheese opposite former wife Hope Lange as his wife. He was Kathleen Turner’s father in 1986’s Peggy Sue Got Married opposite Barbara Harris as his wife.
Last seen a couple of forgettable films in 2001, Murray re-emerged in the 2017 TV re-boot of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks in which he appeared in 8 episodes as the character, Bushnell Mullins.
Although no forthcoming projects have been announced, it is entirely possible we may still see the now 90-year-old Don Murray in something else before long.
BUS STOP (1956), directed by Joshua Logan
Marilyn Monroe, Murray and Betty Field have the roles played in the Broadway version of William Inge’s play by Kim Stanley, Albert Salmi and Elaine Stritch. Hope Lange, who Murray met on the set and then married has the role played on stage by Phyllis Love who played Murray’s love interest in his 1951 Broadway debut in The Rose Tattoo. Monroe’s soulful singing of “That Old Black Magic” is the film’s highlight, but Murray is sturdy in his Oscar nominated role of the naïve but determined cowboy who falls in love with her in this, his film debut.
THE HOODLUM PRIEST (1961), directed by Irvin Kershner
Murray plays real-life Jesuit priest, Fr. Charles Dismas Clark who founded the nation’s first halfway house for ex-cons in St. Louis, Mo. Murray not only starred in the film but co-wrote the screenplay with Joseph Landon under the pseudonym of Don Deer. He and Keir Dullea as a troubled youth he helps are riveting throughout. Dullea’s gut wrenching death row scene is as strong as Susan Hayward’s Oscar winning turn in I Want to Live! and Sean Penn’s Oscar nominated one in Dead Man Walking. The crisp black-and-white cinematography is by Haskell Wexler.
ADVISE & CONSENT (1962), directed by Otto Preminger
Preminger’s film of Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was one of the director’s best. Henry Fonda had top billing as the newly nominated Secretary of State but Charles Laughton as a wily southern senator and Don Murray as an up-and-comer with a gay past who is being blackmailed are the standouts. The notable cast also includes Walter Pidgeon as the Senate Majority Leader, Peter Lawford as a senator based on his brother-in-law, then President Kennedy, Franchot Tone as the President, Lew Ayres as the Vice President and Gene Tierney in her return to films as an influential Washington hostess.
ENDLESS LOVE (1981), directed by Franco Zeffirelli
The controversial film starred Martin Hewitt as the lovesick 17-year-old and Brooke Shields as the 15-year-old object of his lust. Murray and Shirley Knight, in the film’s best performances, played Shields’ hippie parents while Richard Kiley and Hewitt’s uptight parents with James Spader as Shields’ sister and Hewitt’s friend before he becomes his enemy. Hewitt and Murray developed a bond based on Hewitt having played Murray’s Oscar nominated role in a stage production of Bus Stop prior to making the film.
PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986), directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Coppola’s film in which Kathleen Turner plays a woman who gets a bump on the head at her 25-year school reunion and goes back in time to 1960 never makes clear whether she was dreaming or if she really travelled back in time. It’s enjoyable whichever way you look at it with an all-star supporting cast including Nicolas Cage as her boyfriend and later husband, Catherine Hicks, Joan Allen, Barry Miller, Kevin J. O’Connor and Jim Carrey as fellow classmates, Murray as her father, Barbara Harris as her mother, Maureen O’Sullivan and Leon Ames as her grandparents and Helen Hunt as her daughter in the present.
DON MURRAY AND OSCAR
- Bus Stop (1956) – nominated – Best Supporting Actor