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"He was first and foremost a businessman," asserts attorney Royal Jonas, who represented Murray from 1960, when he plunged into the deep end of the movie business, until 1979, when he died at age 57 of a heart attack. "He smelled what the market needed, and that's what he bought or made."
Murray's unmistakable thumbprint can be found on nearly 70 films: from a clutch of endearingly kitschy Mexican horror flicks and children's fantasies to a peck of West German fairy tales, from a handful of previously released foreign and domestic potboilers that he retitled, repackaged, and regurgitated to finally, at the end of his career, a quartet of original exploitation pictures he shot in and around Florida. Taken together, these movies compose an onscreen universe that unabashedly embraces scowling bikers, howling werewolves, babelicious female wrestlers, lumbering mummies, hemoglobin-hankering vampires, come-hither B-girls, brain-sucking monsters, jolly live-action critters mincing hither and yon in ill-fitting costumes, scheming decapitated heads, and a donkey whose anterior cavity secretes diamonds.
In the process of presenting this pungent cinematic pot-au-feu, Murray transformed the film industry's business side, virtually inventing the weekend-only kiddie matinee, opening the U.S. floodgates for overseas product, and upping the ante in the already over-the-top world of film promotion and marketing.
And yet for all of these achievements, dubious and otherwise, you will not find K. Gordon Murray listed in Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia, the ne plus ultra cinema bible, although the effort will yield the homonymous Ken Murray, renowned for his treasure trove of home movies of Hollywood's glitterati. Good luck locating one of KGM's films in the exhaustive Halliwell's 2003 Film and Video Guide. Mention Murray's name to any current industry player, and the response will be, at best, a quizzical, head-scratching stare.
But whisper "K. Gordon Murray" to a member of the psychotronic cognoscenti -- a tight-knit community that genuflects at the altar of "anything featuring vampires, bikers, female prison inmates, radioactive mutants, giant apes, or John Carradine, as long as the execution is outrageous and the end result leaves the audience bewildered but titillated," according to the online "All Movie Guide" -- and you're likely to elicit an eye-rolling nod, a sly grin, and just maybe a glance that signifies shared conspiracy before that person launches into a spirited championing of Murray's criminally unheralded legacy.
"K. Gordon Murray is, to me and others anyway, an important -- and forgotten -- historical figure in 1960s cinema and independent filmmaking who, for reasons unknown, is kind of a void and who deserves further attention," notes Rob Craig, speaking over the phone from his home in New Haven, Connecticut. As keeper of the Murray flame at his relentlessly entertaining and highly informative Website, www.kgordonmurray.com, the 50-year-old Craig, a production assistant and board operator at a Connecticut classical music radio station, has assumed the mantle of the world's foremost KGM expert. "Imagine a small-time producer canny and powerful enough to give the great Walt Disney headaches for an entire decade," Craig adds. "And yet he is not mentioned, even as a footnote, in the three or four Disney histories I've read. Now that, to me, is suppressed history."
And according to David Wilt, a film historian who has written extensively about Mexican cinema, including the forthcoming Mexican Filmography: 1916 to 2001, Murray functioned as a pioneer of sorts. "He certainly wasn't the first person to take foreign films, dub them into English, and release them to the United States," acknowledges the 48-year-old Wilt, a librarian at the University of Maryland in College Park. "But in terms of Mexican films, for many years K. Gordon Murray was the only person who systematically purchased large quantities of Mexican movies -- the horror films and the fairy tales -- and dubbed them into English for release in the United States. Nobody did what he did, in terms of popularizing Mexican cinema here."
"He was the Barnum of film," contends Murray contemporary Marge Nagel, now 74, who once provided the dubbed voices, and occasional piercing screams, for many of the women's and children's roles in Murray's imports. "When you think about how he earned his money, it sounds like he was sleazy, but he wasn't the least bit sleazy. What he did was innovative and profitable, and it was done in a very gentlemanly way."
"Shocking beyond description! Fearless! Bold! Breaking records from coast to coast! Many will faint! Don't come alone! Gorgeous girls who didn't know they never had a chance! See it first ... then tell others what we can't! No one under 16 admitted (without parents)! THE PRICE OF SIN!"
The son of a funeral home director, this "Barnum of film," Kenneth Gordon Murray, was appropriately born in Bloomington, Illinois -- the winter base and training center for several traveling circuses -- on January 8, 1922. While still in high school, he earned knock-around money by driving a hearse for his father and spent his spare time hanging out with circus performers and support staff. Show biz infected him. A precocious Murray demonstrated the initiative he later would hone to a precise craft by cashing in on his circus contacts to recruit dwarves to appear as Munchkins in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz.