I am the second
of three sons born to Arthur Morton Murphy (1899-1964)
and Claire Frances McCarthy Murphy (1895-1971). I arrived on July
21st, 1930, in San Antonio, Texas. These are my paternal grandparents
Maggie Franc Morton and James Owen Murphy, flanked by their sisters
Belle Neice and Rose Murphy:
was posed in a professional studio (thus the painted backdrop)
and may well be a wedding memento. Grandpa Murphy is very formally
attired. Grandma is not wearing white satin, but money was probably
and in any event, she was a very no-nonsense woman. I can well imagine
that to her buying a "fancy frock to be worn once" was
not an acceptable option. She actually has on about as much lace
as I suspect she ever wore:
She was a straightforward, no-nonsense, no-frills, practical mountain
My dad was
born at the base of Electric Peak, Montana, at the Horr railway
stop where my Grandpa was the station agent and telegrapher. The
family lived in the railway building.
sits on the porch to do her mending in the sunlight.
waits, hands in his pockets, for the arrival of the train
which will pick up the mule-drawn cargo.
probably off-duty, in his casual sweater and rakish hat.
My dad, Arthur
Morton Murphy, was born and lived here in the station with his sister
Judith and his younger brother, Bob. He attended high school,
and then graduated from Saint Charles College in Helena, Montana.
He was a good student and was sent to Washington, where he received
in Sociology from The Catholic University of America.
Meanwhile, on the other side of my family - and the other side of
the country - my maternal Grandfather Henry McCarthy, was a sailor
and seaman rarely at home. His wife, known to us as "MamaCarthy"
was an industrial seamstress. When Henry died in Boston, He left
behind my mother-to-be Claire, her younger sister, Gertrude, and
her younger brother, Henry, Jr.
to work without completing high school. She came to Washington,
DC, in the depth of the Great Depression, and was unable to get
||Finally she found
an opening at a government office and was asked if she could
type. Admirably honest, she smiled sweetly and said something
like, “I’m sure I can manage that.” Manage
she did: with her last savings she bought a portable typewriter
and spent the weekend in her rented room practicing. Fortunately,
on the first day of work she had only to address envelopes,
which she did haltingly but satisfactorily. Spending ensuing
nights at the little portable, she was able to keep up with
the demands of the job.
[The photo is not actually of her machine.]
education, Claire enrolled in a night class at Columbian College,
now George Washington University. The young professor, Arthur Murphy,
gave some of his female students a ride home after class each night.
Claire was included, and he managed to drop her off last so that
they could spend time together. Subsequently, she married her teacher.
Here are Claire and Arthur in Leadville, Colorado, on one of their
many long motor trips to visit relatives. She was really shorter
but she's standing on a rock here. Dad is wearing the jodhpurs and
which he wore as a tourist bus driver on the perilous, pre-guard-rail
in Yellowstone Park before going to college.
mother's family remained
in the east:
sister Mary McCarthy Sterner and Le Sterner in New Jersey,
with their daughters Patti and Ann -
sister Gertrude McCarthy Frishmuth and Dick Frishmuth in
Philadelphia, with their daughter, Barbara -
Brother Henry McCarthy and his wife, Pauline, and their
son Alan McCarthy, SJ., in New York.
Here are Arthur and Claire looking very dapper on a summer
day, on an East Coast visit.
My older brother, Paul and I were born in Texas, when Dad
was teaching there at Our Lady of the Lake College. My younger
brother, Kevin, was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, where Dad
had became president of Saint Mary College (now the University
of Saint Mary).
grew up in two houses in Leavenworth: first at 305 Prospect
Street, and then in this house which my parents built at
709 Columbia Avenue in 1938. Ivy and greenery abound in
The crank-out casement
windows in the living room were considered quite innovative at the
time. I attended eight grades at Sacred Heart elementary school
and graduated from Immaculata High School in Leavenworth. I received
a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Saint Benedict’s
College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, Kansas, a Master’s
Degree in Speech
and Drama from The Catholic University of American in Washington,
DC, and a PhD degree in Theatre and Psychology from The University
As a child, I appeared
in a non-speaking role as a child court jester in a play at Saint
Mary College. For jester’s wand, My father mounted a doll’s
head on a square red handle, and my mother added a red-and yellow
satin cap and collar, with bells, courtesy of her ever-busy Singer
The following Christmas,
my present arrived in four large magenta shirt boxes from Mr. Blackman’s
Men’s Clothing. In the first box were three cardboard-and-
foil crowns, again Claire’s handwork. There was also a script
which she had written, called THE PRINCE WHO FELL OUT OF THE
three-page three-character play had roles tailored for me
as The King, Paul as the Prince, and our next-door neighbor,
Lois Linck, as the Princess. Each of the other boxes held
a costume. Lois and I, here in regal attire, are rehearsing
the scene in which the Prince, (my brother Paul) parachutes
into the kingdom (off-stage) from his faltering plane and
falls in love with Princess Lois.
After opening these
presents, I was escorted to the basement where, somehow without
my notice, Arthur had hung maroon curtains on poles to form
a stage about nine feet wide and six feet deep. Two big drapes
(salvaged from our previous house) were hung on a track, with
a pulley to pull them open and closed. A light fixture on
either side of the stage, each with a pull cord, provided
“stage” lighting. My mother had added a header,
with MIMIC THEATRE stitched out in bias tape on a
No home movies of
our halcyon rainy-days basement shows exist, but theatrical
seeds were planted.
By the fifth grade my friends
and I were going to Kansas City to see Blackstone, the
last old-time white-tie-and-tails magician to tour a large full-evening
stage show in the tradition of Kellar, Thurston and Dante, although
his son, Harry, Jr., toured the show for a few years after his father's
death. Blackstone was the picture of confidence and elegance,
but I later learned that toward the end he could hardly scrape up
the funds necessary to travel with his retinue of assistants and
Like many boys of that
era, we then discovered the Johnson & Smith Mail-Order Catalogue
of novelties and magic tricks. To small-town boys, this was
a treasure trove of jokey props and magical wonders. The days waiting
for the postman to bring our packages were excruciating, and their
arrival was joyful. Except, of course, when some magic marvel proved
to be no more than some instructions printed badly on tissue-thin
paper, accompanying a piece of thread and a little hook.
As we came into our teens
and had our first after-school jobs, we moved up to the more substantial
and expensive splendors sold by Abbott's Magic Novelty Company
in Colon, Michigan, "The World Capitol of Magic" -- and
Blackstone's home town. He was co-founder of the firm. Soon my friend
Conrad Waldstein and I put together a show and became “MURDON
& WALDINI” with Conrad arranging bookings at the
synagogue and Donn securing appearances before The Knights of
Columbus and the Daughters of Isabella. Halcyon days!
Our “big break”
came when we were high school sophomores. A traveling carnival arrived
in Leavenworth with a side-show which performed on platforms set
up in a big tent. One performer had departed from the show, leaving
an empty platform, and coincidentally, we applied to appear.
Neighbors' eyes widened
and jaws dropped as they saw Conrad and me standing nonchalantly
in a blaze of light on the high ballyhoo platform in front
of the tent - with The Snake Charmer, The Tattooed Lady, Ramona-Ray
The Half-Man-Half-Woman, and two gyrating, grinding Exotic
Dancers. We responded with sophomore sangfroid, as in "We're
The Strong Man
assured us that our trunk of props would be safe, and we performed
several times nightly for the next two weeks. We were not, of course,
being paid, because the side-show manager assured us that we were
getting “great experience.”
As the carnival came to
the end of its run, we were invited to go with
the show to Omaha. “We will make nothing but money there!”
said the manager. We were excited and ready to pack up and make
our break into show business. Our parents, not surprisingly, were
less thrilled, and thought it best that we continue our education,
and not in Omaha. That kind of ended the magic act.
I acted in plays and directed
at St. Benedict’s College (now Benedictine) where I directed
my first play, a one-act melodrama called The Valiant,
in which a young woman visits her lover just before he is to be
executed at midnight. Dave Shields, below, discusses his fate with
the warden, Joe--. Unshackled and un- cuffed, one wonders why the
prisoner didn't grab the warden's gun and take him hostage, but
that's a different play. Dim faces at center show that this was
an in-the-round-production - something of a novelty in 1954.
Here I am (below left)
portraying an old geezer in jazzy white loafers, with a hilariously
inept black-and-white hair job and a gray goatee, playing chess
with Gene Wolters. This was at Mount Saint Scholastica - twin college
to Saint Benedict's. Well, the rock wall isn't too convincing up
I then went on to Catholic
University, in Washington. I was hired as a part-time teacher at
Georgetown University in 1954, and my professional life had begun.
Subsequently, I was hired full-time, received my doctorate, and
taught at the University until the end of 1999.
years I guided the Mask and Bauble Society - the GU theatre
group - directing three shows each year. To improve group morale
I designed an M&B logo, making a drawing of the long-ago
jester's wand to complement a Greek mask, representing comedy
We did Shakespeare
and Shaw, Arthur Miller and Ionesco. especially interested in encouraging
original student writing, I established an annual One-Act Play contest,
which still continues on the campus. In a humbling tribute/remembrance
Jamie Simon, who was at Georgetown a generation after his father
James Simon, Sr., renamed the Festival the "Donn B. Murphy
One-Acts Festival,"in tribute to what hs father had told him
about me. It became in 2013 the DBMOAF.
Below is a
scene from The Teahouse of the August Moon.
TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON with Walter Smith, Jim Cotter,
Referee/name forgotten and Tom Kramer, performed in Gaston Hall
at Georgetown, 1950's.
I also established the
Calliope series of annual original musicals and enjoyed
the frenzy of taking entirely new material from "page to stage."
Many of the songs and scenes were written and changed well into
the rehearsal period, giving everyone a taste of being right at
the heart of creativity.
Bob Hope's son, Tony,
wrote one of the Calliope musicals -- Down the Hatch, a
pirate adventure. Tony's mother, the lovely and gracious singer,
Dolores Hope, came for the opening night. Incidentally, she celebrated
her 100th birthday in 2010.
Two of the Calliope musicals
were created by subsequent Tony-Award Winners -- Senior Prom
by Jack Hofsiss, and The Thirties Girl [the first in the
series] by John Guare. As I am writing this, in 2011, John's play
The House of Blue Leaves is back on Broadway, still including
the song "I'm Here With Bells On," which he wrote for
The Thirties Girl.
I conducted a twice-a-week drama group at the highly-regarded Chestnut
Lodge Psychiatric Hospital in Rockville, Maryland. We read many
scripts aloud and produced a number of plays, once bringing The
Importance of Being Earnest for a performance in Stage One
In 1975 I was invited to
become the Secretary of the newly-formed National Theatre Corporation,
established to take over the lease of the National Theatre from
The Nederlander Organization. Roger Stevens of the Kennedy Center
arranged the conversion of the theatre, a commercial enterprise
since it was established in 1835, to a not-for-profit organization.
President Lincoln attended
many performances at the National, as have many First Families since.
Longtime mid-20th-centurey Manager Scott Kirkpatrick told me that
Eleanor Roosevelt used to walk over from The White House, unattended,
to purchase tickets. I personally saw Presidents Kennedy, Reagan,
Bush Sr., Carter, Clinton and Bush Jr. at the National.
I later became President and Executive President of the National,
and served until the end of 2010, when I retired to a wonderful
life of gardening, travel, friendships and contemplation, with my
partner of 38 years, COL. H. Jones “Jon” Carrow, III,
US Army retired. We live in Arlington, Virginia.
My older brother, Paul
Owen Murphy, deceased, was married to Emma Jean "EJ" Navinsky
Murphy. They had three children: Paula Marie Murphy LeBlanc, Maris
Murphy Konroy and David Murphy. Paul was editor of the Leavenworth
in Kansas, and then of the Sunday Section of the Philadelphia
My younger brother, Kevin
Clare Murphy, worked for many years as an airplane engine mechanic
at TWA Airlines in Kansas City. He married Patricia Kempster
Murphy, now deceased. They had six children: Sean, Christopher,
Brendan, Kathy, Sherri and Dan.
In 1999 we had an East
Coast McCarthy Family Reunion at the beach in North Carolina, and
it was terrific to have so many relatives together. What joy and
what memories! Family matters.
Timothy Murphy, Andrew Murphy, Konray's Best Man, Benoit LeBlanc,
Paula Murphy LeBlanc, David and Barbara Murphy
Middle Row: Kara Konray Kraman, Kris Kraman, Friend Anne Ryan, Ann
Sterner, and Patti Sterner Faith
Front Row: Neighbor Al Killeri, John Carrow, Donn Murphy with Newman
Murphy, Friend Ken Wentzel with Angelo Killeri and Friend Marshall
kindly took the photo of us all.
* * *
opportunity of having your picture taken with the President
of the United States, most people would probably take it (if, of
course he is of your preferred party). I had just such an opportunity
at a speech when I agreed to take a stranger's photo with President
Obama, if she would take mine. No bragging, but I got a pretty good
photo for her. Her of me? Not so much. The President seems to be
whistling, and I'm kind of our of it. Opportunity missed. Oh, well.
Onward & Upward!