By Marlo M. Ihler
When playwrights John Murray and Allen Boretz created the zany farce Room Service in 1937, little did they know it would engender a successful Broadway run, a Marx Brothers’ movie, and a Frank Sinatra musical.
Room Service came during a time when its post-Depression audiences needed and appreciated a way to escape from the hard knocks of life. Its portrayal of the “dodges and makeshifts” of show business is done through physical humor and screwball comedy (Don B. Wilmeth, ed. Cambridge Guide to American Theatre [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 402). It tells the story of penniless theatre producer Gordon Miller, his theatre sidekicks, and their antics to hold on to their hotel rooms and rehearsal space by sidestepping the hotel management and their creditors in preparation for opening night of what they believe to be the next Broadway hit, the answer to all their problems.
Playwright John Murray was born October 12, 1906 in New York City. His parents were Morris and Kate Pfeferstein and his father was a grocer. He graduated from De Witt Clinton High School in 1924. From 1925 to 1928 he attended the City College of New York and Columbia University. During World War II he served as a captain in the Signal Corps. On October 20, 1941 he married Joan Loewi, with whom he had one son. It was said his interests included swimming, reading, history, and current events. He died on June 17, 1984, in Connecticut.
Murray’s professional life comprised numerous genres and decades. He worked as a lyricist, composer, and playwright, and contributed songs and sketches to the musical revues Ziegfield Follies (1946), Earl Carroll Vanities (1940), and Straw Hat Revue (1939). His sketches were part of another revue Sing for Your Supper (1939),and Alive and Kicking (1950), and he produced and wrote the West Coast revue, Sticks and Stones (1940).
He was also involved in writing for radio and television. He worked as the head writer for the radio shows of Eddie Cantor and Phil Baker. He wrote scripts for television’s Hallmark Hall of Fame (NBC), Schlitz Playhouse (CBS), Ford Theatre (CBS), and adapted Room Service for the television series “Broadway Television Theatre” (1952).
Murray was a member of ASCAP, the Dramatists Guild, and the American Guild of Authors and Composers. A few of the popular songs for which he is credited are: “If I Love Again,” “Have a Little Dream on Me,” and “If I Were You.” His published works include One Act Plays for Young Actors (1959) and Modern Monologues for Young People (1961) (Don B. Wilmeth, ed. Cambridge Guide to American Theatre [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 701-702).
Allen Boretz, the other half of the Room Service writing team, was born on August 31, 1900, to Moishe and Hanah Boretz. He also grew up in New York City, and attended the City College of New York and New York University. He married and divorced three times throughout his life, and died in Branford, Connecticut, on May 21, 1986 (Walter Rigdon, ed. The Biographical Encyclopedia and Who’s Who of the American Theatre [New York: James H. Heineman, Inc., 1966], 309).
He was a prolific songwriter, playwright, and screenwriter. He joined ASCAP in 1941, and wrote songs for Radio City Music Hall and the Broadway musicals The Garrick Gaieties (1930) and Sweet and Low (1930). He is credited with writing the songs “Whistling in the Dark,” “Love is Like That,” “Dark Clouds,” and “So Shy.”
As a playwright, his work includes The School Teacher (1936), Off to Buffalo (1939), and The Hot Corner (1956). But it was the successful 500-performance run of Room Service (1937) on Broadway that led to offers from Hollywood for screenplays and the film version of the play in 1938, starring the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball.
Boretz’s other film credits as a screenwriter include Up in Arms (1944), Ziegfield Follies (1946), My Girl Tisa (1948), Two Guys from Texas (1949), and the movie musical adaptation of Room Service for RKO Radio Pictures, Step Lively (1944), featuring Frank Sinatra (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0096394/bio).
In the early 1950s, Boretz’s screenwriting came to an abrupt halt when he was blacklisted by the House on Un-American Activities Committee. However, this did not stop him from writing, and Room Service has never stopped being produced by professional and amateur theatre companies throughout the world, and has been revived on Broadway several times (http://enwikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Boretz).