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Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card

Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card

Susan Delson
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv3rs
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  • Book Info
    Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card
    Book Description:

    Dudley Murphy (1897-1968) was one of early Hollywood's most intriguing figures. Active from the 1920s through the 1940s, Murphy was one of the industry's first independents and a guiding intelligence behind some of the key films in early twentieth-century cinema. In the first full-length biography of Murphy, Susan Delson gives full rein to an American original whose life was as audacious as his films._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9769-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION AT THE EDGE OF THE FRAME
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    In January 1966 , two years before he died, Dudley Murphy sat down to recollect his life. Most likely he spoke his thoughts into a tape recorder; the resulting manuscript has a conversational air and not much structure. Typos and misspellings imply a transcriber with little knowledge of film history, art, or French—all of which, as it happens, are essential to his story.

    It’s a life that reads like a picaresque novel interspersed with movies. “I feel I have been so fortunate to have been in what I call the creative centers of the world at the right time,”...

  4. CHAPTER 1 ROOTED IN ART
    (pp. 1-15)

    In the early years of Hollywood, when Murphy began his career, the path into the film business was often meandering and unpredictable. For him, the route led through electrical engineering, military aviation, and the mysticism that was already percolating through Southern California. But it began, and was most firmly rooted, in art. Dudley Bowles Murphy was born in 1897 in Winchester, Massachusetts, on the northwestern edge of greater Boston. On his father’s side, he came from old New England and Irish stock. His mother’s family hailed from the South.

    Both parents were artists. They met in Paris in the 1890s...

  5. CHAPTER 2 GREEK GODDESSES FOR THE MOVIEGOING PUBLIC
    (pp. 16-40)

    Murphy began his filmmaking career as many filmmakers do: raising money. From families of the young Pasadena elite that he’d gotten to know during his year at Troop, and from Sarah Bixby Smith, the wealthy wife of his friend Paul Jordan Smith, he raised two thousand dollars, a considerable sum for the time. With it, he bankrolled four short films, the first projects of his proposed Scenic Production Company.¹

    The concept behind the films was simple but savvy: to exploit the splendors of the California coast as settings for lyrical, experimental films that were short on plot, long on beauty...

  6. CHAPTER 3 VEXED AND DISPUTED The Multiple Histories of Ballet mécanique
    (pp. 41-68)

    In terms of its origins and authorship,Ballet mécaniqueis easily one of the most contested artworks of the twentieth century. It’s the sole film on which artist Fernand Léger is credited as a director; it’s also the most identifiably avant-garde film in Murphy’s oeuvre.¹ And while it’s clearly a collaborative work, even now, more than eighty years later, the actual collaborators and the extent of each one’s contribution remain open to debate.

    An invigorating inquiry into the nature of cinema and visual perception in the guise of unfettered play,Ballet mécaniquewas one of the first films to be...

  7. CHAPTER 4 INTO THE MAINSTREAM
    (pp. 69-81)

    Murphy returned from France in late summer or early fall of 1924 . By then, Katharine Hawley Murphy had taken up residence at an informal art colony on her great-aunt’s estate in Crotonon-Hudson, New York. Looking for film work, Murphy remained in New York City while Hawley Murphy waited out her pregnancy upstate. The work came quickly enough, but instead of uniting the couple it separated them further. One of the first people Murphy had called on in New York was J. Robert Rubin, secretary of the newly merged Metro-Goldwyn Pictures. Rubin pointed him toward Rex Ingram andMare Nostrum....

  8. CHAPTER 5 THE BEGINNING OF THE AUDIBLE PERIOD
    (pp. 82-99)

    On a Friday in early August 1926 , whileMare Nostrumwas winding down its run at the Criterion andBallet mécaniquewas still causing the occasional ripple at the Cameo, a film calledDon Juanopened at the Warner Theater on Broadway at Fifty-second Street. Produced by Warner Bros. and starring John Barrymore, it was the first movie to showcase the new Vitaphone sound system.

    For Warner Bros., Vitaphone was an immense gamble. A second-string studio that had never broken into the top ranks, Warner was in precarious financial shape in 1926 . Sound film had been a tantalizing...

  9. CHAPTER 6 NOT MURDER BUT MAYHEM: Hollywood Again
    (pp. 100-113)

    The success ofSt. Louis Bluesdid not go unnoticed by the film industry. In late September 1929 , while Murphy was still at work onBlack and Tan, a brief item appeared in theNew York Journal American. “Dudley Murphy, one-time cameraman, has been signed by Paramount as a short subject director on the staff of the Long Island studio,” it read. “Murphy has produced several original musical shorts, utilizing his knowledge of screen photography to develop an unusual technique. One of his recent subjects, ‘The St. Louis Blues,’ is now at the Rialto, where it has attracted wide...

  10. CHAPTER 7 BETWEEN PICTURES
    (pp. 114-121)

    By the time he’d settled into the Amalfi Drive house with Jo-Jo in early 1932, Murphy had been back in Los Angeles for about two years. Though the Depression struck the city hard, its population continued to grow. It had already swelled to more than two million, powered by its top industries: agriculture, oil, and the movies.

    Los Angeles politics were volatile and extreme. Unlike San Francisco, L.A. was a hardline antiunion town. The film studios stood firm until unions were federally mandated by the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 . Across the region labor conflicts frequently flared into...

  11. CHAPTER 8 STEPPING OUT OF THE SYSTEM The Making of The Emperor Jones
    (pp. 122-150)

    The property that Murphy hoped to bring to the screen was Eugene O’Neill’s playThe Emperor Jones. A one-act near-monologue, it recounts the final hours of Brutus Jones, an ambitious one-time Pullman porter who, through intelligence and cunning, became sovereign of a Caribbean island. His despotic rule has incited his subjects to rebellion; fleeing through the jungle, he confronts the specters of his own past and, in visions of himself aboard a slave ship and sold at auction, the African-American experience. Fueled by the relentless, escalating drumbeat of his pursuers, his vivid hallucinations drive Jones into a fearful, half-crazed frenzy,...

  12. CHAPTER 9 AN EQUIVOCAL INDEPENDENCE
    (pp. 151-166)

    In the weeks and months following the release ofThe Emperor Jones, Hollywood left Murphy conspicuously alone. At the end of 1932 , he’d been preparing to direct the Houdini picture with Adolphe Menjou. He’d reportedly been awarded the medal of honor by the Screen Society of Europe “for the most unusual technique in his picture, ‘Ballet Mechanique’” and planned to accept in person at the society’s meeting in Vienna the following May.¹ As late as June 1933 , whileJoneswas in production, he’d been mentioned as the probable director forSitting Pretty, a film version of the stage...

  13. CHAPTER 10 CHANGING DIRECTION
    (pp. 167-186)

    Though he no longer worked for a studio, Murphy continued to think of himself as a filmmaker. He never considered himself lost to Hollywood. Eventually, he assumed, he’d hit upon a project that would restore him to the industry’s good graces. Meanwhile, he was careful to speak respectfully of the studios.

    Even as he drifted out of the industry, though, Murphy remained a member of the Hollywood community. He continued to appear in local gossip and social columns: mentioned as one of the guests at a dinner party hosted by B. P. Schulberg, for instance, attending a cocktail party given...

  14. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 187-190)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 191-226)
  16. FILMOGRAPHY OF DUDLEY MURPHY
    (pp. 227-230)
  17. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 231-238)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 239-252)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)
  20. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)