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Joyce Murray

An elegant, unfailingly pleasant woman, Joyce Murray, lived a long and full life, some of which Joyce, who passed away last week, shared with Steve Sparks and the readers of this newspaper in 2009. In her memory, we reprint it here.

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Last Friday morning, I drove a couple of miles out of Boonville up Mountain View Road and then along a dirt road a further mile before arriving at the home of Joyce and Ross Murray deep in the redwoods on 40 heavily wooded acres. Joyce immediately offered me coffee and we sat down to chat at a lovely old dining table.

She was born, Joyce DeYoung, in 1926 in Beaver, Pennsylvania to a mother of German descent and a father who had come to the United States as a small boy from the Netherlands. Her parents both worked for the Kohler Company (of bathroom fittings fame) and her father’s skills as a factory manager were in great demand so as a small child the family moved a couple of times before settling in Baltimore, Maryland by which time two younger brothers had arrived — Jim and David. She attended Eastern High School in the Baltimore suburbs, an all-girls public school that had been founded in 1844. “In those days even in public schools the boys and girls were often educated separately as they might do who knows what! I received a good education and enjoyed school — there were no boys there to distract you or to throw spitballs etc. at you. I am still in touch with some of the girls from those days.”

From an early age music played a big part in Joyce’s life. Not only was she in the school Glee Club but her family was very musical too. Her father sang and directed choirs while her Mother “played the piano beautifully,” often being asked to accompany the talented singers in town. “There was always music and singing in our house. As a teenager, music, and particularly that by Frank Sinatra, was all I was interested in. It was the days of the Big Bands and Frank sang with the Tommy Dorsey Band — they were my favorites. On one occasion they played in Baltimore and I waited at the stage door with many other teenage girls when Frank and Buddy Rich the drummer appeared at a window above us. They came out and talked to us and I asked him if the rumors were true about him leaving the orchestra — I don’t know how I had the nerve! He smiled and said, ‘Well you never know — maybe I should try it out on my own.’ I wonder what ever happened to him!?”

“The war was going on, money was short, and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college so when I graduated high school in 1944 I used the skills I had learned in typing and shorthand classes and went to work as a secretary for the Gates Rubber Company that made hoses, etc. Meanwhile, in my leisure time I joined an all-female concert group — The Phoenix Choir. The Director was Marie Meurer who became my friend and gave me voice lessons. A couple of years later when she went on a week’s course at the Fred Waring Music Workshop at a retreat in the Pocono Mountains she asked me to go with her.”

In the early 50s Fred Waring had a live television show on CBS every Sunday night at 9pm that featured a Glee Club and Orchestra and at the end of the week of classes and tuition he asked Joyce to come to New York for an audition. “I didn’t think he was serious and returned to Baltimore. Then a week or so later my mother called me at work and said that the Fred Waring Show had phoned and wanted me to go to New York and audition. I caught a train, had a great audition and got a job with Fred’s Glee Club. I was twenty-four years old, obsessed with singing and a deep love of music, and so this was a miracle to me. I was very, very lucky.” Joyce appeared on the show virtually every week for the next four years, accompanying many television stars of the day.

“Fred was very particular, everything had to be very precise. The Glee Club had a beautiful sound and as Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians we made many albums and toured all over the country in between seasons on television. Mostly we were on a bus but to get to California we had a private plane and we performed in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.”

The show was cancelled in 1954 but not before they had performed at the Presidential Inauguration Ball for President Eisenhower in 1952, an act they were to repeat at the beginning of the President’s second term in 1956, when she was called back to rejoin the group specially for the event (she had left the Club when the show had been cancelled). “Once the show was taken off the air — as all shows are eventually — I realized that staying with Fred would mean endless tours and I didn’t want to be on a bus for the rest of my singing career. It could be very tiring and so I left.”

She spent a year or so appearing in choruses on various live TV shows produced by Max Liebman and then joined a female singing group called the De Marco Sisters — “three very highly strung Italian sisters and me with a dark rinse in my hair — a Dutch girl trying to look Italian.” The sisters were constantly bickering so Joyce moved on after about twelve months.

In early 1957, she joined the Ray Charles Singers (“not that Ray Charles — he came later”) and they were signed to be the regular singing group on the Perry Como Show. It was a very popular show and she appeared live on Saturday night television for three years. “He was a very nice man and had such a beautiful voice. I’d admired him for so long, even though Frank was my favorite, and there I was standing right next to him!” The show was of the variety-type very popular at that time with singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, acrobats, opera singers, all kinds of entertainers, but when new sponsors took over in late 1959 they wanted a new look and all the singers were let go. “It was all about ratings. If the heads of the studio saw the numbers going down they would insist on drastic changes or simply cancel the show.”

As happens so often in the entertainment business apparently, job opportunity rumors were constantly making the rounds and Joyce heard through the grapevine that The Garry Moore Show was looking for singers. She made a phone call and got a job. She was to appear on that program from 1959 to 1964 and sang with many stars of the period such as Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, and Robert Goulet, and appeared in musical sketches with the likes of the legendary Jack Benny and a young Bob Newhart. “What a marvelous time we had — it was a very sad day when the show was cancelled.”

During Joyce’s 15 years in New York City she had a wonderful time. “I loved New York at that time — everything was there.” She had many suitors and had boyfriends but singing remained her first love and she remained the single career girl. “When not at work on the weekly show, as a freelance singer I would often receive calls from various artist’s agents to ask if I could be at such-and-such a studio, say Colombia Records, from 7pm to 10pm to record a record. That is how I am on the Ray Charles recording of “Georgia On My Mind,” Frankie Avalon’s “Venus,” and many of Perry Como’s recordings of the 60s.

“In show business so often it’s all about timing. I had been out of work, sort of, for nearly a year when a friend told me that singers were needed for The Danny Kaye Show that was based in Los Angeles. Television was moving its business out west and there was not much work in New York so I thought it over for a few days before packing my bags, including sheets and silverware for some reason, and off I went to California. It was 1965 and I’ve been here ever since.”

She toured with Danny Kaye and over the next few years appeared in the singing and dancing choruses on several television programs such as The Dinah Shore Show, The Jim Neighbors Show, The Henry Mancini Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Joey Bishop Show, and in the singing group, The Skylarks, on The Jerry Lewis Show — “talk about a crazy guy!”

Then came another call. Wally Weschler, husband of Patty Andrews, youngest of The Andrews Sisters, wondered if she could come to their house and sing with Patty and sister Maxine. Joyce had met the sisters in Tahoe when she had been on tour with Jim Neighbors and also once when they had appeared on the Perry Como Show. “Apparently I sounded like the other sister, Laverne, who wasn’t there. It was strange. Nothing was said about her absence. Nobody knew she was ill at the time with cancer. They wanted it to be kept quiet. Shortly after we went to Laverne’s house and she appeared as we sat in the living room. I knew she was dying as soon as I saw her — my father died of cancer and I just knew. I was confused. Real fans of the Andrews Sisters would know I wasn’t Laverne but I went along with it and for the next couple of years I made appearances at many clubs and venues as the third member of the group. I just did my job, sang their songs, although I never recorded any records with them. I was in the group for two years and the highlight was probably when we appeared in Copenhagen, Denmark at the famous Tivoli Gardens — a beautiful place.”

By 1968 rock and roll was clearly here to stay and the style of music Joyce was interested in singing was no longer popular. She had remained friends with one of the singers from the Glee Club, Bob Wright, from her days on the Fred Waring Show in the early fifties and he was now the Associate Producer of the Carol Burnett Show. He needed an assistant and so she accepted his offer of work at CBS. “Nothing was happening in my singing world. I had to pay the rent and I wasn’t going to sing rock and roll, although even then I occasionally was asked to sing in the chorus on the show for any of its pre-recorded parts. I knew many of the people on that show from our days together on The Garry Moore Show and we all got along very well — Carol, the shows producer Joe Hamilton who was Carol’s husband, Harvey Korman, Vicky Lawrence, and of course. Tim Conway. Those were wonderful times.”

On October 3rd, 1971, while she was in her office in Studio 33 at CBS Television City in Hollywood, a dashing and handsome man introduced himself. He was doing the sound on the show, as he did on many CBS shows of the time, and she was quite taken by him. He was equally taken with her, so much so that in 1973, in Van Nuys, California they were married — the fellow’s name was Ross Murray and they’ve been happily together ever since. Certainly unusual at the time was the fact that she did not want to move in with him. She wanted to stay at the house she had bought in Sherman Oaks and asked Ross to leave his place in Marina Del Ray and move into her house. “I told him I’d never been married before and would feel far more comfortable if he came to my house. He agreed and it worked out very well.”

They worked on the Burnett show for a few years until the late 70s but knew they didn’t want to live in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles when they retired. They both wanted to live in the countryside somewhere. A friend of Ross had bought property in Elk and invited them up to look at the area. “When we had time off from the show we came up here and fell in love with the area. We were just gaga with the area’s beauty. Mike Shapiro showed us four or five properties including this one. In 1979 we bought this forty acres, although we only really wanted a couple, and moved up in 1980, living in the garage as the house that Ross had designed was being built. Bill and Nancy Charles were our neighbors and they were very welcoming; very kind and helpful.”

Over the next few years they got to know many Valley people, thanks in part to Joyce joining the Independent Career Women (ICW) and Ross becoming a member of the Chamber of Commerce. “I love the calmness and scenery of the Valley. The people are so nice too. There’s nothing I don’t like about our life here. We go to many of the Valley’s community events and particularly like the Variety Show — as you might expect.”

I then asked Joyce for her responses to various key topics of conversation in the Valley.

The Wineries? “Well, we love having them here and we take our friends out on wine tours when they visit. To have Diane Feinstein mention Anderson Valley wines at the Inauguration the other day was quite something.”

The local public radio station, KZYX? “I’m all for it as my husband has his five minute show on the air every Wednesday. I think the station does a good job.”

The AVA? “It’s difficult to comment as we no longer subscribe to it and haven’t done so for years. We used to always get it but it became meaner and meaner. I hear that it’s changed for the better so perhaps we’ll start getting it once again.”

The modernization of the Valley? “I don’t think it’s bad at this point but I hope it doesn’t change too much. I want it to stay as rural as possible.”

I then asked Joyce whom she would vote for as Mayor of the Valley if such a position were to exist. “Well, perhaps Kirk Wilder would be a good choice. He’s smart and knows his way around.”

And if you were Mayor, Joyce? “I wouldn’t want to have such a position; too much responsibility at my time of life.”

To end the interview, I posed the usual few questions to Joyce from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert,” Bernard Pivot, featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”

Favorite word or phrase? “Be happy.”

Least favorite word or phrase? “Drop dead.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Beautiful music — anything from Sinatra to Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto — all kinds of music inspire me.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Nasty people speaking ill of others.”

Sound or noise you love? “Choral singing.”

Sound or noise you hate? “A jackhammer pounding — something we heard a lot in Los Angeles it seemed.”

Favorite curse word or phrase? “I don’t curse”

Favorite hobby? “I love to read all sorts of things. Read, read, read. It’s strange perhaps but one thing I love to read are cookery books and to study recipes.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted? “To work at an art gallery. To be the person that displays the art and tells people about it.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “Accountant.”

Words to live by? “I suppose it would be to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Hello, Joyce. Welcome.”

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