You’d think Richard Murphy would want to take it easy.
Over his 76 years, he’s raised sled dogs, run a barber shop, played the trombone, tuned pianos, designed computer programs, tutored and taught prison inmates.
But Murphy has a new goal.
“I am looking for ex-Boys Town residents,” he said, referring to the famous village for homeless and needy boys founded in 1921 by the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan and made famous in a 1938 movie. Murphy spent his teen years at Boys Town and wants to reconnect.
“They are all over the country,” he said. “I don’t know the people who came before me or after me. It would be nice if someone out there would contact me.”
Murphy has plenty of stories to share with them.
Such as the St. Bernard he loved.
“My brother was a truck driver, and I took care of his St. Bernard,” he said. He got so attached to the dog, he asked his brother whether he could keep it.
“I bred the dog and got eight St. Bernards. I decided ‘I’ll make a dog team,’” he said. “I sent away for materials to train them. The post office was a mile and a half away. I’d take them to the post office to get the mail. Later I had a quarter horse that won a race in Sallisaw.”
Murphy now lives in Muskogee. He and his wife, Martha, turned their back yard into a flower oasis with a running pond. Murphy operates a small barbershop at his house. He has an Oklahoma barber instructor’s license.
Meet Richard Murphy
HOMETOWN: Rockwell, Iowa.
OCCUPATION: Barber, computer technician, retired instructor.
EDUCATION: GED Glendale (Calif.) Junior College; Bachelor of Arts in Education, Northeastern State University.
FAMILY: Wife, Martha. One daughter.
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Seventh-day Adventist.
HOBBIES: Computer programming.
Are you from Boys Town?
Richard Murphy is looking for other people who lived at Boys Town, Neb. If you went to Boys Town, call him at (918) 781-9455.
Boys Town holds
At age 13, Richard Murphy went to Boys Town. He was separated from his siblings after his father contracted tuberculosis and had to go to a sanitarium. They became wards of the county and were sent to different places.
“I came a year after Father Flanagan died,” Murphy said. “At that time, it had 1,000 kids. It had two gymnasiums and a field house with a swimming pools.”
Boys Town had its own government, with a mayor and council, and its own fire department, Murphy said.
“It had its own barbershop, shoe shop, sheet metal, silk screening. Father Flanagan knew these jobs would be in demand,” he said.
Murphy learned barbering at Boys Town and was also in the choir and band, he said. He played trombone.
“If you wanted to play baseball, you’d go to the different dorm rooms and say ‘Hey, ball diamond six, who wants to play?’,” Murphy said.
He speaks fondly of what he learned there.
But he wasn’t always so fond of the place.
“I was homesick. I was 13. I didn’t like Boys Town,” he said, recalling that he ran away several times.
“I ran away to be with my mother in Kansas City, but the authorities sent me back,” he said. “Then, I figured the best way to get out of Boys Town was to badmouth Father Flanagan. They’d want to get rid of me.”
He said he started by saying that Flanagan was “off his rocker.”
“They said: ‘If you feel that way, you can realize yourself right now. You can wind up in prison,’” Murphy recalled. “That’s when I took off.”
for the stars
Murphy headed for Los Angeles because, he said, “It was as far away as I could get from Boys Town.”
He got his GED and then started work at a “cut rate” barbershop in Van Nuys, Calif.
“It kept getting bombed,” he said. “It was not a union shop. Union shops were charging $1.50 to cut hair. We had a line a block long and 10 chairs.”
The low price attracted a lot of celebrities, Murphy said. His customers included the sons of Gloria Grahame, an actress known for her sultry movie roles and her turn as Ado Annie in the movie “Oklahoma.”
“She wasn’t like she was in the movies,” Murphy said. “She was just like a regular old mother.”
Other customers included Jack Kelly, who played Bart Maverick in the 1950s TV series “Maverick;” former “Lassie” star Tommy Rettig; and Don Murray, who appeared in the movies “Bus Stop” and “Advise & Consent.”
Murray could be a hard customer, Murphy recalled.
“He’d be in the chair and in a minute he’d start nodding off,” Murphy said, adding that Murray was a new father and was staying up nights with the baby.
After a few years, he opened a shop in the Los Angeles suburb of Montrose, then Brentwood.
After a rocky first marriage, Murphy married his current wife, Martha, a cosmetologist. They moved to Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains, where they opened a beauty shop and barbershop.
Murphy said his brother, whom he hadn’t seen for 20 years, invited him to be a partner in a race horse kept on a ranch in Peggs, just north of Tahlequah. However, the partnership didn’t pan out, leaving the Murphys without jobs and broke.
“We lived two blocks from NSU, so I decided to get an education,” he said, referring to Northeastern State University.
He taught at Muskogee County Council of Youth Services, then at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in the Title I literacy program, he said. Several of the inmates became tutors.
Murphy recalled one outstanding student, whom he identified only as Mary Ann.
“Mary Ann, she was a Mexican girl and one of my tutors. She was incarcerated because her father was a drug lord,” he said.
Murphy had a copy of the Law School Admission Test, acquired in a class at the University of Tulsa, and Mary Ann asked whether she could take it.
With help from Murphy and Suzanne Edmondson, a correctional volunteer and tutor at Eddie Warrior, Mary Ann passed the test after her release, Murphy said.
“She became a lawyer,” he said. “I told her, ‘Don’t be afraid to go into business for yourself.’”
The woman is now a lawyer in Oklahoma City. She plans to work in the public defender’s office.
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“I came to my brother’s wedding, and he asked if I can be a partner in owning a race horse. We moved to Peggs. We came out to Muskogee after I retired from teaching at Eddie Warrior (Correctional Center). Actually, I should have moved out here earlier. I wore out two cars driving from Tahlequah to Eddie Warrior.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“The weather, for one thing. And you can drive five miles and you’re out in the country. I like the fishing here. In California, retired people know when they’re stocking the fish.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU SINCE COMING TO OKLAHOMA?”
“It was losing all our stuff in a fire. We were without insurance.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE MUSKOGEE?
“In L.A., if your car breaks down, you better learn to fix it yourself. Here, three times I had a flat tire and people jumped out to help out. We have the largest population of the most compassionate people. However, in L.A., you get ticketed if you don’t stop for pedestrians. Here, they run over you.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE:
“I’m happy with Muskogee the way it is. They could concentrate more on the arts. And we need a first-rate steakhouse, like Texas Steaks or Outback.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
“Dr. Clint Davis. He was the second principal at Eddie Warrior. I told him, ‘You let me vent on you.’ And Gary Bivin, you can vent on him and he was very non-judgmental.”