Murray the Escapologist

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Q. Kumber » 08/12/03 11:10 AM

Murray Carrington Walters better known as Murray the Escapologist toured the world with an illusion show and used escapes as a means of publicity. He also coined the word escapologist. Murray retired to Blackpool, England where he opened a magic shop. He regularly attended the Iriah magic conventions which is where I met him first back in 1973.

Murray had a great knowledge of magic and showmanship and used pal around with Dante and Horace Goldin. Perhaps the best description of Murray would be "the lovable rogue."

Recently I had dinner with Cyril Critchlow, who used own and run "The Museum of Entertainment" in Blackpool. It was a theatre upstairs, coffee shop on the ground floor with the museum in the basement. The museum was one of my favourite places, all crammed with fascinating theatrical and magical stuff.

Cyril tells of the funny crackly sound when Murray would walk around behind the counter. It turns out Murray had spilled a box of thumb tips (back in the '70's they were hard plastic) and because of his back couldn't bend down to pick them up. Every time he walked, he stood on them and the plastic cracked into pieces.

Anyway, Cyril and Murray were good friends. One day Cyril enters the shop and sees an interesting looking vase. It had belonged to Chung Ling Soo and had a letter of authentication. Cyril asked Murray how much he wanted for it. Murray said 20. Cyril said he'd have it.

Murray said, "Instead of giving me the 20, why don't you come around and paint my house?" Cyril agreed and spent a week doing it. On the last night he told Murray he'd call to the shop in the morning for the vase.

Murray said, "Oh, I sold it for 25, but here's the 20 for painting the house."

That's why I'd call Murray a lovable rogue!
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Postby Guest » 08/13/03 09:47 PM

I knew Murray quite well. If he had a letter of authentication from Chung Ling Soo it is an even bet that he wrote it himself.

He was a great man with much wisdom. He shared many of his philosophies with me many of which I follow to this day.

Here are two that I remember.

"talk about me good, talk about me bad-it doesn't matter as long as you talk about me"
or:-
"If you go through life and never do business with a crook you will never get anything done"

There were many, many more snippets of wisdom like this. The above two are just a sample.
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Postby Guest » 08/16/03 03:42 PM

Quentin's last post seems to have disappeared for some reason.
I was going to relate that in the story he told it should perhaps be mentioned that the second customer was dressed far more expensively than the first. And the price was DOUBLED!!!

Murray was a wonderful man. I think of him often and miss him to this day.

Here were a couple of his views on magic.
"you are not a conjurer unless you can do something with your hands"
"the two most essential thing for a conjurer to
possess is audacity and bluff"

Note that he used the word "conjurer" He never used the word "magician" unless the performer had a large show. He considered anyone else a "conjurer"

He had travelled all over the world.He told me that he performed for the Nazis during the war.
He told me "Hitler and Goering came back stage to visit me. They were standing as near to me as you are now"
He was performing in Germany when war broke out. He had to escape on a bicycle. His large show had to be left behind and he only recovered a small portion of it after the war.
I asked him why he didn't leave Germany sooner. He replied "I though sanity would prevail-but it didn't"
I have so many stories about him. I could go on for ever but I had better control myself otherwise this post could turn out to be a biography.
I will just give a couple. If anyone is interested I will relate a few more.

The stories of him scamming customers in his shop were quite true. However, his best product was free and in fact quite priceless. His great wisdom
was worth thousands of dollars to those who were ready to receive it.
I was always ready to receive it. I always knew a bargain when I saw one.

He would sell second hand props twice the price of the new ones! If anyone questioned this he would say "it's a collector's item"
He used this collector's item line time after time. I remember getting annoyed when I bought a Jerry Andrus book from him. I was quite an Andrus fan and so was very upset to find that about 5 of the pages were blank. He answered my complaint by saying "it's a collector's item!"
I never did get a refund. He could feign deafness with great artistry.

Two young punks entered his shop once with knives and attempted to rob this seemingly harmless 80 year old.
Trying to force Murray to part with money was an undertaking that no man on this earth could possibly succeed with let alone two worthless hooligans.
Murray set about them with a broomstick and they ran out of the shop screaming! He got great play with this the next day in the local paper.

I have so many stories. How the very name of Houdini would send him into a frenzy of irritation. How Reveen charmed him even though Murray started out hating him! I don't suppose even Reveen knows about this. How he told me that had a dream about his old friend Dante visiting him years after he passed away.

Murray knew Malini, Dante, Goldin, and Leipzig personally and told me many stories about them.

He was a great man. Unfortunately the only thing written about him is a very slim and inadeqate biography. In defence of the author I did hear than Murray didn't help him that much with the research and tended to be a bit closed mouth about his life.

Perhaps it is time for a second attempt. I wish I had the time.
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Postby Kent Blackmore » 08/17/03 09:10 PM

Murray certainly has some interesting anecdotes surrounding him. Without making a big issue out of it, Houdini is quoted in March 1910 when he arrived in Sydney, Australia, as saying "If I might be allowed to coin a phrase, I would call myself an escapologist." So I guess you could say that Murray popularised the term, if he didn't actually originate it.

I'm working on a project to extract all the references to magicians out of the "Australian Variety and Show World" magazine which ran from 1913 to around 1932 in Sydney. It's going to end up (eventually!) as a small print run book. Among the many items is this feature article from Murray, who in 1928 was back in Australia temporarily. You might find of interest.

February 29, 1928 Murray, and those Who Knew Him When
"I think it was Rod La Rocque who invented the phrase. For years he had walked around New York from office to office, studio to studio, seeking a job, but encountering that organised system of rebuffs designed to rid the world of garrulous picture actors. More or less desperate, he went to Hollywood. His leap to fame made history, and right on the crest he came home back to New York, where the men who had done their best to break his spirit, still begrudged him his success. La Rocque summed them all up in one phrase: Theyre the guys who knew me when!

Maybe Murray could tell somewhat the same story. He doesnt though. Id say he simply shares the experience of most home-comers, meets the undercurrents, gets on with his show, receives three or four times as much as the knew-him-whens ever will earn and shuts up!

Somehow I like the drama of Murrays return. To the film world he had been, perhaps, nine or ten years ago, an office-kid around at Gfilm House getting 25/- a week. Betcha life, he always was an escapologist, commented one of the old-line executives. Id want him to go somewhere and see him sitting on the bench. Id yell Hey Murray but before my voice had reached him hed got away!

There followed an obscure period of working, learning, developing his act in little shows, of which the show-world itself knew nothing, And maybe there were weeks when the forsaken 25 bob must have looked pretty good. Wonder how Murray felt to come back: to read his name sniped, twenty-four sheeted and flaring in electrics all over town. Wonder how it felt to wander down the street with a fine big contract in his pocket: to find himself just as famous at home as he is in London despite the knew-him-whens. Couldnt that be listed among the thrills that come once in a lifetime?

But wait a moment: I havent introduced Murray properly and wouldnt have been able to, either, but for having seen his full name on a Sydney police summons for stopping traffic with one of his outdoor stunts. He is Leo Norman Maurieu Murray Stewart Carrington-Walters, which is much too big for the billing. With the same aptness by which he tosses off handcuffs, ropes and strait-jackets, he freed himself from six names and stands just as Murray. As Murray they know him through the East, through Egypt, through England and America, and a human interest story runs in the wake of these wanderings.

Opportunity is the first big thing in a performers life, he says, and so I owe more to Walter J. Hutchinson than any other man in the world. You remember him? He was out here some years ago for Fox and is now managing director of Fox in England . I was battling up to Darwin and had stopped off at Thursday Island. On the same ship, although I didnt know it, was Mr. Hutchinson. We drifted into conversation about Alaska. He spoke of the prospects for my act in the East, but I had to admit that I was not going that far. I couldnt tell him why; but I was hoping - hoping hard. The ship would stay at Darwin overnight and I was scheduled for a show ashore. I banked on that for enough money to move on to Java. But it rained and we were working in the open air. Very optimistically I had left my luggage aboard; then in the morning I trudged down to get it.

You arent going to stay in this place? Hutchinson demanded. Then he took me into his cabin and asked me point blank what was wrong. He got the truth. My fare to Java would be ₤39 and all I had was ₤26. He smiled, and offered me a fiver. Would that help? You be it did. That fiver got me into Java and there Mr. Hutchinson found engagements enough to keep me going for awhile. Some months afterwards I reached China and spent most of my money trying to break in without knowing that I couldnt unless I worked through a native agent.

Then it was the same old story, finishing with a chance meeting with Hutchinson, who was handling the Count of Monte Cristo. As an exploitation stunt he engaged me to be manacled, tied up in a bag and thrown into the sea. The thing went over so well that for six months I repeated the stunt wherever the picture played.

Skip a few years and in London again the first man I met was Mr. Hutchinson. But this time I wasnt broke, although perhaps he expected me to be. I wanted to get on to the Stoll circuit; but Mr. Hutchinson had other ideas. I can use you for Fox in a way that will put you on all the front pages in London. After that you can name your own salary to Stoll. And there the cycle of events was complete. The man who helped me at the bottom of the ladder was the man who helped me again at the top. We arranged the idea of strait-jacketing and hanging me head-downwards from a crane a hundred feet in the air. What Fox got out of it was the streamer advertisements, All London looks up to Fox. But I got most the chance!
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Postby johntaylor67 » 08/20/11 11:04 AM

my dad was very good friends with murray as when murray was taken ill and retired to blackpool my dad found him and spent every weekend working in murrays shop and he would teach my dad magic, and when i was born he asked murrays wife (if i can remember was named marion) if murray would be my god-father but she said he most likely wouldnt as he doesnt go to church as he didnt even go to his sons wedding but he said he would and came to the church in kirkham (1967) so i am very very honoured to have murray as my god-father and privilaged to have his book of which he had signed ( to john my god-son from murray)
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Postby Allen Tipton » 04/28/12 07:09 AM

My friend, the late Val Andrews, knew Murray very well & stayed with him.
Val wrote an Biography ( published by Goodliffe Publications)and in it described & explained a number of Murray's routines. Then Val wrote Murray--The Encore.
Can't quote anymore details as both books & many other books Val wrote, are now with my son in Portugal
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Postby JohnCox » 04/28/12 05:44 PM

I loved the Andrews Murray book. Didn't know about his second one. Would like to find that.
Visit my blog Wild About Harry
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Postby Allen Tipton » 05/03/12 01:48 PM

And this week I received a book entitled--'Tug's Tales' by Tug Wilson--recounted by Christopher Brinson.
This from the Arcady Press, www.arcadypress.co.uk
at 15
Tug Wilson, born in Penistone, Yorkshire, UK, in 1930 was an assistant to MURRAY, The Great Lyle, The Great Levante.and recounts his tales of what happened with these Grand Masters of Magic , in tours around the world. Enthralling.
Sadly he died in September 2011, but was delighted to see his book in print.
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Postby adriancraddock » 05/22/14 05:11 AM

Hello,

I'm a journalist from Australia writing an article about Murray and I was wondering if any of you with stories about him could email me on adriancraddock@gmail.com

All the best,

Adrian
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