Meet George Murphy, the Tap-Dancing Senator

ZenosWarbirds via YouTube
ZenosWarbirds via YouTube / ZenosWarbirds via YouTube

Long before Arnold Schwarzenegger made the transition from acting to politics, and even before Ronald Reagan went from Gipper to governor, George Murphy paved the way with his tap shoes.

With more than 40 movies under his belt, Murphy held his own opposite the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly from the early 1930s to the early 1950s. He performed with Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Eleanor Powell, and even the man who would eventually follow in his shoes—Ronald Reagan.

Murphy blended his love of the silver screen with an interest in politics when he became the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1944 to 1946. Reagan immediately succeeded him.

When Murphy was appointed the director of entertainment for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential inaugurations, his insider status ensured that “half of Hollywood and three-quarters of Broadway” performed at four inaugural balls, and, in 1957, observers marveled at the splendor and spectacle of Murphy’s entertainment agenda.

The political bug had bitten him hard by this point, and in 1964 Murphy ousted John F. Kennedy’s former press secretary as the senator from California. A minor scandal kept him from winning re-election in 1970—voters weren't pleased when they discovered that he continued to earn a salary from the Technicolor Corporation (he was their vice president) while employed by Congress.

Nonetheless, Murphy left a sweet legacy in the Senate: the famous Candy Desk. When the actor first claimed a spot in the Senate chamber, he kept his sweet tooth satisfied by hoarding a cache of confections in his desk. In 1968, he moved to an aisle seat frequently passed by other members of the Senate and began sharing his stash with anyone who walked by. Though Murphy was just a one-termer, the tradition stuck. [PDF]

To this day, Murphy is the only senator who has an Oscar (albeit an honorary one) and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.