“Growing Up with Audie Murphy”
By J.P. Sloane
Looking back with warm-hearted memories of a time when I was growing up at our home on Stern Avenue in Sherman Oaks, California, I cannot help but think of all the wonderful times my family and I shared with the Murphy family.
Uncle Audie and my folks had a lot in common. My father and mother, who were pioneers of radio and television, were entertainers like Audie. They hosted their own show called “Memory Lane” where they sang the standard hits of their generation. To their fans they were known as “Television’s Singing Troubadour,” Jimmie Jackson and “Television’s Hollywood Hostess,” Anita Coleman.
My earliest memory of the Murphy’s was when Uncle Audie and Aunt Pam lived in Van Nuys. Their home backed up to another good friend of my family, racecar driver, Johnny Parsons, who went on to becoming the winner of the 1952 world famous “Indy 500.” The Murphy’s later relocated a few miles away to a lovely home in Toluca Lake on a picturesque golf course—only minutes away from Universal International Studios where Uncle Audie starred in motion picture films.
Just recently, I learned that the family sold that warm and beautiful home. As a young boy, there were many times I “ran away from home.” What prompted me to do so is now veiled in the mists of time, but one thing is clear—I would set off straight away to the Murphy home where Aunt Pam would take me into the kitchen and feed me something delicious while Uncle Audie, unbeknown to me, was in another part of the house calling my folks to reassure them not to worry, that I was safe.
After a few days had passed, Aunt Pam, who always spoiled me, would take me shopping and buy me something nice before taking me back home. Uncle Audie and Aunt Pam had two wonderful boys, Terry and Skipper. I was ten years old in 1952 when Terry was born; two years later Skipper was born. Skipper was formally named James Shannon Murphy, a name my dad heartily approved of since his name was James too. Incidentally, my daughter’s name is Shannon. Although there was a large gap in age between the Murphy boys and me, I have fond memories of them both. When I was over at their house, I would sometimes see them playing with Uncle Audie’s war medals, which they would have scattered all over the house!
One day my dad got a call from the Murphy’s asking if my mom could go over to their home. Skipper (the youngest) had badly hurt himself when he fell while playing on down the stairs. Mom rushed over and stayed with Terry while Uncle Audie and Aunt Pam took him to the doctor. Our families were very close and always there for each other.
Years later, when I was a teenager, Uncle Audie had been in Japan filming “Joe Butterfly” where he met a young, Japanese girl whose father was a Marine in WWII and had been killed, which left Caroline and her mother orphaned and widowed. After the war, Uncle Audie and Aunt Pam sent for Caroline to be their ward and live with them. Caroline helped with the boys and was a very lovely and gentle young girl. We were about the same age and became close friends and even dated a few times, although not anything serious. Years later, Caroline’s mother, who was petit and demure, came to the United States, and they were able to get an apartment in Los Angeles. Caroline acted in several movies, two of which were “The Nun and the Sergeant” and “Confessions of an Opium Eater.” Some of the numerous television series she appeared in were “77 Sunset Strip,” “My Three Sons,” “I Spy” and “Gidget,” along with many others from the 50s through the 70s. Caroline was truly a good friend. Sadly, I lost contact with her in my early 20s until we were able to reunite in 2015.
Whenever Uncle Audie visited our home, he would usually be very quiet and just sit in the kitchen booth and watch mom cook or talk with dad. He always seemed a little shy, yet Uncle Audie had a wonderful sense of humor. When I was around eight years old, I had just learned how to talk like Donald Duck. With a twinkle in his eye, Uncle Audie asked me, “Can you say frustrated duck?” Of course, that was almost impossible to do but I tried real hard! I remember he had the biggest grin on his face as he watched me struggle trying to say “frustrated” in duck talk!
Even though Uncle Audie was quiet, he wasn’t a party-pooper either. He knew how to be a good sport. There was the time at Universal Pictures when they were having a studio party, complete with a stage and musicians. Everybody kept teasing Uncle Audie to “come on up and sing.” Finally, he said, “Okay, I will if Anita comes up and sings with me.” My mom agreed, and they did a duet to everyone’s delight!
Uncle Audie was also a man of principle. He did not smoke and when a lucrative contract to endorse cigarettes was offered to him, he turned it down. When asked why, he simply said that smoking was bad and since kids looked up to him, he would not do anything to lead them into something that was not good for them. Don’t you wish we had heroes like that today?!
It was not always just about hanging out or joking with Uncle Audie; like all of us, he had his problems too. I remember one particular New Year’s Eve when my family had nothing planned other than bringing in the New Year in a quiet reflective manner. It was very late, around midnight, when the phone rang. It was Uncle Audie. He apologized for calling so late and said he remembered that we were having a quiet evening at home this year. He asked if my parents would mind if he came over for a little while. He arrived a short time later, knowing he was always welcome in our home. He never told my parents why he wanted to come over and they never asked … he was family. Audie co-wrote a song, which might give a little insight into this man’s soul. It was a song entitled, “Shutters and Boards,” and the tag line has stayed with me all these years. It says, “Shutters and boards cover the windows of the house where we used to live.” I can relate to that song. I think all of us might have some shutters and boards covering the windows of the little rooms hidden deep inside our minds. Sometimes they are there to keep people from looking inside, and sometimes they are there for us to hide behind; but sometimes the little rooms we have boarded up are there to keep those painful memories at bay.
I really loved Uncle Audie and Aunt Pam. They met when Aunt Pam was a flight attendant and Uncle Audie was on one of her flights; they fell in love and were married. Aunt Pam was part Cherokee and I always thought of her as a beautiful Indian princess! The truth is, I think I had a schoolboy crush on her!
About 13 years before Aunt Pam died, my father saw her at the Veteran’s Hospital in Sepulveda, California. He thought she might have had Alzheimer’s disease because she did not seem to recognize him or remember any of the good times our families had shared. How sad! At the time, my father was beginning to show a rapidly developing major loss of mental capacity which, in a very few years, led to him not being able to remember anything either. He passed away in 2002. After Aunt Pam passed away, I was glad to learn that she did not have Alzheimer’s disease. The reason for her being at the V.A. was because she was working there—caring for and fighting on behalf of the many veterans who needed her help.
I remain quite bewildered why Aunt Pam did not, or would not, recall the wonderful relationship between our two families, despite the passing of time. The very same year my dad died, Aunt Pam was 79 years old. That was also the year the Veterans Administration was trying to cut costs and considered, maybe because of her age, Aunt Pam to be “excessive staff.” When the rumor about her pending termination got out, a massive protest was triggered in front of the Sepulveda Veteran’s Hospital, which made newspaper headlines. Those protests resulted in that beloved lady being assured her job was safe and allowed to carry on her mission for the heroic men and women she so dearly loved! Aunt Pam continued full time at her post until 2007 when she retired at the formidable age of 87 after 35 years of service. In retrospect, had I know my father was mistaken in his assessment of Aunt Pam’s mental facility when he saw her at the Veteran’s Hospital, things might have been different, and I could have seen that dear lady once again. Regrettably, it was never meant to be.
My mother and father got a divorce around 1969 and because of that traumatic event, we lost our cherished home on Stern Avenue in Sherman Oaks, California. My dad had designed that house and had it built when I was five years old, just after WWII; it is a loss that I can’t seem to shake and strangely, it continues to haunt me.
The good thing for my mom surrounding all these painful events was that she eventually married a wonderful man who loved her and my kid brother (who sadly, died a few years later at the hour he was born, when he turned 22, December 14, 1976).
Uncle Audie, who was like my mom’s younger brother, always kept in touch. Before the sun came up on the morning of February 9, 1971, my mother stood at the door saying goodbye to her new husband of only a few years. As he was leaving, he paused and turned partially around as if to say something, but because he was running late he appeared to change his mind and perhaps thought they could talk that evening. A short time later, around 6:02 a.m., a 6.7 earthquake hit the San Fernando Valley where we lived. All of the telephones and power were knocked out. The Valley was devastated. Mom believed that her husband was probably over in the next valley by now and because of the assumed devastation from the earthquake, knew it would probably be a few days before she would hear from him. Later that day, when the power was restored, she (like millions of others) was glued to the television set. The news was gruesome. The first deaths reported of that terrible earthquake happened to one poor guy and a passenger who were driving in a small pickup truck that had the misfortune of passing under the I-14 freeway in Los Angeles County when the quake hit. All you could see was the cab condensed into about 14 inches with an arm hanging outside the cab with a wristwatch that had stopped at the exact time of the earthquake. My mom was a very loving lady, and she prayed for several days for those men and their poor families. Several days later there was a knock at her door. She opened it to see a policeman standing there. He was sorry to have to inform her that her husband was killed when the earthquake hit and he and his partner were passing under the I-14 overpass. Her husband was the man whose arm was sticking out of the truck with the stopped wristwatch. My mother was devastated.
A few months later, near my mother’s 51st birthday, Uncle Audie (concerned for her) called to let her know that he was out-of-town on business, assuring her that he would check in with her as soon as he got back. On May 28, 1971, only three and a half months after the tragic loss of her husband and just one week after her lonely birthday, Uncle Audie was also violently taken from us. It was made even heart rendering because it was Memorial Day Weekend, a time when our nation mourns the loss military men and women who died while serving our country.
Regrettably, I was unable to attended Uncle Audie’s funeral; however, because of my good friend Stan Smith, I was able to attend Aunt Pam’s funeral. When Stan heard about the passing of Aunt Pam on April 8, 2010, he was kind enough to immediately let me know. It is because of him that I am able to share with you the details of that sad, but beautiful service.
The funeral was held at the “Old North Church” at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Hollywood Hills, California, on April 16, 2010. This remarkable reproduction of the fabled Boston Church of Paul Revere fame was a fitting setting for friends and family to gather and give their last respects to that genteel soul who, like Paul Revere, gave so much of herself for her country. Pam Murphy invested over 35 years of her life to unselfishly serving our veterans at the VA hospital in California’s San Fernando Valley. The church seats 244 people, and it appeared that all the seats were filled. Among those in the Chapel ranged from pre-teen to octogenarians, and people from every ethnic and socioeconomic background.
One very special attendee was a precious little lady I remembered as having served over fifty years ago as the Murphy’s housekeeper at their Toluca Lake home. That’s quite a testimony and shows the effect that Aunt Pam had on all who were privileged to know her. Pastor Thomas W. Wallace conducted the celebration of her life, pausing from time to time to gather his composure in an emotional and loving tribute to his dearly deceased friend. Several of the guests gave personal insights into the life of Aunt Pam as they shared her influence in their lives. It seems that she left everyone she knew a little better for knowing her. One very moving and undeniable tribute to Aunt Pam was all the various veterans paying their last respects on her passing and by their collective presence, showing their appreciation for all she had done on their behalf. Their attendance and tears spoke more magnificently than any words.
The altar was strewn with beautiful sprays and baskets of flowers which the attendees walked solemnly past at the conclusion of the service. As the guests proceeded respectfully by the closed casket on their way out of the church, they were greeted by Pam’s two sons, Terry and Skipper Murphy, who were most congenial, conducting themselves with grace and honor as they stood near their beloved mother’s casket. Next to the Murphy’s were two ladies from the Archer family, who were representing Mrs. Murphy’s paternal family. It was really good to see Terry and Skipper again after all those years and briefly share a moment with them. The last time I saw them, they were just kids. Time has been kind to them both, as they have matured into the kind of gentlemen that are worthy of the extraordinary legacies bequeathed to them from both their prodigious mother and their father. I asked Skipper if he would prefer to be called James or Jim. He smiled at me and said that his friends still call him Skipper. I also inquired if either of them had kept in touch with Caroline, but they too had lost contact with her years ago—thus a bittersweet reunion came to an end. The internment was a private family affair, also conducted by Pastor Wallace. A dignified and simple headstone marks the place where Aunt Pam has been laid to rest it simply reads:
PAMELA OPAL LEE ARCHER MURPHY
OCT. 7, 1923 — APRIL 8, 2010
A great generation is slowly fading silently into the shadows of bygone days and we, who are left longingly gazing after them at eternity’s edge, are left with a feeling of apprehension and a sense of melancholy because of it. So it is, that those whom once we were blessed to hug, are now embraced by history.