1889-1965: Mae Murray The Girl with the bee stung lips

We have to remember that the legacy of the Motion Picture and Television Fund originates in a time where those most famous cared for those most not. Different times, to be sure. The contentious battle to keep the doors of the Long-Term Care facility open often overshadows the honesty, compassion and caring that characterized these early years.

Mae Murray became a star of the club circuit in both the United States and Europe, performing with Clifton Webb, Rudolph Valentino and John Gilbert as some of her many dance partners. She made many films, her most famous role probably opposite John Gilbert in the Erich von Stroheim-directed film “The Merry Widow” (1925).  However, when silent movies gave way to talkies, Murray’s voice proved not to be compatible with the new sound and her career began to fade. At the height of her career in the early 1920s, Murray — along with such other notable Hollywood personalities as Cecil B. DeMille (who later became her neighbor in Playa Del Rey), Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Irving Thalberg — was a member of the board of trustees at the Motion Picture & Television Fund. The MPTF is a charitable organization that offers assistance and care to those in the motion picture and television industries without financial resources. Murray made many career mistakes, but somehow managed to eke out a living for many years. As great an actress as Murray was, her voice was better suited for silent films. Her lilting, soft voice was no match for the blossoming audio technology that favored a personality and voice bigger than life. Murray’s career had peaked. She had built an enormous mansion on the sand at 64th Avenue and Ocean Front Walk, across the street from the Del Rey Lagoon and a few yards from Ballona Creek, where she was quite the hostess. She became notorious for her beachfront parties, attended by a virtual Who’s Who in Hollywood and lasting days at a time. Apparently she owned stock in some of the oil wells that were located in her own back yard. As if following a modern-day script that is so familiar, her rise to fame was seconded only by her fall into poverty. By 1933, Murray was broke and ordered by the court to sell her opulent Playa Del Rey estate to pay a judgment against her. Her life was never the same after that. The lawsuit that resulted in the judgment was entered by Rosemary Stack, mother of future actor Robert Stack.

Moving to New York to find work, Murray was arrested for vagrancy after being found sleeping on a park bench. When she returned to California, she often was seen wandering the streets of Playa Del Rey and sitting on the beach near her former home. In 1964, living off charity and devoted friends, the poor deluded Murray continually traveled by transcontinental bus from coast to coast on a self-promoted publicity tour, hoping for a comeback in movies. On the last of these excursions, she lost herself during a stopover in Kansas City, Mo., and wandered to St. Louis. The Salvation Army found her on the streets and sent her back to Los Angeles. She rented a small Hollywood apartment near the Chinese Theatre, paid for by actor George Hamilton. Mae Murray passed away in 1965, at the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, Calif. — the very place she had helped to found. Funny how the entertainment industry was able to “pay it forward” during a time of world social upheaval and economic uncertainties. The ’60s was no place for an amateur. Mae’s final home, the Motion Picture Home, was a culmination of her career in entertainment and a fitting end to her life. According to Mae’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times, published March 28, 1965, she maintained to the end: “You don’t have to keep making movies to remain a star. Once you become a star, you are always a star.” Among her peers, Mae was a star at the Motion Picture Home, even when that star dimmed and all she had left was the commitment bestowed upon her by the motion picture industry.

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