Everybody Loved Murray

By Hank Rosenfeld

Published July 21, 2006, issue of July 21, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

So many friends wanted to speak at Jan Murray’s July 6 funeral, held in Culver City, Calif., that the rabbi warned mourners, “Just to remind you, Shabbos begins tomorrow night.”

The comedian and television host, who died July 2 at the age of 89, was remembered as a giant, “20 feet tall,” and as the “most un-showbiz show business guy in the industry.” An immortal. And a mensch.

“Everybody loved Jan Murray,” said Jerry Cutler, the rabbi and founder of the Creative Arts Temple in Los Angeles, before an overflowing crowd at Hillside Memorial Park.

Cutler recalled approaching Murray to ask if he would emcee a telethon for Chabad.

“What kind of a disease is that?” Murray asked. He ultimately accepted the offer and turned the event into an L.A. tradition.

A Bronx native, the comedian changed his name from Murray Janowsky to Jan Murray after performing as a teenager at the Bronx Opera House. He played the Catskills in 1934, becoming a “top banana” in the Borscht Belt at 19. He headlined at the Flamingo in Las Vegas the year it opened, and he hosted nine different game shows. He subbed for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” and appeared in 20 movies, including “Which Way to the Front?” with Jerry Lewis, and Mel Brooks’s “History of the World: Part I” (as the Nothing Vendor).

When I interviewed Murray in 2002, he told me how it was asthma that ended his 66-year run in the business. “What is the audience gonna do,” he said, “watch an old Jew gasping up there?”

“I was in love with what I did,” he said. “I was always hoping I would do it until they took me away in a box.”

Among those in attendance at the funeral were Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, Norm Crosby, Larry Gelbart, Steve Lawrence, Carl Reiner and other Jewish luminaries. Eulogies evoked laughter and applause.

Jack Carter spoke sadly of now being “the last standing comic standing.” He then followed with a burst of reminiscences — like the time Murray hurt his back and Carter had to tie him to the hood of his Alfa Romeo and rush him to a chiropractor. Murray shouted at pedestrians, “I got shot by a deer!”

And once, on an airplane, Murray helped a doctor revive a passenger suffering a heart attack. The man looked up and saw his face. “Jan Murray!” he cried. “I almost died!”

“Died?” Murray said. “You shoulda seen me last week in Pittsburgh.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.