Larry Murray used to say he was in the “persuasion business” — convincing people to buy seats at music, theater, and dance performances – and his success doing so helped keep many arts organizations afloat financially.
“I have to say my heart is with emerging arts groups,” he told the Globe in 1983, a few years into his decade running ARTS/Boston, the audience development nonprofit that used voucher and coupon programs, and the BosTix outlets, to sell discounted tickets.
After an early job running publicity and marketing for the Pocket Mime Theatre, Mr. Murray rose through the promotions departments of organizations including the Opera Company of Boston, the Boston Ballet, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In retirement, he moved to the Berkshires and became a critic and blogger. His biggest legacy, though, was helping found ARTS/Boston and popularizing the day-of-performance tickets that have brought millions in revenue to arts organizations since the late 1970s.
“Without Larry, it’s highly possible there wouldn’t have been an ARTS/Boston and there might not have been a Tix booth, and that was very important to small theaters,” said Polly Hogan, who cofounded the Lyric Stage Company of Boston in 1974 with Ron Ritchell. “Many of them wouldn’t have survived without same-day sales.”
Mr. Murray, who also founded the berkshireonstage.com website, which covers the arts in Western Massachusetts, died of cancer March 10 in the Pat Roche Hospice Home in Hingham. He was 77 and lived in North Adams after residing in Boston and Provincetown.
Along with launching Berkshire On Stage, Mr. Murray helped form the Berkshire Theatre Critics Association, which presented its first awards in November, including one named for him.
“He was the most wonderful friend and colleague, and a quiet force. I cherished his friendship. I’m so sad that he’s gone,” said Gail Burns of Williamstown, with whom Mr. Murray wrote “burnsandmurray” reviews for Berkshire On Stage. “He wasn’t someone who came charging into a room with loud talk, but he knew a lot of people and he connected with them. He was always a gentleman, and he had a very keen sense of what worked.”
That was as true in his promotion and marketing as it was in his writing and reviewing. “There are really just three major tasks in this kind of effort: Inspire the committed. Convince the fence-sitters. Negate opposition,” he said in the 1983 interview about his ARTS/Boston promotion work.
His writing, meanwhile, evolved from press releases to criticism, and included memorable lessons along the way. When he worked for Sarah Caldwell, director of the Opera Company of Boston, “she would read a draft of a release, close her eyes, turn away, and hold the sheet of paper out like a dead mouse,” Mr. Murray told writer Charles Giuliano in 2011 for a series of interviews that are posted online. Mr. Murray recalled that when Caldwell was displeased, he “had to drag the offending phrases out of her” before beginning rewrites.
His years in marketing and promotions, meanwhile, helped inform his reviewing work.
“I am a critic because I have seen enough to know instinctively when something works or doesn’t,” he told Giuliano. Nevertheless, he added, “a critic’s response is just one person’s opinion. Even if you don’t agree with mine, I hope some of what I write at least expands your own appreciation of a performance, or explains a little of why it did not work.”
The oldest of four siblings, Lawrence Murray grew up on Long Island in Freeport, N.Y., where his father, Walter Lawrence Murray, was a surveyor for Nassau County’s government, and his mother, the former Ruth Alice Pearce, was an administrative assistant for a boat propeller company.
“He always cared about the arts very much,” said his sister Eileen Rowley of Centreville, Md.
“I will never forget the look on my poor dad’s face when I told him I didn’t want to toss that baseball around anymore,” Mr. Murray wrote in his Berkshire On Stage biography.
At age 6, he staged a puppet show in the garage of his family’s home. “It was awful,” he wrote, but added that “it was clear I had the bug.” Arts classes at Freeport High School were “a salvation,” as he took up violin, sang in the chorus, acted in plays, and traveled into New York City to attend operas. He also worked as a stage manager, sold tickets, and painted sets in community theater on Long Island.
After high school, he at first took jobs in Manhattan at movie studio offices, and then while serving in the Navy on the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge he was a radio station announcer and helped edit the vessel’s daily newspaper.
He wrote that he was on the verge of being sent to officer candidate school “when they found a letter from a very dear friend in my locker and I was quickly kicked out,” he wrote. “This was before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ In those days being discharged for being gay could make someone unemployable.”
Arriving in Boston in the 1960s, he freelanced reviews and spent years in the publicity field. He also worked for organizations including the League of Local Theaters, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, and the Midtown Cultural District and its task force, which he led during the 1980s. Through those groups he participated in efforts to save historic old venues, such as what became Emerson College’s Cutler Majestic Theatre. For a time, he also ran a gift shop in Provincetown.
While living in North Adams, he launched the Gay in the Berkshires blog. “He cared a lot about the welfare of LGBT people and cared about the community,” said Ed Sedarbaum of Williamstown, who in 2015 started an LGBT senior citizens group that Mr. Murray attended.
“He really was amazingly helpful to me in getting it going and keeping it going and keeping it interesting. He went on to be one of the best generators of ideas for our meetings,” said Sedarbaum who added that Mr. Murray “really cared about whether the cultural institutions in the Berkshires were brave enough to be open about LGBT-themed artwork.”
A private service has been held for Mr. Murray, who in addition to his sister Eileen leaves another sister, Linda Vogel of Kingwood, Texas.
Mr. Murray “was fun to be around, and he always had a story. He’s done so much in his life that there was never a dull moment talking with him,” said Troy Frye, a friend in Braintree who was Mr. Murray’s power-of-attorney. “I always liked his smile. When he smiled, it just brightened my day.”
In an e-mailed tribute that praised Mr. Murray’s contributions to the growth of Boston’s theater scene, Hogan and Ritchell said they would never forget his “vitality, his imagination, his sense of humor, and his infectious laugh.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.