Interesting Ideas

A world of his own - 2

4K Murphy's wall JPG 40,000 Murphy, like his much better-known contemporary Henry Darger, was a compulsive creator who built within his home a private universe, tracing, tinting, cutting and stapling it together from the raw material he extracted out of the real world.

Where the loner Darger was apparently driven by the loss of family into pure fantasy, the gregarious Murphy obsessively incorporated his mother, siblings, friends and himself into nearly every piece of the environment he built. He combined their photographs hundreds of ways into collages and elaborate arrangements on his walls and ceilings, up to a dozen or more photos framed together and then aggregated by the roomfuls.

40,000 Murphy was chief lieutenant to crowd-control czar Andy Frain, who, like Murphy, grew up in the shadow of the stockyards. Frain's ushers -- Murphy was one of the first five -- conducted Chicagoans through their big public events for decades, which put 40,000 in a position to get photographed with every notable he encountered and with every beautiful gal he could get his arm around (his expression typically communicating, "Hey hey hey, get a load of this babe!").

Smilin' Joe

Murphy's universe encompassed any sporting, entertainment or political event that played out in Chicago for decades: bowling at the Coliseum, horse racing at Washington Park, the Sox (and the National Colored All Star Baseball Classic) at Comiskey, President Truman at the Stadium, the Modern Living Exposition at Navy Pier, the Movie Star World Series at Wrigley Field, Tommy Bartlett on CBS, the Labor Rally for Roosevelt, Alderman Joe Ropa Day, Rocky Marciano fighting Jersey Joe Walcott, roller derby, wrestling, basketball, hockey -- you name it.

In this era Andy Frain's ushers were the ultimate in decorum. ("Keep your eyes open and your big mouth shut, that's the secret to ushering. You can't ration courtesy," Murphy told the Tribune.) The Democratic Machine, the unions and the first- or second-generation immigrant kids who inhabited them still prevailed unchallenged. Factories were slamming out goods, families weren't in crisis, and Bob Hope and Dean Martin meant class. The celebrities, Hope included, were all guests in 40,000's arena, and he displayed the easy familiarity of the shepherd as he guided them through all the glamour the city could muster at its stadiums, convention halls, sports palaces and ice rinks.

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