1901 – 1936
Who was James Murray?
In 1923, Murray made his film debut as Captain John Alden in the Pilgrims, a three-reel production shot at Yale University and in the surrounding area in Connecticut. In 1924, Murray moved to Hollywood, California with hopes of continuing an acting career. There he worked for several years, mostly as an extra, before he was "discovered" by director King Vidor. Murray failed to show up for a meeting arranged by Vidor, apparently thinking the prospective offer was a joke. The director subsequently tracked him down and hired him for the silent drama The Crowd. Murray's performance in the film was lauded by both the critics and the public. Shortly before working in Vidor's production, Murray also starred alongside Joan Crawford in Rose-Marie.
Despite appearances in subsequent M-G-M films such as Lon Chaney's The Big City and Thunder, Murray's career began to decline due to his excessive drinking and arrests related to drunkenness. In August 1930, he was sentenced to six months in jail for appearing in court drunk on a previous drunk-driving charge. After serving four months of hard labor, Murray was released and attempted to reignite his acting career. He stopped drinking for a time, and in February 1933, he signed a seven-year contract with First National Pictures and Warner Bros. The same year, he married "Miss Florida" Marion Sayers. The marriage and Murray's sobriety proved to be short lived: Sayers was granted a divorced in November 1933 on the grounds that Murray drank excessively and forced Sayers to work to support him. Murray appeared in a total of 36 films. In most of his films in the sound era, particularly those made during the last few years of his career, he was cast in bit parts or as an extra.
By 1934, Murray could not obtain acting work due to his drinking and was panhandling on the street. Around this time, King Vidor was casting his upcoming film Our Daily Bread. He immediately thought of Murray and set out to find him. Upon discovering a much heavier and unkempt Murray begging for money on the street. Vidor bought Murray a drink and offered him the lead role in Our Daily Bread, provided he pull himself together. Murray rejected the offer.
On July 11, 1936, Murray drowned after falling from the North River pier. The medical examiner determined that the cause was "asphyxia by submersion," without ruling on whether his death was an accident or suicide. He was interred at the Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York.
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