Former National Theater president Donn B. Murphy has died
Donn B. Murphy, PhD, former president and executive director of the National Theater in Washington, D.C. for 35 years, and professor emeritus at Georgetown University, died peacefully at his home in Fort Lauderdale, FL on April 3, announced his wife and life partner of 49 years, U.S. Army Col. H. Jones “Jon” Carrow, Ret.
Murphy’s theatrical career spanned more than half a century, first as an award-winning theater director and teacher at Georgetown University (1954-1999) where he professionally mentored hundreds of students, including his Tony Award-winning proteges Jack Hofsiss (The Elephant Man) and John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation), bestselling author Julia Cameron (“The Artist’s Way”), and four-time award-winning John PiRoman of the Writer’s Guild of American Award, among many other former entertainment professionals.
Murphy received the Georgetown College Dean’s Faculty Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1998, was named Professor Emeritus of Georgetown University in 2000, and was inducted into the Georgetown Theater Hall of Fame in 2002. More than 250 alumni from five decades stand gathered at Georgetown University to celebrate Murphy’s 80th birthday. anniversary in 2010.
Murphy was a founding member of the National Theater Corporation, formed in 1974 to save the theater, located three blocks from the White House, from the razing. He later served as vice president and then president and general manager from 1975 to 2010. Known as the “Theater of Presidents”, the National Theater has existed in the same location on Pennsylvania Avenue since 1835, although partially rebuilt several times.
Under Murphy’s leadership, the National Theater had a long and successful partnership with The Schubert Organization, booking many hit Broadway musicals and launching several free outreach programs for the Washington community, including the Annie Oakley Ticket fund.
At the invitation of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and White House Social Secretary Letitia Baldridge, Murphy served as theatrical adviser to the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations for their now legendary White House Dramatic and Musical Presentations. in the East room (1961 -1965).
In Georgetown, Murphy led the Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society, the nation’s longest running and continuing student theater troupe, from 1955 to 1976. He first staged plays and musicals at McDonough Gymnasium and at Gaston Hall, where one of its star players was the now deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He has also mounted productions in the theater at Holy Trinity Church, near the GU campus, and in Stage One, a 100-seat black box theater on campus that he and his students created in a storage area at the basement of Poulton Hall, a ‘temporary’ classroom built during the Second World War.
Emphasizing the value of original writing, Murphy encouraged his students by creating a one-act play competition and producing three winning plays each year. A generation later, the annual Donn B. Murphy One-Acts Festival was created in his honor. Murphy also oversaw the development of the “Calliope” series of annual original musicals and directed the first 15 of those productions, one of which, Senior Prom, by William B. Bremer and Jack Hofsiss, played an extended run at the Washington Theater Club after its world premiere in Georgetown. Another Murphy production, The Royal Hunt of The Sun, was a national winner at the 1970 American College Theater Festival. Mask & Bauble productions, including DC premieres of Marat Sade and Sam Shepard’s cult musical Operation Sidewinder, have been regularly reviewed by the Washington Post.
The recipient of two “Best Director Awards” from the Greater Washington, DC Theater Alliance, Murphy’s other directing assignments included directing six musicals for the American Light Opera Company (1961-1966) and five interactive shows for children for the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing. Arts (1975-1979). Murphy also ran a theater workshop for patients at Chestnut Lodge Psychoanalytic Hospital, Rockville, MD, where he produced and directed nearly a dozen plays with patients (1960-1979).
Born in San Antonio, Texas in 1930, Murphy grew up in Leavenworth, Kansas and attended St. Benedict’s College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, Kansas. After several domestic stints with the National Guard, Murphy was stationed at Camp Drake, Japan during the Korean conflict, where he began his longtime association with the Reverend Gilbert V. Hartke, OP, founder of the Speech & Drama Department from the Catholic University. Murphy then earned a master’s degree in speech and theater at CU on the GI Bill under Hartke. He later earned a doctorate in theater and psychology on a Ford Foundation Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1964. He also studied psychodrama with James Enneis at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., and with Jacob L. Moreno.
His play, Tyger/Tyger (1977) was produced by: The Theater Wagon, Staunton, VA; New Playwrights Theatre, Washington, DC; The Corner Theater, Baltimore, MD; and Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI. Murphy also wrote Papers of Fire, a competition dealing with America’s founding documents, which was presented at the National Sylvan Theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
In 1984 Murphy wrote Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of the World, a dramatic reading featuring Jean Stapleton and NPR’s Susan Stamberg, commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History and presented under her direction.
With Douglas Lee and Roger Meersman, Murphy co-wrote Stage for a Nation: The National Theater – 150 Years, published by University Press of America (1985), a chronicle not just of the National Theater but a history of professional theater in the national capital. He is co-author, with Stephen Moore, of Helen Hayes: A Bio-Bibliography (1993). Together, Moore and Murphy authored several articles for magazines and newspapers.
Cremation is provided by Brooks Cremation and Funeral Services, Davie, Florida (954-525-5405). Donations in Donn B. Murphy’s name may be made to The Mask & Bauble Society, c/o Georgetown University, 37th & O Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20057