"O.K." She waved to a man across the room, who, sheepishly, made his way to the table.
"Jim, I would like you to meet Joe DiMaggio."
Not bad company for a kid who came up through the Depression in his grandfather's standing-room-only house in Hartford, Conn., where, at various times, the roster consisted of himself, his two sisters, his divorced father, his grandparents, two cousins and two uncles, including, of course, Uncle Ed, the one who cheated at dice, a man so bored by work that "he couldn't even stand to watch" people work.
For his part, Murray liked to write, and his first critical success was a 50-word essay on his handpicked American League all-star team. For winning the contest, he received a razor. He was 10.
Murray devoured any book featuring European history, and so, after graduating from Trinity College in Hartford and working a city-side stint at the New Haven Register, it is no wonder that when a real war came along and history was being made, he wanted to see it up close. But as a youth, he had had rheumatic fever, and that made him 4-F. He was so disappointed that he wouldn't be seeing Europe that he took the first and farthest-going train out to see distant parts of his own country. Besides, "I wanted to be as far away as I could when the casualties started coming in," he says. "I didn't want any mothers leaning out the window and saying, 'Here's my son with a sleeve where his arm used to be. What's the Murray boy doing walking around like that?' "
The train was bound for Los Angeles, where Murray talked his way into a job as a reporter and eventually became a rewrite man for the Hearst-owned L.A. Examiner. Those were gory, glory days for Murray. "There was seldom a dull moment," he wrote in The Best of Jim Murray
. "And if there were, the front page of the Examiner never admitted it."
He specialized in murders. He wrote, "...we slept with our socks on, like firemen waiting for that next alarm." But Murray never could get used to the blood. Once he covered a story about a little girl who was run over by a truck and lost a leg. Murray took the $8 he had left from his $38 paycheck and bought her an armful of toys.
That figured. Murray always was a sucker for a pretty face. And in those days, in a town with pink stucco houses and restaurants shaped like brown derbies, every nightclub window was filled with pretty faces. One night, Murray and a cohort were entertaining two of them when Jim went to call his best friend. The friend had good news.
"You know that girl over at the Five Seventy Five Club that you're always saying melts your heart? The one who plays the piano?"
"Yeah, so?" Murray said.