Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Steve ‘Broken Nose’ Murphy Slays Them in the Movies

 

Sherlock Jr Steven Murphy 04
Steve “Broken Nose” Murphy” in “Sherlock Jr.”


 

 

 

Some people succeed in films because of great notoriety, talent, or beauty. Others flourish because of unusual skill or looks, such as Steve “Broken Nose” Murphy. A stand out on screen because of his flattened proboscis, Murphy fashioned a career in entertainment in spite of his looks, gaining some recognition for his skill in acting.

Virtually nothing is known of his life pre-cinema. Ship records in ancestry.com note his age as 51 in 1926. Census and birth records don’t seem to exist, but must somewhere. He did live at the Holly Arms, 1642 1/2 Cahuenga Ave., a boarding house, in 1926. Burial records state that he was born Stephen M. Clancey on December 25, 1876, and served as a private in Company L, 13th Regiment in the Spanish American War.

“Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays” by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory is available at Amazon and at local bookstores.

Sherlock Jr Steven Murphy 01Steve “Broken Nose” Murphy” in “Sherlock Jr.”

 

 


 

 

 

A few entertainment magazines offer hints of his early life. The August 3, 1927, Variety stated, “Broken Nose Murphy, ex middle-weight and heavy-weight, has been playing minor roles in the movies for about 12 years. He has also been doing general work about the California studios and lots. When the directors are seeing a particularly aggressive looking bird they end their search with a single glance at Murphy.” What is odd is that no articles listing his boxing career seem to appear in newspaper databases.

The May 2, 1926, Los Angeles Times calls him “famous boxer of decades ago.” Exhibitors Herald-World wrote on June 22, 1927, in answer to a reader’s question that Murphy hailed from Chicago and San Francisco and had been out of boxing for more than 25 years. “His marred face brings him tough roles in the films.” They also called him an “old ex-upholstery waver.” A few articles in the Los Angeles Times and Variety about ex-sports stars in movies list him as a former boxer. His unfortunate “scar” gave him little choice of roles, typecasting him forever.

An October 2, 1927, Variety article lists his earliest credit as a property man in Kalem’s 1911 short, “From the Manger to the Cross,” noting he was unable to attend this year’s anniversary get together. Trades put him in several film casts, including “Law Unto Himself” (1916), “Stop That Man” (1920), “The Foolish Age” (1921), Daphne’s Disposition” (1921), They Like ‘Em Rough” (1922), “Fool’s Highway” (1924), White Fang” (1925), “Justice of the Far North” (1925), “Manhattan Madness” (1925), and “For the Term of His Natural Life” (1927), for which ship manifest’s show him traveling to and from Australia in Fall 1926. One film he was listed in with William Desmond as “Darling Deeds” (1925) I presume to be “Barriers of the Law” (1925).

Sherlock Jr Steven Murphy 03

Steve “Broken Nose” Murphy” in “Sherlock Jr.”


 

 

 

I have glimpsed him in “Outside the Law” (1920), “Cops” (1922), “Sherlock Jr.” (1924), “The Gold Rush” (1925), “Battle of the Century” (1927), and “The Circus” (1928). IMDB also lists him in such films as “M’Liss” (1918), “Broken Blossoms” (1919), “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921), “The Electric House” (1922), “Sally of the Sawdust” (1925), “For Heaven’s Sake” (1926), and “Speedy” (1928) among others.

The Los Angeles Times described his scenes as “telling work” in “Justice of the Far North.” The New York Times credits him as the pickpocket in “The Circus.”

Murphy appears to have disappeared from films as sound came in and joined the circus, as the Hollywood Filmography in 1932 reports that he is back from the circus. Billboard lists him in several stories in connection with the circus and its organizations as well. The January 13, 1945 Billboard lists him on the reception committee for the Pacific Coast Showman’s Association, and calls him a veteran motion picture worker and veteran member of the PCSA. They note in 1944 he is living in San Francisco and serves on the Sick and Relief Committee.

The February 3, 1953, Billboard reports that Steve (Clancy) Murphy died January 31, 1953, in the Army Hospital in Oakland, and was buried at Golden Gate Cemetery, with his military service in the Spanish American War allowing for that. The obituary states that he started in motion pictures’’ early days, appearing with such people as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, and Norma Talmadge.

While some who are huge stars like John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, and Humphrey Bogart are still recognized and revered long after their deaths, bit players like Murphy disappear into the netherworld, with only a few dedicated movie lovers recognizing him on screen or caring about his background. These people have an interesting story to tell about the hard life of scraping together enough to survive in the entertainment industry at a time there was no Social Security, no Medicare, no residuals, no health benefits, just whatever anyone wanted to pay you. Thanks to Steve Murphy’s recognizable scar left over from boxing days, audiences can recognize him and consider where and how he came from, raising him from obscurity, if only for a few seconds.

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1953, Film, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory, Sports and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Steve ‘Broken Nose’ Murphy Slays Them in the Movies

  1. Lea S. says:

    Very interesting, thank you! It’s always a treat to find out more about these bit players. I like how you pointed out that those kinds of jobs back then were pre-benefits–we tend to forget about that!

    Like

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