Kate Murtagh

Kate Murtagh (October 29, 1920 – September 10, 2017)[1] was an American actress and singer-comedian, a native of Los Angeles, California.

Kate Murtagh
Born(1920-10-29)October 29, 1920
DiedSeptember 10, 2017(2017-09-10) (aged 96)
Years active1951–1999

Her parents were both musicians of accomplishment. Her mother, born Wootson Davis in Sikeston, MO, moved to New York City in the early 19-teens to further her vocal training.[2] By 1914 she married Henry B. Murtagh.[3] He was a nationally-prominent theater organist, pianist, conductor, and composer who held a series of important posts in major U.S. cities.[4] An early position was a 1920-22 contract at the Liberty Theater in Portland, Oregon.[5] In a 1920 competition, he was selected to write music for Oregon’s state song,[6] which was adopted in 1927.[7]

By September 1920 he was engaged at Grauman's in Los Angeles.[8] His several years in Buffalo began in April 1924 at the city's Lafayette Square theater.[9] In the late 1920s he was engaged for Brooklyn's new Paramount Theater.[10]

With her sisters Jean and Onriett, she performed in a vocal trio coached by her parents while the family lived in Los Angeles. The trio began performing with the goal of singing straight harmony like the Pickens Sisters, whom they idolized, but the performances became more humorous with time.[11] Local radio appearances began as early as 1934.[12] [13] Other performances included such civic organizations as the Monrovia (CA) American Legion Post, and by 1935 they were performing on RKO's vaudeville circuit in Los Angeles.[14]

In Los Angeles, the trio then also worked as the “Three Radio Kittens.”[15] They appeared in the 1938 film Freshman Year (1938)[1]. The sisters were then also performing summers in a revival of the old melodrama “The Drunkard” at Theatre Mart in Beverly Hills, and touring in vaudeville on the Pacific coast and states to the east.[16]

The Murtah Sisters, gaining experience, were able to secure engagements in the large Eastern cities, including Philadelphia’s Carman Theater in March-April 1940.[17] They were members of the touring production of Hellzapoppin in 1940-41 before beginning an October-November 1941 engagement at the Bal Tabarin restaurant, San Francisco.[18]

The peak of the trio’s success was the wartime years. A few filmed performances—mimed to pre-recordings--survive on “Soundies” filmed in New York in 1942.[19] That year they appeared at the Oriental Theater in Chicago,[20] State Theater in New York,[21] Capitol Theater in Washington,[22] and Chicago's Drake Hotel.[23]

New York performances in 1943 included those at the State Theater,[24] Folies Bergere,[25] and Walton Roof.[26] They also appeared before servicemen and women at the city's Stage Door Canteen three times that year.[27]

The sisters were cast members of the 1944 Broadway revue Take a Bow.[28] Theater and club appearances engagements that year included Washington’s Capitol Theater[29] and Chicago’s Chez Paree, Chicago Theater, and Latin Quarter.[30]

In 1945, a never-published autobiography of the sisters was announced, to be “ghostwritten by their father” who was continuing to contribute musical and comedy material to their act.[31]

Performances continued in and around New York City in 1945 and 1946. Around the end of 1946, the sisters disbanded the act, leaving Kate (also sometimes billed as "Kate-Ellen Murtah") presenting a solo act of comedy and singing. Onstage, Kate—tallest of the sisters—was distinguished by her height and physique. She stood 6 feet 1 inch in high heels, with 37-1/2—27-1/2—37 measurements.[32]

She portrayed Melissa Tatum in the 1949 Broadway play Texas, Li'l Darlin.[33] Television appearances, propelled by her appearance in Texas L’il Darlin’ included Zeke Manners’ show (1950) on WJZ-TV[34] and The Billy Rose Show (1951)[35]

In the 1940s she pursued her painting hobby with seriousness, and in 1955 her one-panel comic "Annie and Fannie" was launched in syndication by New York's United Feature Syndicate.[36]

Murtagh appeared in films including Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), The Night Strangler (1973), Dirty O'Neil (1974), Switchblade Sisters (1975), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), The Car (1977), Doctor Detroit (1983) and Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992). On television, she portrayed Iona Dobson in It's a Man's World.[37] She also appeared in other shows, including Daniel Boone, My Three Sons, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, The Twilight Zone and Highway to Heaven.[citation needed]

Murtagh is pictured on the front and back covers of the English rock band Supertramp's 1979 multi-platinum album, Breakfast in America. On the front cover she is depicted as a waitress named "Libby", in front of a depiction of New York City, striking a pose similar to that of the Statue of Liberty, but holding a tall glass of orange juice and a menu rather than a torch and tabula ansata. She also appears in the video for the band's 1982 single, "It's Raining Again", as the woman who gives the protagonist an umbrella.[citation needed]

Retired from acting since 1999, she was in her last years a resident at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital (MPTCHH), where she took classes in improvisation.[38]

Murtagh died at the MPTCHH in Woodland Hills, California,[1] on September 10, 2017, at the age of 96.[39]


  1. ^ a b c Lentz, Harris M., III (2019). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2018. McFarland. ISBN 9781476670331. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  2. ^ “Daughters of Former Resident Perform at Theatre in California.” Sikeston (MO) Standard, 10 September 1935.
  3. ^ Kendall, Lili. “Remember When: 30 Years Ago in Sikeston.” The Twice-A-Week Standard (Sikeston, MO). 8 August 1944.
  4. ^ “Services for Noted Pianist Murtah Held in Hollywood.” Van Nuys (CA) Valley News, 9 November 1961.
  5. ^ “Theatre Owner Comes Here to Live.” Oregon Daily Journal (Portland), 10 June 1920.
  6. ^ “Murtagh Has Honor of Writing Music for Oregon State Song,” Oregon Daily Journal (Portland), 10 June 1920.
  7. ^ https://sos.oregon.gov/blue-book/Pages/explore/focus-song.aspx
  8. ^ New Attractions at Local Playhouses.” Los Angeles Evening Express, 4 September 1920.
  9. ^ “Henry B. Murtagh Comes to Lafayette.” Buffalo (NY) Enquirer, 10 April 1924.
  10. ^ “The Entertainment Will Match Its Beauty (Advertisement).” Brooklyn Times Union, 18 November 1928.
  11. ^ "Murtah Sisters Find Comedy Comes Easy". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. May 28, 1944. p. 47. Retrieved 25 August 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ “Riches from Radioland” San Pedro (CA) News-Pilot, 13 October 1934.
  13. ^ “On the Air Lanes.” San Bernardino (CA) Daily Sun, 20 October 1934.
  14. ^ “James Foley to Address Legion Meeting Tuesday.” Monrovia (CA) News-Post, 15 February 1935 ("Murtagh" spelling seen here).
  15. ^ Irwin, Clayton. “It’s Murtah, Sister: When Three Wacks Let Loose.” Decature (AL) Daily, 19 July 1943.
  16. ^ “Murtah Sisters a Riot in Picture.” Zanesville (OH) Signal, 6 November 1938.
  17. ^ “Philly Carman Dandy 89C.” Billboard, 16 March 1940. Billed as the “Three Murtah Sisters.”
  18. ^ “Routes.” Billboard, 25 November 1941.
  19. ^ “Movie Machine Review” Billboard, 27 June 1942
  20. ^ “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard, August 22, 1942
  21. ^ “Vaudeville Reviews: State, New York. Billboard, 31 October 1942
  22. ^ “Routes.” Billboard, 5 December 1942
  23. ^ “Follow Up Night Club Reviews.” Billboard, 26 December 1942.
  24. ^ “Routes.” Billboard, 8 May 1943
  25. ^ “Routes.” Billboard, 21 August 1943.
  26. ^ “Acts, Units, Attraction, Routes.” Billboard, 11 December 1943.
  27. ^ “Canteen Champ.” New York Post, 19 June 1943.
  28. ^ “Broadway Openings.” Billboard, 24 June 1944.
  29. ^ “Routes.” Billboard, 19 February 1944
  30. ^ “Vaudeville Reviews.” Billboard, 23 September 1944.
  31. ^ “Lights of New York.” Decatur (IL) Daily Review, 5 April 1945.
  32. ^ Heimer, Mel. “My New York.” Vidette-Messenger of Porter County (IN), 4 November 1950.
  33. ^ Barron, Mark. “Gay Musical Ribs Old Eli and Politics.” Buffalo Courier-Express, 4 December 1949.
  34. ^ “TV and Talent Show Tips.” Billboard 2 December 1950.
  35. ^ Advertisement, Binghamton (NY) Press, 30 January 1951.
  36. ^ “Success for Daughter of Former Siketonian” Sikeston (MO) Herald, 19 May 1955.
  37. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 515. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  38. ^ Wood, Douglas. "It's Libby, the Supertramp waitress!". The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  39. ^ SAG-AFTRA - Summer 2018: In Memoriam

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