Dudley Murphy (July 10, 1897 – February 22, 1968) was an American
film director. Murphy was born on July 10, 1897 in Winchester,
Massachusetts, to the artists Caroline Hutchinson (Bowles) Murphy
(1868-1923) and Hermann
Dudley Murphy (1867-1945, and whom his son was
named for), both accomplished Modernist landscape painters. After
first finding work as a journalist,
Dudley Murphy began making films
in the early 1920s.
The Soul of the Cypress 1921 Full film
In his first short film, Soul of the Cypress (1921), a variation on
Orpheus myth, the film's protagonist falls in love with a dryad (a
wood nymph whose soul dwells in an ancient tree) and throws himself
into the sea to become immortal and spend eternity with her. Murphy's
then-wife Chase Harringdine played the dryad. Murphy followed this
with Danse Macabre (1922) featuring Adolph Bolm, Olin Howland, and
Ruth Page. Both of these early films are in the DVD collection Unseen
Cinema issued in October 2005 (see link below).
Murphy's eighth film, Ballet mécanique, which he co-directed with the
French artist Fernand Léger, premiered on 24 September 1924 at the
Internationale Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik (International
Exposition for New Theater Technique) in Vienna. Considered one of the
masterpieces of early experimental filmmaking,
Ballet mécanique also
included creative input from
Man Ray and Ezra Pound, and was presented
at the exposition by Frederick Kiesler. The film was scheduled to be
screened with George Antheil's masterpiece of the same name. However,
the music ran close to 30 minutes, while the film was 17 minutes long.
In 2000, Paul Lehrman produced a married print of the film.
In her book Dudley Murphy: Hollywood Wild Card, film historian Susan
Delson argues persuasively that Murphy was the film's driving force
but that Léger was more successful at promoting the film as his own
creation. Ballet mécanique, with the
George Antheil music originally
written for the film, was included in the DVD collection Unseen Cinema
released in October 2005.
In addition to Ballet mécanique, Murphy is best remembered for St.
Louis Blues (1929) with
Bessie Smith and Jimmy Mordecai, Black and Tan
Fantasy (1929) with
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, Confessions of a
The Sport Parade (1932) with Joel McCrea, and The
Emperor Jones (1933), starring Paul Robeson.
In 1932, Murphy helped introduce the Mexican artist David Alfaro
Siqueiros to prominent people in the Los Angeles community. To show
his gratitude, Siqueiros painted a mural on a wall in Murphy's Pacific
Palisades home. The only intact mural by Siqueiros in the United
States, Portrait of
Mexico Today was donated anonymously to the Santa
Barbara Museum of Art in 1999.
From the late 1940s through the 1960s Murphy and his fourth wife,
Virginia, owned and operated Holiday House, an exclusive Malibu hotel
Richard Neutra and favored by the Hollywood elite.
^ The Film Encyclopedia, First Edition, Thomas Y. Crowell, Pub., 1979
^ Paul Lehrman's website devoted to the film and music Ballet
James Donald, "Jazz
Modernism and Film Art:
Dudley Murphy and Ballet
Modernism/modernity 16:1 (January 2009), pages 25–49
Dudley Murphy on IMDb
Dudley Murphy biography by Susan Delson
Unseen Cinema official website
Dudley Murphy kneeling down behind Peggy Wood
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