George Murphy

George Lloyd Murphy (July 4, 1902 – May 3, 1992) was an American dancer, actor, and politician. Murphy was a song-and-dance leading man in many big-budget Hollywood musicals from 1930 to 1952. He was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1944 to 1946, and was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1951. Murphy served from 1965 to 1971 as U.S. Senator from California, the first notable U.S. actor to be elected to statewide office in California, predating Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.[1] He is the only United States Senator represented by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

George Murphy
United States Senator
from California
In office
January 1, 1965  January 2, 1971
Preceded byPierre Salinger
Succeeded byJohn V. Tunney
7th President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office
Preceded byJames Cagney
Succeeded byRobert Montgomery
Personal details
George Lloyd Murphy

(1902-07-04)July 4, 1902
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedMay 3, 1992(1992-05-03) (aged 89)
Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Julie Henkel-Johnson (1926–1973)
Betty Duhon Blandi (1982–1992)
EducationYale University (BA)

Early life

Murphy was born in New Haven, Connecticut, of Irish Catholic extraction, the son of Michael Charles "Mike" Murphy, athletic trainer and coach, and the former Nora Long. He was educated at Trinity-Pawling School, Peddie School and Yale University in his native New Haven.[2] He worked as a tool maker for the Ford Motor Company, as a miner, a real estate agent, and a night club dancer.

Film career

In movies, Murphy was known as a song-and-dance man and appeared in many big-budget musicals such as Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) and For Me and My Gal (1942). He made his movie debut shortly after talking pictures had replaced silent movies in 1930, and his career continued until he retired as an actor in 1952, at the age of 50. During World War II, he organized entertainment for American troops.[3]

In 1951, he was awarded an honorary Academy Award. He was never nominated for an Oscar in any competitive category.

He was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1944 to 1946. He was also a vice president of Desilu Productions and of the Technicolor Corporation.[4] He was director of entertainment for presidential inaugurations in 1953, 1957 and 1961.

Political career

Murphy entered politics in 1953 by joining the leadership of the California Republican Party, having also directed the entertainment for the Eisenhower-Nixon inauguration that same year.

In 1964, he was elected as a Republican to the Senate, having defeated Pierre Salinger, the former presidential press secretary in the Kennedy White House, who had been appointed several months earlier to serve the remainder of the late Clair Engle's unexpired term. Murphy served from January 1, 1965 to January 3, 1971. Murphy assumed his seat two days early, when Salinger resigned from the seat to allow Murphy to gain an edge in seniority. Murphy was then appointed by Democratic Governor Pat Brown to serve the remaining two days of Salinger's term.

His election attracted the attention of satirist Tom Lehrer, who wrote and performed a song about him,[5] in response to racist comments about Mexican-Americans made by Senator Murphy in support of the extension of the Bracero Program in 1964: “You have to remember that Americans can’t do that kind of work. It’s too hard. Mexicans are really good at that. They are built low to the ground, you see, so it is easier for them to stoop.”[6]

Murphy was in demand for a time to assist other Republican candidates seeking office. In 1966, he hosted a fundraising dinner in Atlanta, Georgia for US Representative Howard "Bo" Callaway, the first Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia since Reconstruction. In the election, Callaway outpolled Democrat Lester Maddox, but did not get a majority, and the state legislature elected Maddox.[7]

In 1967 and 1968, Murphy was the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. During his Senate term, Murphy developed throat cancer, and part of his larynx had to be removed. For the rest of his life, he was unable to speak above a whisper.

In 1970, Murphy ran for re-election; he was challenged by Democratic US Representative John V. Tunney, the son of famed heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney. Murphy's surgery and staunch support for the lingering Vietnam War worked against him, as did reports that he had continued to receive a salary from Technicolor after taking office.[4] Tunney's successful Senate race in 1970 was reportedly the inspiration for the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate.[8]


Murphy subsequently moved to Palm Beach, Florida, where he died at the age of 89, from leukemia.


Murphy's move from the screen to California politics paved the way for the successful transitions of actors such as Ronald Reagan and later Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reagan once famously referred to George Murphy as his own "John the Baptist".

Fellow Republicans praised Murphy's ability to speak at fundraising dinners and so consequently backed his bid to become the chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.[9]

During his tenure in the Senate, Murphy created the candy desk by placing a supply of confectionery on his desk on the US Senate floor. After 1971, the candy-desk duties were bequeathed to a string of successors; since 2015, the keeper of the candy desk has been Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey.

Personal life

Murphy was married to his ballroom dancing partner, Juliette "Julie" Henkel-Johnson, from December 18, 1926 until her death, in 1973. They had two children: Dennis Michael Murphy and Melissa Elaine Murphy.

He was married to Bette Blandi from 1982 until his death in 1992.[10] His widow died in 1999.




  1. In 1944, Democrat Jimmie Davis (1899–2000)—popularizer of "You Are My Sunshine"—was elected to his first term as Governor of Louisiana. In 1948 Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff won the Republican nomination for Governor of Tennessee but was defeated in the general election. Helen Gahagan Douglas served in the House of Representatives from 1945-51.
  2. George Lloyd Murphy, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Accessed February 27, 2011.
  3. "MURPHY, George Lloyd". Biographical Directory of the U. S. Congress. Office of the Historian, U. S. House of Representatives. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  4. Steinberg, Jacques (May 5, 1992). "George Murphy, Singer and Actor Who Became Senator, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
  5. Tom Lehrer - Topic (3 July 2015). "George Murphy". Retrieved 23 April 2018 via YouTube.
  6. "Roybal, Feder Clash on Issue of Braceros October 15, 1964". UC Press. 15 October 1964. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  7. Billy Hathorn, "The Frustration of Opportunity: Georgia Republicans and the Election of 1966", Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South, XXXI (Winter 1987-1988), pp. 42, 47
  8. Christensen, Terry, and Hass, Peter. Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films, p. 146
  9. Weaver, Warren (8 December 1966). "Murphy Is Urged to Challenge Liberals for G.O.P. Senate Job; He Is Backed to Oppose Scott as Campaign Unit Leader Dirksen May Decide" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  10. Zan Thompson (12 June 1986). "The Personal Side of George Murphy at Age 83". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  11. "Escape and Suspense!: Suspense - Death on Highway 99". Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  12. Kirby, Walter (April 13, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Retrieved May 11, 2015 via
Party political offices
Preceded by
Goodwin Knight
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from California
(Class 1)

1964, 1970
Succeeded by
S. I. Hayakawa
Preceded by
Thruston Ballard Morton
Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Succeeded by
John Tower
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Pierre Salinger
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
Served alongside: Thomas Kuchel, Alan Cranston
Succeeded by
John V. Tunney
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