Remembering Don Murray

Don Murray (94), an actor, director, and producer, and a former Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker, died Feb. 2 at his home near Santa Barbara, Calif. He served in BVS from 1953 to 1955, during which time he joined the Church of the Brethren.

Murray was born in Hollywood, Calif., on July 31, 1929, and grew up on Long Island, N.Y. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. His first big role was on Broadway in 1951. As his career progressed, he appeared in a wide variety of movies, from Bus Stop to Escape From East Berlin to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, among many others. His television credits included roles on Knots Landing and The Outcasts. His directing credits included The Cross and the Switchblade starring Erik Estrada and Pat Boone.

An obituary in the Washington Post described Murray as an actor who rebelled against typecasting: “He was an earnest, introspective performer who pursued a wide range of roles. He was also, at various times, a writer, director, and producer of movies imbued with social messages—the immorality of capital punishment or the power of faith, among other themes.”

Just a few years before he was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor in his film debut, 1956’s Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe, Murray served in post-war Europe with BVS. He had been drafted during the Korean War and chose BVS for his alternative service, after declaring he was a conscientious objector. The Washington Post said that “he spent two years under investigation by the FBI before a prosecutor decided that the actor’s antiwar beliefs were sincere.”

In BVS, Murray served in Germany and Italy. He was inspired to organize the Homeless European Land Program (HELP), a project that built homes and established businesses for refugee families. HELP became one of the most effective refugee integration projects and was recognized by the United Nations, credited with reducing by almost 10,000 the number of “hard core refugees behind barbed wire” in Italy.

Murray was consistent in citing BVS as a key influence, and he joined the church while in BVS. According to autobiographical writings filed at the Church of the Brethren General Offices, he credited the growth of his Christian faith to his friend, the late minister, author, and peace activist Dale Aukerman, with whom he served in BVS, and to Brethren minister and Olympic athlete Bob Richards, who was a leader for his BVS unit. Murray was baptized by minister Jake Dick in the Fulda River in Kassel, Germany, in 1955.

He continued to relate to the church in a variety of ways over the decades. Most recently, for example, he gave an interview to Bill Kostlevy, former director the Brethren Historical Library and Archives, which featured in the January/February 2019 Messenger, focused on how Murray helped influence the start of the Peace Corps. In October 1998, Murray shared that story at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of BVS, held in New Windsor, Md. Later that day, he attended love feast at Westminster (Md.) Church of the Brethren and joined in the feetwashing service.

In addition to his wife, Elizabeth, he is survived by two children from his first marriage with the actress Hope Lange, Christopher and Patricia; three children from his second marriage, Colleen, Sean, and Michael; and grandchildren.


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