Jan Murray, one of the fabled generation of comics who rose from the Catskills to prime time TV, tickling fans of the 1950s game show “Treasure Hunt,” has died. He was 89.
Murray, who also appeared as an actor in dozens of movies and TV shows, died Sunday at his home in Beverly Hills, son Howard Murray said in a telephone interview Monday.
“Treasure Hunt” ran from 1956 to 1959 in both daytime and prime time versions, first on ABC and later on NBC. The contestant who won a quiz got to pick among treasure chests, which contained anything “from a head of cabbage to a check for a large sum of money,” according to the book “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows.”
He moved to Los Angeles in 1965 to pursue an acting career, scoring roles in such films as “A Man Called Dagger,” “Tarzan and the Great River,” “The Busy Body” and “Thunder Alley,” which starred Annette Funicello.
“I’ve found my friends are all here,” Murray told the Los Angeles Times in 1967. “This is where the action is, where it’s all happening.”
He also served as a guest host on “The Tonight Show” and did many guest shots in 1960s and ’70s TV series, including “Love, American Style,” “The Name of the Game” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
He retired 10 years ago, his son said.
Born Murray Janofsky in New York in 1916, Murray was inspired to become a performer when he memorized vaudeville acts to repeat at home for his ailing mother, his son said. He then honed his performing skills at Catskills resorts that catered to Jewish vacationers.
As a resort’s resident “tummler,” he was expected to entertain guests all day, not just on the stage at night, he told The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in 2002.
“In the morning, the fat ladies in the exercise room,” Murray said. “I’d pass by and do shtick.” But it wasn’t tiring, he insisted.
“Until I was 80, I wasn’t exhausted,” he said. “There’s no medicine like being on stage hearing people laugh.”
Among the other veterans of that vanished show business training ground were Mel Brooks, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar and the late Buddy Hackett.
Murray went on to host a string of game shows in the 1950s, including “Dollar a Second,” before moving West.
Many of Murray’s famous friends had also relocated to Southern California and he was always entertaining them, his son recalled.
“His generation of comedians was like a huge extended family,” he said. “In the ’60s and ’70s, it seemed like there were parties up at our house every other week.”
The most beloved gathering was the annual family seder, Howard Murray said. Guests at the traditional Passover dinner included Caesar, Hackett, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Jack Carter, George Burns, Jack Benny and Edward G. Robinson, he said.
“Mainly, it was just a party that would last for hours and hours,” Howard Murray said.
In addition to son Howard, Murray is survived by his wife, Toni; son Warren; daughters, Diane and Celia; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.