It seems impossibly small now, this dining room with its tight corners and postage-stamp windows and walls that press in like a mother's worries; too small, certainly, for a drop-leaf table with eight kids crammed around it-nine if you counted the baby squirming in the highchair-and a mother and father presiding at the ends.


But this is where it all started, where Ed, Brian, Nancy, Peggy, Billy, Laura, Andrew, Johnny, and Joel got their chops-and not just the kind you eat; where a family that seemed like just another big Irish Catholic clan in a tame north Chicago suburb came to produce a thespian nun, a Morgan Stanley bigwig, a restaurant Pooh-Bah, and, one by one, a roll call of witty show-biz hams, one of whom became a superstar.

The room sits quiet on this day. The little Murray kids who once squeezed around the table are now sprinkled across the country, themselves parents and grandparents. Their own parents, Edward and Lucille, died years ago. One of the siblings-Laura-still lives in the childhood home, however, and she smiles as she stands in the room communing with the ghosts and echoes of so much laughter: The night Laura bit into a cherry tomato and squirted red juice on her father's white work shirt right after he'd warned the boys to stop squishing the little vegetables. The night the dad pronounced that the next person to knock over a glass of milk would be in big trouble-just before he toppled his own glass. All those fish-stick Friday nights, so many that some of the siblings still can't abide looking at the skinny things. Nancy chasing Peggy around the table in a rage over shoes. The endless fights over whose turn it was to do the dishes.

And the night when Billy-nobody called him Bill-got his dad to spray a mouthful of food after the boy lost his balance doing a James Cagney impression, banged his head on the corner of the table, rebounded like a yo-yo, and sat rubbing the rising knot, his eyes beginning to fill, until he saw his father shaking with laughter and Billy suddenly forgot how much his head hurt.

At the Murray table, dinner was showtime, and a spit take from the dad was the ultimate, a standing O. "He was a tough laugh and he was a slow eater," recalls Joel. "So if you could get him to laugh with his mouth full, you'd really done something. You didn't have to do a whole long piece. If you could kill for ten seconds you could sit back and eat and ignore stuff for a while. You've got 11 people sitting around the table, so sometimes you only had about a second and a half to say something funny. I'll say this: You learned something about timing and about what was really funny and about what was important."

That's what it was like "every day and every night," says Nancy. "Dad at one end and Mom at the other. Always stories. Sometimes Dad would look around at all the kids, shake his head, and say, ‘Lucille, I think we should have raised chickens,' and everyone would die. You knew if he said her name it was going to be some great line."

"He was like Bob Newhart," recalls Ed, the oldest, "and she was like Edith Bunker. She had a wonderful sense of humor, too, just in a quieter way."

There was nothing quiet about the father's laugh. It began with an imperceptible crack in his face, grew into a fissure, split open into a grin, and then blossomed into an open-mouthed, full-on roar that rippled over the table, toppling kids like dominoes, until the entire family were nearly spewing their food laughing at Brian or John or Ed or Joel-or Billy, especially Billy, who would one day become rich by mining just such silly moments from a childhood that, it turns out, was better training for comic genius than any workshop.

* * *

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.

* * *




If a movie scene could capture the Murray childhood, it would be the opening to Caddyshack, co-written by Brian with Douglas Kenney and Harold Ramis. In his 1999 book Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf, Bill writes that the film "is really the gripping tale of the Murray brothers' first experiments with employment," based on the boys' caddying days at the nearby Indian Hill Club in Winnetka. Caddyshack begins with scenes of a large family waking up to the day: swiping a piece of toast, banging on both of the bathroom doors, whining, complaining, shouting, laughing. The lead character, Danny Noonan, based on the oldest Murray brother, Ed, winces when his father threatens to make him work in a lumberyard and rolls his eyes when his dad orders him to pitch his caddying money into a jar.

"Grab a bowl of cereal. Wait for the bathroom. Come running down the stairs. ‘C'mon! C'mon!' It was kind of chaos," recalls Laura of those mornings at home. "That scene, with the mother waking up the kids . . . that was really us. Mom would stand at the bottom of the steps and start calling. ‘Billy! Brian!' Then she'd start knocking on the wall, aggravating everybody else. If we weren't budging, she was known to come in with a glass of water."

Small as their Wilmette home was, the house represented a step up for Edward and Lucille Murray. The couple, both from Chicago, met while they were in high school-Edward at St. George and Lucille at St. Scholastica. They married on November 6, 1943, and had their first child, Ed, ten months later. Their three-room flat in Rogers Park was fine for one child. They even managed when Brian arrived. But when Nancy and Peggy were born, and the mother became pregnant with number five-Billy-the need for more room grew dire.

They settled on Elmwood Avenue in Wilmette in the summer of 1950, in a tidy Cape Cod home with a lawn scarcely bigger than a large putting green, directly across from a convent that housed the North American branch of the Sisters of Christian Charity. Even then Wilmette was one of those tree-lined North Shore enclaves that ooze money, though the village was far less developed than today. The Edens Expressway had only recently been built and the town's most prominent landmark, the Baha'i House of Worship, had barely opened its doors after 40 years of construction. With parts of the surrounding land still unclaimed, a frugal family could afford a starter home-a small one, granted-just around the corner from St. Joseph School and Church, on a lumber salesman's salary.

Large families were not uncommon in Wilmette then, and for the rapidly multiplying Murray brood, the location proved ideal, if still a bit small. It was "just a fabulous place to be a kid," recalls Andy. "The convent had apple and pear orchards and a little forest kind of thing. A couple of times we'd be out there hitting golf balls and get chased off by the nuns." Dominated by the grand, imposing convent building, the grounds included "graveyards, a farm, and a carillon that played the Angelus three times a day," recalls Bill in Cinderella Story. The makeshift Murray "golf course" ran down a long, 20-foot-wide parkway dotted here and there with trees and telephone poles that you would have to hit to hole out. "We would play golf from pole to pole or tree to tree and from the front of the house all the way down Elmwood Avenue," says Ed. "If you pushed [the ball] you would go down the street and you'd have to chase it for half a block. If you pulled it, it went over the fence into the convent across the street." Occasionally, a flock of nuns, dressed in their signature bow ties, would return the errant shots. "They would just show up at the door every once in a while with a bag of golf balls," says Ed.

The side of the Murray house featured a basketball court that required an intimate knowledge of various quirks to negotiate a clear shot. The house itself was out of bounds. The driveway both dipped and bulged so that you "had to know where to dribble," says John. "Then there was a tree off to the right with a low branch, so you had to shoot line drives." "I'm sure Mom thought it was the greatest thing," adds Laura. "Because [the games] would go on all day." One of the siblings' fondest memories, she says, is of "Mom watching out the window with a half gallon of ice cream in front of her. She would eat around the edges, trying to look like she was watching. We all got a kick out of her sneaking bites out of the ice cream."

The Murrays played baseball, Bill's favorite sport, in the backyard under a weeping willow planted by the father. First base was a garbage pen the dad had built. The façades of houses served as the outfield walls. "There was always kind of a dirt track" for base paths, says Laura. "It worked for little kids." Eventually, the weeping willow would grow so large that three men holding hands couldn't circle the trunk, and John could hide on top for hours, a rare, blissful escape from the family chaos.

* * *

Unlike the parents in Chicago's other acting clans-the Pivens, the Cusacks-Ed and Lucille Murray were not show-biz people. The father was a tall, spare figure who made his living at J. J. Barney Lumber Company, which sat near the corner of Division and Halsted before closing down years ago. At one time, he had considered becoming a priest. But he was also given to small eccentricities like the pair of pistol-shaped cuff links he wore that fired blanks. To a person, the siblings say he showed a wonderful sense of humor, and both Bill and Brian have said it was his quick wit and uncanny timing that they emulated. Later in life, recalls John, when a family friend learned he was "Ed Murray's boy," she told him, "Your dad was the funniest man on the face of the earth."

Throughout his life, however, he was plagued by diabetes, and the illness cast a shadow over the otherwise idyllic upbringing of the Murray family. A thin man to begin with, he often was left sickly and drained by the disease. "He just didn't have much energy," says Laura. "He would come home and he'd be so tired. He might play catch with the boys, but it was never ‘Let's go for a bike ride,' or ‘Let's take a long walk.' It just sapped him." But he brooked no pity-in himself or in his children. "He couldn't stand if you were pouting," says Nancy. "He would mock you bad. He'd mock you so bad that you had to laugh. And it would make you mad 'cause you didn't want to laugh; you wanted to be mad." It was a lesson not lost on his youngest daughter, Laura, who had polio as a child and had to wear a brace for many years and who still shows lingering effects from the childhood disease.

Lucille Murray dabbled with performing-she "had a good singing voice and did plays in high school and sang in the choir in church," says Peggy-but, by and large, the deeply religious homemaker was content to let her children bask in the family spotlight. "My mother was an introvert and she was very glad to stay at home," says Nancy. "She had a wonderful laugh, and every once in a while, you would see this glimmer in her eye and she'd be quite proud of some funny comeback."

Some trace the roots of the family's sense of humor even deeper-to their paternal grandfather, Edward Sr., who drove a CTA bus, favored snappy suits, and wore exotic bow ties, including a light-up version for holidays. "He had a pair of chattering teeth and that bag of laughs that keeps on and on," recalls John. "He always had licorice packs, and set off firecrackers when you'd least expect it."

* * *




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."

* * *

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.'"

* * *




As the siblings aged, their underlying talents began to blossom. While at Loyola Academy, Bill landed a role in a community theatre production of The Music Man. Later, he was lead singer of a cover band called the Dutch Masters. All of the siblings had taken lessons on the old beater upright piano their father had dragged home one day. Basement performances-and later, after the father built a family room, living room shows-provided the first real outlet for the family hams. "Nancy was always the big cheese," says Laura. "She was the director and star." Indeed, Nancy makes sure you know she was Bill's first director. "It was the Nativity play in the basement," she recalls. "We had two blankets across the [clothes]line as our stage curtains. The ticket taker stood at the top of the stairs. I was Mary, of course. Billy was St. Joseph." Her famous brother, she says, had a flair for the dramatic even then. "He would think of a better way to do certain things." When he didn't like his shepherd's costume, "he tied one of Dad's ties across the towel for the St. Joseph look."

The basement shows included takeoffs on "The Mickey Mouse Club"-with Nancy as Annette Funicello, naturally, and the brothers taking turns playing Jimmie Dodd. The siblings also belted out Broadway tunes, a nod to the father's favorite kind of music. "The most embarrassing moment was when I sang a song from Sound of Music," Nancy recalls. "The words are ‘High on a hill was a lonely goatherd, lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!' But I thought it was ‘High on a hill stood a lonely gopher.' To this day, I have not been able to live that down. When Billy and Andy and his kids went to the von Trapp house in Stowe, Vermont, they sent back this big postcard that said, ‘Here is the gopher!'"

Given her passion for show business, the siblings still marvel that, of all the kids, Nancy chose to become a nun. "My mother did not like it one bit," she recalls. "She told me, ‘Nancy, they get up at five in the morning-you're not on time for the 12 o'clock Mass. You like shopping too much; you like dating too much; you like everything too much. This life is not for you.'"

But to her, the sisterhood made perfect sense. For starters, she found out what dating held in store for a Murray sister. On her first date, "she brought the poor guy home and opened the door and the brothers, and Dad, were all standing there, dressed up like hillbillies and looking unbelievably goofy," says John. "I think there was a banjo and some goofy hats and underwear involved and they were just saying, ‘C'mon in!' The poor guy must have been scared to death."

More important, however, she discovered she could pursue her love of the theatre while being a nun. Today, as a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, she tours the world with a one-woman show about St. Catherine of Siena, a 14th-century woman she calls a "gutsy, charismatic figure of her day." Wearing a vintage Dominican habit that she hauls in a suitcase from city to city, she performs the entire 90 minutes in character, telling jokes and stories about Catherine in a thick Italian accent. To this day, Nancy is the only Murray sibling with a degree in acting, having earned a bachelor's in theatre from Barry University in Miami Shores before returning to Chicago's Loyola University to earn a master's in pastoral studies.

But Nancy acknowledges that her real training came not in school, but at dinner. The ritual was the same. Every evening the children would begin to take their places at the long, double-leaf table. The father sat at one end; the mother, the other. "Mom would do a roast and Dad would always carve and serve it up," Laura recalls. "She would put the roast on the plate with the mashed potatoes with everyone waiting, and he would pass the plates, one by one." The rules were ironclad. "You didn't touch your plate until [Mom] was sitting down and everybody was in their place," recalls Andy. Manners were mandatory. No bad news. No foul language. Above all, absolutely no elbows on the table. "Father was a hawk for that," says Nancy. "If you had your elbows on the table he would sneak up on you and whack you on the elbow with the end of the knife," recalls John. One-liners and putdowns were not only tolerated; they were welcome-provided they were funny. "If you weren't funny, you did the dishes," Bill recalled in a 1999 interview. All it would take to get the ball rolling, Laura says, was "How was your day, Daddy?"

"It was like ‘Your Show of Shows,'" Bill said. "An absolute madhouse." And the goal was always the same: make the father laugh with his mouth full, a daunting accomplishment. "In most families you have people who will go on, or people who think they're funny and hog the stage," says Joel. "You didn't have that luxury at this table." "When you're one of nine," adds Laura, "you had to work to be noticed." Staying out of harm's way was an art in itself. "I just ducked," says Andy with a laugh. "There were zingers flying everywhere and all you could do was hope you didn't get hit."

Different siblings got the laughs on different nights, but even early on, Brian and Billy stuck out, the siblings say. "You'd sit at the table and watch Brian and Billy and see how much they enjoyed an audience," recalls Andy. "Billy could tell these wonderful stories of guys he worked for, do imitations of this guy or that, and we would be rolling." The evenings got to be so entertaining that friends would sometimes drop by to catch the show. "They would come in and kind of sit around," says Joel. "It was like a second seating."

Visitors to the Murray home, however, may have been more taken aback than amused. Beyond the dining room, guests-particularly unexpected guests-often stepped into a house that resembled a caddy shack locker room. "My mom was not the best housekeeper in the world," says Ed. "I think there's still laundry in the basement from my high-school days." In Cinderella Story, Bill writes, "Our house was a wreck, a constant, claustrophobic mess." To this day, he adds, "all of my siblings have a problem with neatness." When the occasional brave soul dropped in, "the entire family tore into action, running in every direction while picking up as much stuff as we could hold. Closets were jammed, clothes were stuffed under couches, shirts were tucked in."

With nine children, Lucille could be forgiven a little messiness. It's also understandable that the siblings occasionally ran roughshod, particularly on the father's weekly bowling night out. "He would leave at exactly 6:45 and be home at ten after nine," says Peggy. "As soon as he left, the punching and slugging began. Some nights we would have shoe fights. You'd split into teams and grab as many shoes as you could. One team would be at the top of the stairs; one team would be at the bottom. My mother was a wreck. She'd be yelling at us, ‘Wait till your father gets home!'"

If controlling nine kids could be a challenge, keeping the cupboards full could be a nightmare. The refrigerator often showed bare. Only the basics stocked the shelves. "I remember scrounging for something and opening a can of pumpkin filling because I loved pumpkin pie," says Ed. "It was terrible. It tasted like squash. I didn't realize that you had to cook it!" And then there was the legendary Jell-O and tuna surprise. No matter how little food filled the cabinets, Lucille insisted on serving dessert. One particularly desperate night, "it was green Jell-O with chunks of tuna," Ed recalls. "We all passed it around and took a spoonful, trying not to make a face."

* * *




The Murrays were not the only family in the neighborhood that faced the trials of a large household. A few houses down lived the Zanzucchis, with a pack of kids who were either friends or foes of the Murrays, depending on the day. "I had eight children and Lucille had nine," recalls Lena Zanzucchi, whose son Vince is still close with Joel Murray. One day the boys would be coming over for dinner; the next they'd be at each other's throats.

The Murray siblings remember run-ins between the families that sometimes bordered on all-out brawls. "There were stitches, lots of stitches," John says. Vince bonked Joel on the head with a garden hoe, and Peggy suffered a gash after being pushed onto a pile of rocks. Arlene Steinhoff, who baby-sat the first five Murray children, says she remembers asking Bill how to tell the two families apart. "The Zanzucchis have spaghetti stains on their shirts," he said.

"I had no trouble with [the Murrays]," Steinhoff adds, "but they were rascals-full of vim and vinegar-and I'm using the nice version of the phrase." Indeed, Bill's English teacher at Loyola Academy, Father Reuter, once told a writer that Bill was "brilliant, but a terrible student." His rambunctiousness also got him kicked out of the Boy Scouts and off his Little League team. "He was always a rebel," says Lena Zanzucchi. "You could tell by his Nehru jacket and tennis shoes he wore to high-school graduation. If there was one thing you knew, it's that he was going to do what he wanted."

* * *

The brothers would have given anything for their father to see the success that "vim and vinegar" would bring. But their careers wouldn't begin to blossom until years after his death in December 1967. "When he died, it was the worst pain I've ever known in my life," Bill recalled in an interview. "I didn't think God would take the father of nine kids."

As it turns out, the father's passing may have opened a door, at least for one Murray sibling. Brian had been attending St. Mary's College of California when he got word of his father's death and quickly returned home. "He dropped out to come home and try to help Mom out," says Ed. He initially landed a job in downtown Chicago as a peanut broker, but spent his nights hanging out at The Second City. Eventually, he tried a workshop there. Soon after, he joined the troupe full-time. In 1973, Bill followed. Like Brian, Bill was struggling to find direction after his father's death, but his path turned even bumpier. He tried school at Denver's Regis College, but during his first year he was caught smuggling nearly nine pounds of marijuana through O'Hare. He received probation from the authorities, but found himself out of school and casting about for work. Like Brian, he began taking Second City workshops. John Belushi spotted his talent and took him under his wing. "At one point there was talk of [Brian] going on ‘Saturday Night Live,'" Ed says, "but he said at the time that he was too busy; ‘Why don't you get Billy?' The rest is history."

"If Dad hadn't died we might all be working at the lumberyard," says Joel, who has also pursued a show business career. "But because he had, Brian was freed up to chase this dream he had of joining The Second City." As much as the brothers say they wanted to be like their father, they knew they wanted a different career path. "You watch your dad work all the time at two jobs, run himself into the ground, and die young," says Joel, "and you realize how lucky we are to make a living doing what we're doing."

The father's death forced Lucille to provide for the family, and she went to work as a mailroom clerk at American Hospital Supply. But losing her husband also liberated her in some ways. "We didn't realize what a sense of humor Mom had until after Dad died," says Nancy. "She had a dry wit about her," adds Joel. John recalls when he made the mistake of pleading with his mother to let him play hockey, like many of his friends. "Hmm. Hockey," he recalls her saying in a deadpan voice that he didn't know whether to take seriously. "That's the game where the parents get up and drive their kids to Minnesota before work, then go back and get them; and where they have to have those expensive skates and hockey sticks and all that expensive equipment. That's hockey, right? Well, see that basketball? See that driveway? See your five brothers? Now get out of the house."

Lucille saw and enjoyed several years of her sons' success, before her death from cancer in 1988. Fellow Second City cast members like John Belushi and Gilda Radner used to stop by the Wilmette home to visit their new second mom. It wasn't until Bill and Brian bought her a new furnace, however, that she declared their career legit. After that, she was hooked, says Ed. "She loved being the celebrity mom. She dyed her hair blond-she always had light, almost bluish hair, and she dyed it this bright blond. So we started calling her Goldie. It became sort of a joke in the family. . . . She had dyed her hair, got a mink coat, and was sitting on the veranda [of her rental condo] in Fort Myers, wearing her mink in 80-degree temperature talking about ‘my son the stockbroker' and ‘my son the chef' and ‘my son the actor' and ‘my daughter the nun.'"

Today, when the family members talk about their different directions, their voices betray not a hint of resentment at the successes of Brian and Bill. They admit, however, to having been shocked when noogies became a phenomenon. "We just couldn't believe it," says Laura. "I mean, [Bill] was just in the kitchen giving us those, and now there he is suddenly doing it on national television and getting standing ovations. I actually felt sorry for those other cast members any time I saw him doing that, because they were painful."

For all Bill's natural ability, Ed believes that one of the sisters saved the future star at a crucial time. "Billy had a tough time on ‘Saturday Night Live' at first," Ed says. "We just watched the [TV] special on the first five years, and they showed the scenes with Billy actually begging people to laugh at him because he was about to lose his job." Struggling to find a winning character, Bill finally scored as a lounge lizard singing into a soap-on-a-rope. "That's true," Bill told Rolling Stone in 2003. "I would sing my guts out in the shower and I turned it into a sketch." Ed believes the idea came from Peggy, who exchanged the kitschy gift with Bill every Christmas-including the year before Bill's ‘SNL' début, when Peggy gave her brother a soap bar shaped like a microphone. "I doubt it was the exact same one he used on the show, but I have no doubt that's where the idea came from."

* * *

As the years passed, the siblings moved away, one by one. For a while, Ed tried his hand at radio broadcasting ("I wanted to be the play-by-play man for the White Sox"), but eventually he realized that his skills lay in finance. Today, he is a senior vice president and financial adviser with Morgan Stanley in California. The next oldest, Brian, continues to have an active career in movies and TV, both as an actor and a writer. He currently stars in the TV show "Yes, Dear" and provided the voice of the Flying Dutchman in the movie SpongeBob SquarePants; Joel appeared on "Dharma & Greg" and is now on "Still Standing"; Andy found his calling in restaurants, and, with his siblings as partners, recently opened the third in a line of Murray Bros. Caddy Shack golf-themed restaurants in Florida and South Carolina. Nancy performed some 150 one-woman shows across the country last year and plans to do nearly that many again this year. Peggy moved to another Chicago suburb, where she lives with her husband and talks with at least one of her siblings every day. John is a writer and actor. Bill has continued to be the family's biggest star, earning an Academy Award nomination for Lost in Translation and continuing to crank out movies, including The Life Aquatic, released last year. Laura, the youngest sister, married and now lives in the childhood home, which she bought from her siblings.

The family members still return once in a while, most recently when all of them gathered two years ago for a wedding at St. Joseph, their old church. That visit was a particularly happy one, Laura says. Ed showed the kids the big weeping willow out back. Other brothers pointed out the former site of the oddball basketball court. They strolled the grounds of the former convent, now empty and awaiting conversion into condominiums after having been bought by the Village of Wilmette. And, of course, they bought ice cream at Homer's. Before the wedding, dressed in their suits, the brothers brought out a few golf balls and played on the old makeshift course. Afterwards, Bill-Billy-began weeding in the front yard, pulling up crabgrass around a small sunset elm the mom planted not long before she died.

In recent years, Laura has remodeled the house. She turned her parents' downstairs bedroom into a den filled with books and framed photos of the family, including one of her, Billy, Peggy, and Nancy posing with Santa Claus. A hallway was knocked down to open the place up. The family room built by the father was refurbished. "I didn't want [my husband] feeling like the ghosts of Murrays past would be always haunting the place," she says.

The dining room, however, remains largely the same-tiny, with oak floors and a new table with leaves that can be put in if a big group comes to dinner. It seems impossibly small now, certainly too small to fit 11 people, but that never stopped the Murrays. Besides, the room hasn't seen that many people in a long time, and may never again. That's OK, Laura says; it holds memories enough for many lifetimes. A couple of brothers or sisters will probably stop by when they're in town, she says, hang out, maybe trade a few stories and be glad to be back where it started, back home.