Nine bright kids, two harried parents, and a table a few sizes too small made for a raucous dinnertime at the Murray home in Wilmette. Turns out, growing up amid the wisecracks provided the best training a comedian could hope for.
By Bryan Smith
Published June 28, 2007
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But this is not a story about Bill Murray. Or Brian Doyle-Murray (he tacked on his grandmother’s maiden name because there was already a Brian Murray in Actors’ Equity). Or Joel. Or John. Or any of the show-biz brothers, former altar boys all, who used the springboard of a colorful childhood-and each other’s successes-to catapult themselves into the entertainment world. It is the story of the whole clan, the clamoring brood who from youngest to oldest are nearly two decades apart and the two mildly eccentric parents who raised them; it’s about a large family where laughs-getting them and giving them-seem like a genetic imperative.
Conversations with seven of the nine siblings, and with people who knew them growing up, reveal a quirky, funny, almost quintessentially American family who still gather for special occasions and still call each other often. (The famously elusive Bill remained elusive for this article, despite the efforts of several siblings. Brian has sworn off interviews, he told Chicago, through brother Ed.) It is a family that quietly gives to causes like diabetes research-in honor of their father, who died of the disease at 46. A family that “somehow,” says Ed, “ended up being a bunch of performers"-whether they do it for a living or not.
To understand how a family comes to produce such talent, it helps to come back here, back home, to the house where a father, a lumber salesman, supported his family on $13,800 a year; where a hot dog and an orange pop was a treat, and a butter pecan ice-cream cone from Homer’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor on Green Bay Road was heaven; where vacations often meant painting the house; where you helped pay your way through school by caddying for the people of means and influence who lived in the fancy houses on the fancy streets; where three brothers slept in one room, three sisters in another, and two slept in day beds downstairs, while the baby-there always seemed to be a baby-slept with Mom and Dad in a converted den; where noogies hurt like hell, and weren’t nearly as funny to receive as they were to watch on TV; where you never had much, but in that almost clichéd way of happy families, you never felt the lack.
To the siblings, growing up Murray means coming back to the house in Wilmette and the nightly dinner table revue, to the little house that the brothers and sisters call home, and in some ways have never left.