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Comic and TV Host Jan Murray


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Comic and TV Host Jan Murray

by Sandy Cohen, AP Entertainment Writer

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Jan Murray . . . yesterday and today

LOS ANGELES, California -- 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 appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, died Sunday, July 2 at his home in Beverly Hills, son Howard Murray said in a telephone interview.

"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."

Born Murray Janofsky on October 4, 1916, in New York, Murray honed his craft by watching vaudeville shows and performing at Catskills resorts that catered to the crowds of 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.

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Jan Murray (far left) takes the stage in 1948 with fellow legendary entertainers

(L-R) Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

"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. "Theres 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 to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

Among the movies he appeared in were "The Busy Body," "Who Killed Teddy Bear" and, in a small role, Brooks' "History of the World Part I." 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."

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Jan Murray

Murray's Jewish faith was central to his life. On high holidays, he attended services at not one but three temples. He performed in Israel to raise funds for Hebrew University. And he was fabled for his Passover Seder, where his regular guests over two nights included Sid Caesar, George Burns, Buddy Hackett, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason.

"I led a serious Seder. Then, after dinner," he told the Jewish Journal, "we'd tummel until 3, 4 in the morning." Murray balanced his work with a rich family life, his son, Howard said. "He was a person who fully loved his life and wanted to continue as long as he could," his son said.

Murray performed comedy into his 80s. "You get exhausted when you're 80," he told the Jewish Journal. "Until I was 80, I wasn't exhausted. There's no medicine like being onstage hearing people laugh." He quit performing at 83, when his worsening asthma threw off his timing.

In addition to son Howard of Los Angeles, Murray is survived by his second wife, Toni; son Warren of Los Angeles; two daughters, Diane of Los Angeles and Celia of Apple Valley; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at noon on Thursday, July 6 at Hillside Memorial Park.

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