Mae Murray

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Mae Murray
Mae Murray 5.jpg
Mae Murray (Photoplay 1917)
BornMarie Adrienne Koenig
(1885-05-10)May 10, 1885
New York City
DiedMarch 23, 1965(1965-03-23) (aged 79)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeValhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
OccupationActress, dancer, film producer, screenwriter
Years active1916–1931
Spouse(s)William M. Schwenker, Jr. (m. 1908–10)
Jay O'Brien (m. 1916–18)[1]
Robert Z. Leonard (m. 1918–25)
David Mdivani (m. 1926–34)
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Mae Murray
Mae Murray 5.jpg
Mae Murray (Photoplay 1917)
BornMarie Adrienne Koenig
(1885-05-10)May 10, 1885
New York City
DiedMarch 23, 1965(1965-03-23) (aged 79)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeValhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
OccupationActress, dancer, film producer, screenwriter
Years active1916–1931
Spouse(s)William M. Schwenker, Jr. (m. 1908–10)
Jay O'Brien (m. 1916–18)[1]
Robert Z. Leonard (m. 1918–25)
David Mdivani (m. 1926–34)

Mae Murray (May 10, 1885 – March 23, 1965) was an American actress, dancer, film producer, and screenwriter. Murray rose to fame during the silent film era and was known as "The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips" and "The Gardenia of the Screen".[2]

Early life[edit]

She was born Marie Adrienne Koenig in New York City, the oldest child of Joseph and Mary (née Miller) Koenig. Her maternal grandparents had emigrated from France while her paternal grandparents has emigrated from Germany. She had two brothers, William Robert (born November 1889) and Howard Joseph (born January 1884).[3]

The family eventually moved to an apartment in the Lower East Side. In May 1896, Joseph Koenig, Murray's father, died from acute gastritis due to his alcoholism. To support the family, Mary Koenig took a job as a housekeeper for Harry Payne Whitney.[4]



She first began acting on the Broadway stage in 1906 with dancer Vernon Castle. In 1908, she joined the chorus line of the Ziegfeld Follies, moving up to headliner by 1915. Murray became a star of the club circuit in both the United States and Europe, performing with Clifton Webb, Rudolph Valentino, and John Gilbert as some of her many dance partners.

Murray & Monte Blue in Broadway Rose (1922)


Murray made her motion picture debut in To Have and to Hold in 1916. She became a major star for Universal, starring with Rudolph Valentino in The Delicious Little Devil and Big Little Person in 1919. At the height of her popularity, Murray formed her own production company with her director, John M. Stahl. Critics were sometimes less than thrilled with her over-the-top costumes and exaggerated emoting, but her films were popular with movie-going audiences and financially successful.

In 1925, Murray, Leonard, and Stahl produced films at Tiffany Pictures, with Souls for Sables (1925), starring Claire Windsor and Eugene O'Brien, as the first film made by Tiffany. For a brief period of time, Murray wrote a weekly column for newspaper scion William Randolph Hearst.

At her career peak in the early 1920s, Murray, along with such other notable Hollywood personalities as Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Jesse L. Lasky, Harold Lloyd, Hal Roach, Donald Crisp, Conrad Nagel and Irving Thalberg was a member of the board of trustees at the Motion Picture & Television Fund – A charitable organization that offers assistance and care to those in the motion picture and television industries without resources. Four decades later, Murray herself received aid from that organization.

In the early 1920s, Murray was painted by the well known Hollywood portrait painter Theodore Lukits. This work titled Symphony in Jade and Gold (The Actress Mae Murray) (1922, Private Collection, Northern California) depicted Murray in the nude, gazing in a mirror. It was exhibited at the Pacific Asia Museum in 1999 and two other venues as part of the exhibition Theodore Lukits, An American Orientalist.

Mae Murray (Library of Congress)


Murray's most famous role was perhaps the title role in the Erich von Stroheim directed film The Merry Widow (1925), opposite John Gilbert. When silent films gave way to talkies, Murray made an insecure debut in the new medium in Peacock Alley (1930), a remake of her earlier 1921 version Peacock Alley. In 1931, she was cast with newcomer Irene Dunne, leading man Lowell Sherman, and with fellow silent screen star Norman Kerry in the talkie Bachelor Apartment. The film was critically panned at the time of release and Murray made only one more film, High Stakes (1931) also with Sherman.

Mae Murray, 1926

A crucial blow to her movie career occurred after she married, as her fourth husband, David Mdivani, a Georgian so-called "prince" whose brothers, Serge and Alexis, married actress Pola Negri and the heiress Barbara Hutton respectively. The couple married on June 27, 1926, and Mdivani became her manager, suggesting that his new wife leave MGM. Murray took her husband's advice and walked out of her contract with MGM, making a powerful foe of studio boss Louis B. Mayer. Later, she would swallow her pride and plead to return, but Mayer would not rehire her. In effect, Mayer's hostility meant that Murray was blacklisted from working for the Hollywood studios.[5]

Meanwhile, in 1927, Murray was sued by her then-masseuse, the famous Hollywood fitness guru Sylvia of Hollywood for the outstanding amount of $2,125 during a humiliating and detailed court case.[6]

Later years[edit]

In the 1940s, Murray appeared regularly at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, a nightclub which specialized in a "Gay '90s" atmosphere, often presenting stars of the past for nostalgic value. Her appearances collected mixed reviews: her dancing (in particular the Merry Widow Waltz) was well received, but Murray refused to acknowledge her age, wearing heavy layers of makeup and fitting her mature figure into short skirted costumes with plunging necklines.

Murray's finances continued to collapse, and for most of her later life she lived in poverty. She was the subject of an authorized biography, The Self-Enchanted (1959), written by Jane Ardmore, that has often been incorrectly called Murray's autobiography.

In February 1964, Murray was found disoriented in St. Louis, thinking that she had completed a bus trip to New York. Murray explained to a Salvation Army officer that she had become lost trying to find her hotel, which she had forgotten the name of. She also refused bus fare back to Los Angeles as she claimed to have a ticket for the remainder of the journey in her purse, "if she could find it."[7]

Personal life[edit]

In September 1908, in Hoboken, New Jersey, while she was appearing in the Follies of 1908, Murray married William M. Schwenker, Jr. (born 1885), the unemployed son of a brewery-supply dealer, who cut off his son's allowance upon news of the wedding;[8] they divorced in 1910. On December 18, 1916, she married former dancer and future Olympic bobsled champion Jay O'Brien.

After divorcing O'Brien in 1918,[1] Murray wed movie director Robert Z. Leonard on August 18, 1918; they divorced on May 26, 1925.

Murray married her fourth husband, David Mdivani, on June 27, 1926. They had one child, Koran David Mdivani (born 1927), before divorcing in 1933. Koran was later raised by Sara Elizabeth "Bess" Cunning of Averill Park, New York, who began taking care of him in 1936, when the child was recovering from a double mastoid operation (Cunning's brother Dr. David Cunning was the surgeon). When Murray attempted to regain custody of her son in 1939, Cunning and her other brothers, John, Ambrose, and Cortland, refused, according to the New York Times, at which time Murray and her former husband, Mdivani, entered a bitter custody dispute. It finally ended in 1940, with Murray being given legal custody of the child and the court ordering Mdivani to pay $400 a month maintenance. However, Koran Mdivani continued to live with Bess Cunning, who adopted him in 1940 under the name Daniel Michael Cunning.[9] Reportedly, Mdivani had managed to siphon off most of Murray's money.[5]


Murray later moved into the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, a retirement community for Hollywood professionals. She died there at the age 79.[10] She is interred in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery, North Hollywood, California.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Mae Murray has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6318 Hollywood Blvd.


1916To Have and to HoldLady Jocelyn
1916Sweet Kitty BellairsKitty Bellairs
1916The Dream GirlMeg DuganLost film
1916The Big SisterBetty NortonLost film
1916The Plow GirlMargotLost film
1917On RecordHelen WayneLost film
1917A Mormon MaidDora
1917The Primrose RingMargaret MacLean
1917At First SightJustinaLost film
1917Princess VirtueLianne Demarest
1917Face ValueJoan DarbyWriter (story)
1918The Bride's AwakeningElaine Bronson
1918Her Body in BondPeggy BlondinAlternative title: The Heart of an Actress
Lost film
1918Modern LoveDella ArnoldWriter (story)
Lost film
1918The Taming of Kaiser BullMiss AmericaLost film
1918Danger, Go SlowMugsy MulaneWriter
1919The Scarlet ShadowElena EvansLost film
1919The Twin PawnsDaisy/Violet WhiteAlternative title: The Curse of Greed
1919The Delicious Little DevilMary McGuire
1919What Am I Bid?Betty YarnellAlternative title: Girl For Sale
Lost film
1919The Big Little PersonArathea ManningLost film
1919The ABC of LoveKate
1920On with the DanceSonia
1920Right to LoveLady Falkland
1920Idols of ClayFaith Merrill
1921The Gilded LilyLillian Drake
1922Peacock AlleyCleo of Paris
1922FascinationDolores de Lisa
1922Broadway RoseRosalie Lawrence
1923The French DollGeorgine Mazulier
1923Fashion RowOlga Farinova/Zita (her younger sister)Lost film
1924Mademoiselle MidnightRenée de Gontran/Renée de Quiros
1924Circe, the EnchantressCirce (mythical goddess)/Cecilie BrunneAlternative title: Circe
Lost film
1925The Merry WidowSally O'Hara
1925The Masked BrideGaby
1926ValenciaValenciaAlternative title: The Love Song
1927Altars of DesireClaire Sutherland
1930Peacock AlleyClaire Tree
1931Bachelor ApartmentMrs. Agatha CarrawayAlternative title: Apartamento de Soltero
1931High StakesDolly Jordan Lennon


  1. ^ a b "Film Star Obtains Divorce", Motion Picture World, August 31, 1918, pg. 1239
  2. ^ Wortis Leider, Emily (2004). Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. Macmillan. pp. 64, 64. ISBN 0-571-21114-3. 
  3. ^ Ankerich, Michael G. (2012). Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips. Brownlow, Kevin. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 9–11. ISBN 0-813-13690-3. 
  4. ^ Ankerich, Michael G. (2012). Mae Murray: The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips. Brownlow, Kevin. University Press of Kentucky. p. 12. ISBN 0-813-13690-3. 
  5. ^ a b Program Note for "High Stakes" issued by Films on the Hill, Washington DC (June 13, 2009).
  6. ^ Hollywood Undressed: Observations of Sylvia As Noted by Her Secretary (1931) Brentano’s.
  7. ^ "Star of silent film days found wandering, lost". Ottawa Citizen. February 21, 1964. Retrieved February 3, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Wedding Breakfast Made Him Bankrupt", The New York Times, April 10, 1909.
  9. ^ "Mae Murray Sues for Son's Custody: Asserts Up-State Family Refuses to Give Up Mdivani", The New York Times, September 14, 1939, p. 28; "Mae Murray Opens Fight for Her Son", The New York Times, September 29, 1939, p. 20; "Mae Murray Wins Case", The New York Times, March 5, 1940, p. 24.
  10. ^ Thomas, Bob (May 29, 1965). "Mae Murray Played Role of Star Right Up to Death at 79". St. Joseph News-Press. p. 3A. Retrieved November 19, 2012. 


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