|The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.|
(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Horace Murphy was born in 1880 to Doctor William Henry Murphy (1854 - 1914) and Mary Elizabeth Duncan (1860 - 1900). Biographies have his birth location as either Dyersburg, Tennessee or Osceola, Arkansas.
That question was resolved in an interview with Murphy published in the May 17, 1941 Blytheville (Arkansas) Courier News. Blytheville, Arkansas is located about 16 miles north of Osceola and the article headline read: "Osceolan Who Left With Wagon Show At 18 Comes Back To Old Home After 43 Years". Murphy visited Osceola, Arkansas after he and his wife finished a personal appearance tour with Gene Autry. He confirmed Dyersburg, Tennessee as his birth location. At around eight years of age, he moved to Osceola with his doctor father whose practice was in Osceola and nearby Luxora. In Osceola, Horace lived with his aunt Nannie Rochelle (his father's sister). The article also noted that "Mr. Murphy has three grown children, a son who is instuctor in radio engineering in the U. S. Navy, and two married daughters."
He spent his child and teen years in carnivals and medicine shows, and work included playing a cornet, performing as a clown, leading the band, and driving tent stakes. Then came a couple years on Mississippi River showboats followed by traveling shows and stock theater.
Around 1910, he formed "Murphy's Comedians", a traveling repertory company doing comedy and dramatic plays at theaters and under a tent. Horace was owner, star, director and producer.
Additional "Murphy's Comedians" troupes were added as their popularity and name recognition grew. Trades and newspapers indicate there were five units in operation and each had its own manager along with several dozen actors, musicians, etc. The troupes operated in the 1910s - 1920s doing stock at theaters or under canvas, and engagements ran a week or many weeks in duration.
Martha Emily Gibbs (1888 - 1987; nicknamed 'Mattie') and her sister Myrtle, billed as the "Gibbs Sisters", were veteran stage performers. Horace and Mattie married circa 1906 - 1907 and divorced sometime in the late 1920s. Then he tied the knot with actress Marguerite L. Cushway (1899 - 1980; nicknamed 'Peggy') and they were together through his passing in 1975. Peggy - and her younger sister Adelaide Cushway - performed with the Comedians.
Horace's name begins to appear in Billboard and New York Clipper tradepapers in the early 1900s, and following are a few highlights of dates and jobs ... and the deaths of a son in 1905 and a daughter in 1913:
1905 - Murphy is bandmaster for the C. W. Parker Amusement company which was headquartered in Abilene, Kansas. Horace is looking for musicians ... and a show boat to buy. Ad from the March 18, 1905 New York Clipper tradepaper. The C. W. Parker company was a huge show and were in Dubuque, Iowa in August, 1905. Local newspapers noted that the company arrived via 31 railroad cars and Murphy was the band leader.
1912 - Horace is in New York City, and looking for actors, actresses, and musicians to fill jobs on several tent shows. Note the mention of his groups in New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. Ad from the September 21, 1912 New York Clipper.
1913 - Horace is looking for people to fill vacancies in "Murphy's Comedians" unit No. 2 in Commerce, Texas.
1931 in South Pasadena, California ... and Horace is still performing under canvas.
"The fifth tent theater under the Murphy banner, threw its doors open to the public at Covington, Tenn., Tuesday evening, May 5 (1914) ..."
"... carries a full band and orchestra of twelve pieces."
"... the tent, measuring 70 by 150 feet, with seating accomodations for nearly two thousand people, and a stage 21 by 32 feet, was taken down, hauled half a mile and loaded ready to move in a trifle over two hours."
Appears that Horace and Mattie grew weary of the travel and living out of a suitcase. By 1915ish, they settled in the Los Angeles area and devoted their time to "Murphy's Comedians" in California, Arizona, and Texas. His California contingent fielded a baseball team and played charity games. Horace also dabbled a bit in theater ownership - for example, in 1916, he (briefly) leased the Bakersfield, California Opera House and produced several plays.
By the mid to late 1920s, Horace's life and business got a bit more chaotic. Theaters were converting to talking pictures and vaudeville was fading away. Several groups were unhappy with competition from tent shows and pressure was being applied by Actors Equity, movie companies, and the Motion Picture Theatre Owners Association. Also involved in the political and legal squabbles were local government entities that controlled licenses / permits for entertainment venues such as tent shows, carnivals and circuses. A few examples:
He labored on for a few more years doing plays in California, sometimes in theaters and sometimes under canvas. Circa 1935, the final curtain came down on his "Murphy's Comedians". Horace was about fifty five years old.
Having resided in California for years - and with all his stage experience - Murphy made a career change to movie actor.
He appeared mostly in B westerns and was often cast as a long-winded and pompous judge, lawman, townsman, storekeeper, etc. He appeared in 15 Tex Ritter adventures which were released in 1937 - 1939 by Grand National and Monogram. In about half of those Ritters, Horace portrayed blustery saddle pals named 'Stubby' (3 films) or 'Ananias' (5 films). Murphy also did many with Bob Steele (20 films) and Johnny Mack Brown (14 westerns and 2 serials).
Les Adams has him identified in about 120 sound films - that number includes 95 westerns and 2 serials. His film credits at Republic Pictures numbers about 40 during the period from 1936 - 1946, and all are westerns. However, about half of those were A. W. Hackel / Supreme oaters with Steele and Brown which were released under the Republic logo soon after the formation of Republic Pictures. Murphy's last movie job was circa 1946.
He had a rather unique voice and the next phase of his career was radio. Gene Autry's Melody Ranch program began its long run in late December, 1939, and during the initial three years, Murphy played 'Shorty Long'. In the mid 1940s, he became 'Buckskin Blodgett' on the Red Ryder radio shows. He also played sidekick 'Clackety' on the Roy Rogers radio program - not sure how long he was on Roy's show but I do have a 1951 episode with Horace.
As mentioned earlier, Murphy's film work ended around 1946 when he was in his mid sixties. Many of the radio shows that I have with Horace run from the 1940s into the 1950s. The Radio Gold Index (link below) also shows Murphy in programs during that period. Good probability that he found radio work safer, easier, more consistent, or better paying than films ... and so he quit one medium and specialized in the other.
There's an interview with Murphy - highlighting his 'Buckskin Blodgett' role in the Red Ryder radio show - in the February 24, 1946 Radio Life magazine (available at americanradiohistory.com). Brief summary:
He was born in Osceola, Arkansas (which doesn't jive with many other records which have him born in Tennessee but raised in Osceola). At age eleven, he was playing cornet, and at seventeen, he became band leader of the Newton Family Wagon Show. Then he was band leader of the C. W. Parker Carnival Company of Abilene, Kansas. Then band leader with Dr. Rucker's Korak Wonder Medicine Show out of Dallas, Texas. His next job was on Captain Price's 'Water Queen', a Mississippi River showboat. Then he bought a half interest in Captain Emerson's 'Cotton Blossom' showboat and was there for a couple years before establishing his 'Murphy's Comedians' traveling tent show. There's brief mention of his work in the Tex Ritter films (which he "didn't much care for"). He spent three years as 'Shorty Long' on the Gene Autry radio show. And when Autry went into World War II service, Horace moved to the Red Ryder program.
In addition to films, the Internet Movie Database has him in an Abbott and Costello television show. I can confirm that a very old Horace Murphy plays a cantankerous farmer in the 1954 Abbott and Costello episode titled "Car Trouble".
As to Horace's personal and family life, there were five children. Nineteen month old daughter Pauline passed away on January 31, 1905 and newborn son Bill died May 25, 1913. Family trees on Ancestry.com and other records identify the other three as daughter Edmonda 'Diane' Violet Murphy (1910 - 1993), daughter Patricia Lorraine 'Patty' Murphy (1918 - 2010), and son Gerald Horace Murphy (1920 - 1976). And there is a question regarding an actress named "Alice Murphy" and whether she was his Horace's first wife and mother of Pauline who passed in 1905 - more in the info boxes below.
94 year old Horace Murphy passed away at nursing home in North Hollywood, California on January 20, 1975.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Horace Murphy: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0614303/
The IMDb has a People Working Together search function:
Murphy did 15 oaters with Tex Ritter in 1937 - 1939: https://www.imdb.com/search/title?roles=nm0614303,nm0728811
Murphy did 20 films with Bob Steele in 1937 - 1941: https://www.imdb.com/search/title?roles=nm0614303,nm0824496
Murphy did 14 westerns and 2 serials with Johnny Mack Brown during 1935 - 1939: https://www.imdb.com/search/title?roles=nm0614303,nm0113902
J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website has a listing of over two dozen 1943 - 1953 programs in which Horace Murphy appeared (such as Lux Radio Theater, Granby's Green Acres, Red Ryder, Roy Rogers, more). When you get to the site, click "Start Here", then select "Search By Artist", then select M, then scroll down the listing for Horace Murphy radio credits: http://radiogoldindex.com/
The official Gene Autry website has a circa 1940 photo of Gene with Horace Murphy from the Melody Ranch radio program: https://www.geneautry.com/news/2007/pc_biography.html
Getty Images has a photo of Sergeant Gene Autry and Horace Murphy doing a 1943 broadcast of the "The Sergeant Gene Autry Show" over CBS: https://www.gettyimages.ae/detail/news-photo/the-sergeant-gene-autry-show-a-cbs-radio-western-music-and-news-photo/1064092376
"Murphy's Comedians" did field a baseball team. Here's a 1916 article about "Murphy's Comedians" besting Izzy's Bakersfield Tigers 6-2 in a game in Bakersfield, California. Looks like Horace Murphy played center field (with three at bats, struck out twice, no hits, no runs): http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=RZY_AAAAIBAJ&sjid=9lUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4020,5057206&dq=murphy%27s-comedians&hl=en
The American Radio History website has that February 24, 1946 Radio Life magazine with the Murphy bio and interview. The following link will take you to the Radio Life magazine page. Scroll your way down to 1946, then click on February 24, and download in pdf format: https://www.americanradiohistory.com/Radio_Life_Guide.htm
On the trail of Horace Murphy
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), California Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), newspapers, trades, and other sources provide more on Horace Murphy and family.
Horace's birth location - probably Dyersburg, Tennessee:
There's several variations on his birth location - records and interviews mention:
Horace Murphy and family:
As noted above, the Circus Historical Society covered Murphy's passing in their February 10, 1975 Circus Report: "HORACE MURPHY (93) of the Murphy's Comedians, a dramatic tent show on the west coast, died at a nursing home in North Hollywood (Cal.) on Jan. 20th (1975). His wife, Peggy, survives."
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has photos of the grave markers for Horace and wife Marguerite L. Cushway who are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park - Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California:
The January 21, 1974 issue of Circus Report has a photo of Mattie Gibbs, sister Myrtle Gibbs, and other ladies with the Cole, Younger and Nichols Show at Mount Pleasant, Texas in 1906. You can download that Circus Report (in pdf format) from: http://www.classic.circushistory.org/Publications/CircusReport21Jan1974.pdf
Martha Emily Gibbs (1888 - 1987; nicknamed 'Mattie'):
1930 census data indicates that Horace and Mattie married in 1906-1907. And she was divorced and living with her three children and her mother at the time of the 1930 census.
Marguerite L. Cushway (1899 - 1980; nicknamed 'Peggy'):
Deaths of two young children, 19 month old Pauline in 1905 and 6 month old son Bill in 1913:
19 month old daughter Pauline:
A bit of speculation here - Horace's wife Martha Emily 'Mattie' Gibbs was born about 1888, and the 1930 census indicates that she and Horace married circa 1906 - 1907, a year or two after the death of daughter Pauline. In 1905, an actress named Alice Murphy was with Horace and the Melville Dramatic Company. Was she Murphy's first wife and the mother of Pauline?
6 month old son Bill:
(From Old Corral collection)
Left to right are Lois January, Horace Murphy, and Johnny Mack Brown in ROGUE OF THE RANGE (A. W. Hackel/Supreme, 1936).
(Courtesy of Tom Bupp)
Seated from left to right are youngster Tommy Bupp, Marjorie Reynolds and Tex Ritter, and in the background are Tex's sidekicks, the moustached Snub Pollard and Horace Murphy. From TEX RIDES WITH THE BOY SCOUTS (Grand National, 1937), and this scene occurs at the finale.
(From Old Corral collection)
Above - a young and slim Johnny Mack Brown pays attention to veteran supporting player Steve Clark, who is making a point with his finger. Between Brown and Clark is juvenile actor Bobby Nelson. And over JMB's right shoulder is veteran Horace Murphy. Scene from BOOTHILL BRIGADE (A. W. Hackel/Republic, 1937).
(From Old Corral collection)
Before his days with Arkansas 'Slim' Andrews at Monogram, Tex Ritter's most frequent screen pal was Horace Murphy (above right) who portrayed characters named 'Stubby' or 'Ananias'. On the left is silent clown Snub Pollard, who was also a helper to Tex, and went by the moniker of 'Pee Wee'. This is from ROLLIN' PLAINS (Grand National, 1938).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above - Charlie King (as 'Henchman Badger') and Tex Ritter go at it in the saloon brawl from UTAH TRAIL (Grand National, 1938). In the upper right are Ritter's helpers, Horace Murphy (tall hat) and Snub Pollard (handlebar moustache). Sandwiched between Murphy and Pollard is George Morrell, and wearing the dark suit jacket and hat in the photo center is Fred Parker. Behind Charlie King's head is Bud Pope and on the left is Denver Dixon/Victor Adamson (white hat) and Herman Hack (dark hat).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
L-to-R are Snub Pollard, Tex Ritter, and Horace Murphy in Ritter's FRONTIER TOWN (Grand National, 1938).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Above is the title lobby card for PAROLED - TO DIE (A. W. Hackel/Republic, 1938). In the bottom right circular inset are Steele and heroine Kathleen Eliot. Karl Hackett is wearing the black suit. Steve Clark is between Steele and Hackett. And Horace Murphy is on the far right.