“I feel so strongly about the power for good that Hollywood has. I believe its influence is not only national but international.” –George Murphy
Hollywood musicals feature a wide array of performers who excelled in singing and dancing. George Murphy was one of many actors who excelled as a popular musical star, appearing in various Hollywood musicals with other top musical peers of his day. Later, he would enter into a political career as a U.S. Senator representing California, making him the first U.S. actor to be elected into statewide office, in addition to being the sole U.S. Senator with a star on the Walk of Fame.
George Lloyd Murphy was born on July 4, 1902, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Michael and Nora Murphy. His father worked as an athletic coach. Murphy was raised in the Irish Catholic tradition while attending Trinity-Pawling School, Peddie School, and later, Yale University.
During his educational career, Murphy took on several odd jobs. He secured work making tools for Ford Motor Company, and also had experience in real estate, mining, and dancing in local night clubs.
By 1926, Murphy had left Yale to pursue a career in entertainment. He married Juliet Henkel in 1926, and the two partnered together as a song-and-dance act on Broadway, residing at the Algonquin Hotel. In 1934, Juliet retired from the business to raise their family, prompting Murphy to explore a career in films. The couple would have two children, Dennis and Melissa, and remained together until Juliet’s passing in 1973.
In Hollywood, Murphy appeared in many popular musicals, including Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), and For Me and My Gal (1942). In addition to musicals, he also appeared in comedies, such as Kid Millions (1934), The Public Menace (1935), and Hold That Co-ed (1938). During World War II, he dedicated time to organizing entertainment events for U.S. troops.
Murphy served as president of the Screen Actors guild from 1944-1946, in addition to serving as Vice President of Desilu Productions and Technicolor. By the 1950s, Murphy retired from the film industry and received an honorary Academy Award.
Murphy transitioned to a political career in 1953 when he became the director of entertainment for the Eisenhower-Nixon inauguration. He would reprise his role as director of entertainment in 1957 and 1961 before being elected as a Republican Senator in 1964. Murphy represented the state of California from 1965 to 1971. During his term, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, leading to the removal of a portion of his larynx. As a result of the procedure, he could only speak just above a whisper. Though Murphy ran for reelection, he lost to Democratic Senator John V. Tunney.
After his time as a Senator, Murphy moved to Palm Beach, Florida. He passed away on May 3, 1992, from leukemia. Murphy was 89 years old and was survived by his second wife, Bette.
Today, several locations of relevance to Murphy remain.
The Trinity-Pawling School stands 700 NY-22 in Pawling, New York.
The Peddie School also remains a boarding school at 201 S. Main St. in Highstown, New Jersey.
Of course, Yale University, also continues as a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut.
In 1928, Murphy and Juliet were residing at the Algonquin Hotel. Today, it remains a historic hotel at 59 W. 44th St. in New York.
By 1940, he and Juliet were living at 615 N Oakhurst Dr. in Beverly Hills, California. The original home still stands and is a private residence.
Murphy also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located on the the West side of the 1600 Vine St. block.
Interestingly, a fun tradition that Murphy started as a Senator does live on in Washington, D.C. Murphy created the “candy desk” by placing a box of confections atop his Senate desk. Once his term came to an end, the candy desk duties were passed on to a variety of successors in the Senate. Currently, Senator Pat Toomey continues the candy desk tradition.
Today, Murphy continues to be celebrated through his filmography and skills as a dancer.