Fortunately 1961 also brought the actor his biggest hit since Bus Stop. He was the idealistic junior Senator who ends up paying the ultimate price for dirty Beltway politics (committing suicide when blackmailed over a past gay fling) in Otto Preminger's all-star Advise & Consent. Yet apart from 1965 Steve McQueen vehicle Baby the Rain Must Fall (from which much of his part was cut), he didn't appear in another major release until 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes — in which his monkey-hating mayor provided a cartoonish metaphor for the actor's passionate interest in racial equality.
Between routine B movie and television assignments, several projects reflected that personal crusade. Crudely made but interesting 1967 indie Sweet Love, Bitter had him as an alcoholic jazzbo slumming on the Skid Row "wild side" his musician idol (Dick Gregory) can't escape. Short-lived ABC series The Outcasts paired his former slave owner with Otis Young's ex-slave as reluctant bounty-hunting partners after the Civil War. The unreleased Call Me By My Rightful Name reunited them as two sides of an interracial triangle, vying for white chick Cathy Lee Crosby.
Murray donned the cloth again to shepherd more little urban toughs (including Erik Estrada) in 1970's The Cross and the Switchblade, his camp-classic directorial debut. He acted as if his life depended on it — i.e., with a little too much desperation — as a self-destructive rodeo clown in Cotter (1973) and a proto-Bad Lieutenant in Deadly Hero (1975), but hardly anyone noticed. Through nearly all of this he wrangled with The Confessions of Tom Harris, another criminal-redeemed-by-Christ story that was primarily shot (very poorly) by future Bo Derek mentor John Derek in 1966, then reworked and retitled (Childish Things, Tale of the Cock) for years afterward. It, and the even more obscure Call Me, will get rare screenings at the Roxie this weekend, alongside TV episodes and clips as well as most of the above-mentioned features.
There will also be Murray himself, who'll turn a very hale 85 at month's end. While he stayed fairly busy with medium-profile roles mostly on TV through millennium's turn, the latest piece in the Roxie program dates from 33 years ago, and is probably still the movie anyone under 70 would be likeliest to remember him for: The original Endless Love (1981), in which his mean rich dad is the major obstacle between Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt, eventually causing the latter to go pyro. *
"A SPECIAL WEEKEND WITH ACTOR DON MURRAY"
3117 16th St, SF