It takes a rare talent to steal attention away from Marilyn Monroe, but actor Don Murray’s portrayal of the handsome but naive Montana cowboy who romances her in Bus Stop drew raves and earned him an Academy Award nomination in 1956.
“Marilyn was very kind to me,” Don, 91, exclusively recalls to Closer. “I thought she was magnificent. I never understood why she was not nominated.”
After that groundbreaking role, Don continued on to acclaimed performances in A Hatful of Rain (1957), From Hell to Texas (1958), The Hoodlum Priest (1961) and Advise & Consent (1962) and later worked with game-changing directors including Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola and David Lynch.
A writer-director himself, this native Angeleno passed his love for the craft down to his five children: Christopher, 63, Patricia, 62, Coleen, 56, Sean, 55, and Mick, 48, three of whom entered the entertainment field themselves. Fans of Knots Landing will also remember Don for playing Sid Fairgate, whose unexpected death at the start of season 3 genuinely shocked viewers.
Keep scrolling below for Closer Weekly‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Don Murray!
Was there ever a doubt that you would become an actor?
Mother was a Ziegfeld girl and my dad was a dance director in Hollywood when I was born, and then a stage manager on Broadway. At 4, I did a musical presentation where I kissed a pretty girl that made the audience applaud and laugh. What else would one want to do with their life?
After high school, you studied with some other future famous actors at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
As a matter of fact, Grace Kelly was there. She was a year behind me. Another well- known actor was my close friend Jason Robards. That’s where we met. We were friends until his death [in 2000].
You both began in theater. Your big break was The Rose Tattoo with Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach in 1951.
On opening night, the wardrobe lady did a crazy thing. She sewed the fly in my sailor pants on the outside! I couldn’t wear them like that. So I grabbed another pair, but they were bright white under the lights. At intermission, the director yelled at me. He said, ‘Are you trying to draw more attention to yourself by having those bright pants on?’ He apologized but I [had to wear] the pair with the zipper on the outside.
That’s hilarious. But it was no laughing matter when you were drafted for the Korean War. You were a conscientious objector.
There was no war when I first signed up as a conscientious objector. I was put in jail, but the prosecutor refused to pursue my case because he knew I was sincere. I ended up [doing my service] with the Brethren in Service, an arm of the Church of the Brethren. They sent me to Germany to work with refugees.
You and your ex-wife, actress Hope Lange, actually founded a refugee camp that still exists.
We bought a piece of land in Sardinia with our own money. We brought refugees over to Sardinia and built a free community that is still going today. I visited it a couple of years ago. It was marvelous the way it was flourishing. [Today it’s called] The Paulson-Murray Refugee Project.
That must make you feel so proud!
It was a great opportunity. I also gave a speech at the Democratic Convention of 1956. I was supposed to introduce Sen. [Estes] Kefauver, the vice-presidential candidate, but his plane was late. I had to make a speech. I talked about Brethren in Service. Sen. Hubert Humphrey was also on the program. He heard [my speech] and got the idea about a government-sponsored group like Brethren in Service which he called The Peace Corps.
That’s remarkable. Returning to acting, your big film break came from Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe. What did you find most surprising about her?
I had been overseas, so I didn’t know much about her. I was totally taken aback by how important a movie star she was. There was press around all the time because of her.
What was Marilyn like to work with?
She had difficulty remembering her lines, so we had to do many takes. Often, when we were doing a scene, she would get so emotionally involved that she’d go off her mark. The director told me to put my hands on her hips and move her to her marks. That’s what I did whenever we were shooting above the waist.
Marilyn was notorious for showing up late to the set.
She was always late. Not 10 minutes, but two hours or half a day! She also took a week off and called in sick, but she was actually having a romance with Arthur Miller at the Chateau Marmont! It was quite a trial. Being from theater, I wasn’t used to that!
You’ve had such a fascinating life and career. How does it feel to be 91?
To tell you the truth, it doesn’t feel any different. The only thing is that now I don’t run as fast as I did when I was 70. [Laughs]
What do you think has been the biggest contribution to your life’s success?
The most important thing is stick-to-it-ness. When you meet adversity in your life, you have to keep to your own standards and your own beliefs and have faith that they will bring you a good outcome.
Are you still working?
I’m still working on various things. I have done some stage work. I write. My wife and I are out with our children a lot. We like to drive around Southern California. We are very, very active.
Is there anything else that you can attribute to your long, healthy life?
I don’t do anything to excess. I never drink to excess or eat to excess. I do everything in moderation. I also believe that you have to be involved with something you feel is worthwhile, commit to it, and give it as much of your heart and mind as you can.
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