Murray, James Patrick ("Jim")

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MURRAY, James Patrick ("Jim")

(b. 29 December 1919 in Hartford, Connecticut; d. 16 August 1998 in Los Angeles, California), Los Angeles Times columnist, founding staff member of Sports Illustrated, and Pulitzer Prize winner who is considered to have been one of the best sportswriters in American journalism.

Born into a prosperous family, Murray's young life was marked by two tumultuous events: the onset of the Great Depression and the rancorous divorce of his parents, James Murray and Molly O'Connell Murray. Although Murray's father had at one time owned a chain of drugstores, his business crashed along with the stock market in 1929. The Murray's marriage was in similar disarray, and their son was sent to live with his grandmother, who eventually obtained permanent custody. Murray and his sister were reunited when Murray's mother was forced to move back in with her own parents due to financial difficulties. Murray graduated from William H. Hall High School in 1938. Fortunately the family finances were sound enough for him to attend exclusive Trinity College in Hartford, where he gained a professional writing job with the Hartford Times as a campus correspondent in 1943, the year in which he completed his B.A.

After covering police and government stories for the New Haven Register for a year, Murray moved to the West Coast in 1944 to take a job as a reporter with the Los Angeles Examiner. Forever after, he was a true Californian, scorning the bad weather and provincialism of heartland America—an attitude that often caused an avalanche of letters to his editors protesting his not-so-gentle gibes.

Murray married Geraldine Brown in 1945. Their family soon included three sons and a daughter; eventually, they moved to the exclusive enclave of Malibu. Murray took a job as Time magazine's Los Angeles contributor in 1948, usually covering the movie industry. His down-to-earth sensibility gained him the friendship of several important show business figures. One archetypal story had Murray squiring Marilyn Monroe about town one evening during the early days of her romance with Joe DiMaggio. When Monroe asked shyly if Murray minded if DiMaggio escorted her home, Murray could only marvel at his good fortune in finally meeting the legendary Yankee, not bothering to notice his loss of the world's biggest movie star as a companion. Murray also befriended Humphrey Bogart and was a favorite drinking companion of the star during his final battle with lung cancer.

Although Murray's entertainment industry reporting first brought him notice as a sharp-eyed writer with a gift for epigrams—often directed at overinflated egos—his longtime love of sports got him drafted for Time 's effort to start a new national sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, in July 1953. Although Murray was hired as a reporter, the magazine's staff was so disorganized that Murray became a de facto assignment editor in its early days, sending reporters out on stories and handling many of the other details of the inaugural issue. He served as West Coast editor from 1959 to 1961. Although his initial recommendation to call the magazine Fame was a rare misstep, Murray's contributions made Sports Illustrated an outstanding success by the time of his departure in 1961. His coverage of the 1956 Rose Bowl set the tone for the magazine by presenting in-depth portraits of the coaches and teams, not just the details of the game itself. Although this kind of reporting is standard practice among contemporary sports journalists, it was an innovation that gained Sports Illustrated a reputation as the leading magazine in its field. Murray's achievements also brought an offer from the Los Angeles Times to join the paper as a columnist in 1961. He remained at the Times for the rest of his career, earning dozens of national awards in the process.

Intending to become a novelist or screenwriter, Murray insisted that becoming a sportswriter was the last thing on his mind when he began his career; indeed, the newspaper work that he did in Connecticut and Los Angeles helped broaden his frame of reference as a sports journalist. So too did his Connecticut youth as a fan of both Boston-and New York–based teams. Although he occasionally devoted column inches to his personal life—detailing his losing battle with failing eyesight in the late 1970s, for example—Murray's talent lay in creating insightful portraits of athletes that assured them their rightful place in sports history. He was no less capable in describing pivotal moments in sporting events with an economy of phrase that earned him honors as America's Best Sports Writer by the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters for the first time in 1964; he received the award a total of fourteen times. Inducted into the association's Hall of Fame in 1977, Murray was also honored with an inclusion in the Writers' Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1990 Murray was only the fourth sportswriter honored with a Pulitzer Prize for his body of work.

Murray was a prolific journalist well past the typical retirement age, taking comfort in his work to cope with a succession of challenges that beset him in the 1990s. Although a series of operations restored some of his eyesight, Murray endured a number of heart operations as well. However, the loss of his wife in 1984 and the death of his son from a drug and alcohol overdose in 1982 were harder to overcome. In 1996 Murray married a longtime family friend Lisa McCoy, and he continued to turn out columns on everything from horse racing to boxing to his own favorite pastime, golf. Stricken by cardiac arrest on the morning of 16 August 1998 in his Los Angeles home, Murray left behind a wife, a daughter, two sons, and a stepson in addition to three grandchildren.

Those who were stung by Murray's criticism sometimes indicted him as a booster of Southern California at the expense of the rest of the country; however, Murray's work—gibes and all—was acknowledged as the best sports commentary of his generation time and again by his colleagues. At his death, lengthy tributes appeared in several industry journals, and the Los Angeles Times posthumously published two volumes of his collected works.

Murray provided an overview of his life in Jim Murray: An Autobiography of the Pulitzer Prize–Winning Sports Columnist (1993), and published several collections of his work, including The Best of Jim Murray (1965), The Sporting World of Jim Murray (1963), and The Jim Murray Collection (1988). Another view of Murray's early career is recounted in Michael MacCambridge, The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine (1997). After his death, the Los Angeles Times published his collected works in Jim Murray: The Last of the Best (1998), and The Great Ones (1999). Murray's colleagues produced numerous tributes to the writer upon his passing, including notices in the Los Angeles Times (18 Aug. 1998); American Journalism Review (Oct. 1998); Sports Illustrated (24 Aug. 1998); and Editor and Publisher (22 Aug. 1998). An obituary is in the Los Angeles Times (18 Aug. 1998).

Timothy Borden

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Murray, James Patrick ("Jim")

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