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House of Cards

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.

(page 3 of 5)

Home, school, and sports formed the trinity of the Murrays’ early years, with the three elements intertwined with church. All of the children attended grammar school at St. Joseph. When they reached high-school age, the sisters went to Regina Dominican; the brothers, either Loyola Academy or New Trier.

Every Sunday, the siblings would stroll with their parents the three blocks to St. Joseph Church at the corner of Lake and Ridge for Mass. One Sunday-perhaps in answer to a prayer from the mother-the oldest boy, Ed, met a man named Lou Janis. “I was an altar boy at the church, and me and four boys serving Mass saw this man standing off to the side of the sacristy,” Ed recalls. “After Mass he told us he was the caddy master for the Indian Hill Club. If we wanted to make some money, he said, he would take us up that day and show us how to do it.” In Caddyshack Lou Janis would become Lou Loomis, the wisecracking caddy master played by Brian Doyle-Murray.

Ed began “looping” when he was ten years old. “I remember I was so little that the first time I could only make it through 15 holes,” he says. “The guy’s bag was so heavy that he had to carry it himself the last three.” But Ed kept it up and eventually became an accomplished golfer himself. “Everyone in the family says that Caddyshack was about me-that I was Danny Noonan-because I won the caddy tournament; I won the caddy scholarship to Northwestern,” he says. “I did everything up to the point where he got laid by the waitress at the country club. I never touched her.”

One by one, the other brothers followed Ed, hitchhiking the mile or so to the country club, getting $3.50 a bag for 18 holes and $7 for doubles. “We got an extra 25 cents for wet weather,” Ed recalls. “The members weren’t allowed to tip, but that was their way of giving us a little extra.” The one exception, the brothers say, was Monsignor Burke, who would slip them an extra $5. “The other members didn’t like it,” Ed says. “But he’d get away with it by saying it was for schoolbooks.” And that wasn’t far off, in the Murrays’ case. The sons were expected to help pay their Catholic school tuition.

At the caddy shack, the oldest brothers-Ed, Brian, Billy, and Andy-learned to play poker and bridge and nickel knocko, to swear and to spit. “Brian was always playing cards in the caddy shack,” says Nancy. “He would come home and say, ‘I got out once for singles, and then I had to buy two hot dogs and a Coke and then I lost two hands playing poker.’ So he’d come home with a buck fifty, and Ed would come home with 14 dollars.”

Though you would hardly gather it from the movie, Ed insists that caddying taught them about more than playing poker and hustling a few extra bucks. “It taught you to always treat people with respect, whether they’re caddies or waitresses or anybody. The members you loved most were the guys who would talk to you and treat you like you were an adult.”

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Over the years, the children watched their father slowly succumb to diabetes. “He was exhausted when he came home,” Nancy recalls. “And there we would be, driving him crazy with our hands out for allowance. ‘Why don’t you allow me to take my coat off,’ he’d say.” Despite his sometimes frail condition, he worked long hours at the lumberyard to support the large family.

He also insisted on spending time with his children, taking his kids on Sunday drives around the city and, occasionally, into the country. “We’d all pile into that brown station wagon, no air conditioning, and go downtown,” Ed recalls. “At one time, Dad worked for the Chicago Sun newspaper doing research for a reporter, so he knew the city inside out, and he would take us down to the poorest neighborhoods, down to the stockyards, to the Museum of Science and Industry. He taught us a lot of history about the city, about the old Daley machine. I remember once we went past a real ghetto and it was a hot summer’s day with everyone sitting on their porches outside looking really miserable. He wanted to let us know that we weren’t so bad off after all.”

Once, he drove them to Maryville, to see what an orphanage was like. “Of course, we all thought it was beautiful,” says Nancy. “And he would say, ‘Don’t like it too much; I hear they have openings.’” Another trip took them downstate to Chenoa to stay with family friends who lived on a farm. “The guy who owned the place had an old Rambler with the seats folded down as a bed and three of the boys would sleep in the car,” Ed recalls. On a visit to Elkhart, Indiana, he says, the siblings watched their aunt Irene kill a chicken by “[swinging] it around like a yo-yo until its head fell off. She laughed while we watched it run around without a head until it died. That was our introduction to the farm.”

Drives to the country always included a favorite gag by the father; though all of the siblings knew it was coming, he never failed to delight them. “He liked to find a cow standing close to the road,” says Nancy. “And when he did, he’d very slowly roll down the window and say, ‘Hey, Bessie, see that one in the back? She’s the one who’s been spilling your milk!’

“We’d all die,” Nancy says. “I remember screaming, ‘Please, Daddy, don’t tell the cow, please!’”

Christmas meant a cruise through Lincolnwood to see the holiday lights, then the morning chaos of the children tearing through a roomful of gifts. “We were each given something like $3 to go to the dime store and buy ten people Christmas presents,” recalls Joel. “God knows what that perfume was that came in a lamp-shaped thing that you could get for ten cents. Goofy presents. A battery. ‘Here you go. I got you this, Johnny-I hope you get something to put it in.’ Billy was famous for going to Maxwell Street and showing up with a weird collection of things that he’d put together for 50 cents. He’d say, ‘Here, I thought you’d like to be an artist so here, here’s three brushes and some chalk.’”

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