As America’s second oldest franchise organization, Arthur Murray International Inc. is known around the world as a prominent entertainment company with franchises located throughout the united states, Canada, Puerto Rico, Europe, the middle East, Japan, South Africa and Australia. With the beginning of a new millennium, social dancing is again a significant part of popular culture for all generations. Today the Arthur Murray Franchised Dance Studios continue a tradition of 100 years in teaching the world to dance.
Arthur Murray was born Murray Teichman on April 4, 1895. He grew up on New York’s Lower East Side, poor, shy and scared stiff of dancing. In his early teens Mr. Murray went to Morris High School by day, studied draftsmanship at Cooper Union and then Columbia University by night, and also worked as an errand boy.
Mr. Murray started teaching dancing in 1912 at a huge exhibition hall in New York City, the Grand Central Palace. He taught in the evenings for two years and worked at an architectural office during the day. When he began making three dollars at night teaching (more than he was making at his full-time job) he left the office and went to work as a full-time instructor for G. Hepburn Wilson. Mr. Wilson was the first dance master to advertise and offer individual rather than class lessons.
Mr. Murray felt he needed more instruction himself, so he invested in lessons at the Castle House, owned and run by Irene and Vernon Castle. Their style of dancing greatly appealed to Mr. Murray, who took an instructor’s training course from them. It was during this time at Castle House that Mr. Murray learned the famous Castle Walk and the Tango, along with many other dances of the time.
In the summer of 1914 the Baroness de Kuttleston, whom he had met at Castle House, asked if he would be her partner in teaching that fall and winter at the Battery Park Hotel in the North Carolina mountains. It was the Baroness’ idea to change his name from ‘Murray Teichman’ to ‘Arthur Murray’.
In 1919 Arthur decided to enroll in a business administration course at Georgia Tech. During this time, B.C. Forbes, editor of Forbes Magazine, featured an article about Mr. Murray entitled ‘This College Student Earns $15,000 a Year.’. Although this was not Mr. Murray’s first fling at national publicity, it was a great help. On March 27, 1920, he had arranged, using students from Georgia Tech, to have music transmitted to a group of his students dancing a few miles away; this was the world’s first radio broadcast of live dance music, and Arthur received quite a bit of national coverage.
About this time, the Atlanta Journal had started a promotion which included a ‘Kinetoscope,’ a toy moving- picture device. This gave Arthur the idea of teaching dancing by mail. He ordered a thousand kinetoscopes, posed for the pictures and placed ads with coupons attached, headlined ‘Learn to Dance at Home.’ The replies were fantastic; so he ordered, posed and ran more ads. Then the little tin projectors started coming back for refunds; they had broken in transit. In the meantime, the kinetoscope manufacturer had gone bankrupt and Arthur couldn’t get his money back. He had huge advertising, photography and printing bills, and all the money he had earned melted away in less than two months.
The Murray dance classes soon attracted adults as well, and celebrities visiting Atlanta brushed up on their dancing while staying at the Georgian Terrace. Opera star Enrico Caruso was one of his students, and knew Arthur was having difficulty succeeding with his dancing-by-mail classes. Caruso jokingly suggested that Arthur should begin sending lessons for one foot only, and then when paid, send lessons for the other foot! The thought of lessons ‘by the foot’ gave Mr. Murray the idea for the famous footprints that became an Arthur Murray trademark to define the dance steps.
Arthur Murray left Atlanta for New York City in 1923. He placed an ad in a national magazine entitled ‘How I Became Popular Overnight’ that drew upon personal memories, and it brought 37,000 replies; then Arthur ran the same copy in the New York Times Book Section with equally successful results. When Arthur married Kathryn in the Spring of 1925, his mail-order business, then six years old, was netting him $35,000 a year, and more than five million Americans had learned to dance by mail.
During the twenties the Arthur Murray Studio at 11 East 43rd Street in New York did a thriving business. When the stock market crash of ’29 came, the years following were tough and the studio shrank from six floors to two, but successfully survived the Depression. During the thirties, Mr. Murray did extensive and imaginative advertising highlighting the benefits of dancing: confidence, exercise, popularity, business reasons, etc. An organizational magazine was started called the Murray-Go-Round; it continues to be popular to this day. Prior to World War II, Arthur Murray teachers were a regular part of every first-class steamship cruise. During the thirties the studios introduced such dances to the public as the Lambeth Walk and the Big Apple.
John Hennesey, general manager of the Statler Hotels, asked Mr. Murray to send instructors to his chain of hotels. Mr. Murray did so on the basis that the teachers send a percentage of what they made to him and keep the rest. This was the beginning of the Arthur Murray franchise system. In 1938 the first official opening of a franchised school occurred in Minneapolis. (Detroit had been the first franchise issued, but the studio did not open until after Minneapolis). In 1942 singer Betty Holton with the Jimmy Doisey Orchestra recorded the big hit song ‘Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry’ for the movie ‘The Fleet’s In’. By 1946, when Arthur incorporated, there were seventy-two franchised studios grossing nearly twenty million dollars a year! Lesson rates were four to ten dollars per hour depending upon the length of the course.
In July, 1950, Arthur Murray bought five fifteen-minute television spots on CBS and persuaded Kathryn to do the honors of teaching. Before the third show Mr. Murray bought a half-hour summer series on ABC. The show was called the ‘Arthur Murray Dance Party’. By May, 1952, the Murray’s had televised almost one hundred programs. Their TV ratings had climbed, and for the summer of 1952 on CBS, they signed with their first sponsor, General Foods. It was a shock to the trade to have the Murray’s–former sponsors–hired as talent! Millions of viewers all over the United States fell in love with the show and encouraged its continuation by flocking to the Arthur Murray Studios throughout the country. An average of 2,000 people were beginning courses each week! In April, 1957, Mr. Murray decided to present famous stars in the dance contests. This continued for the duration of the program through 1962. The talented celebrities who appeared on the weekly ‘Dance Party’ series were numerous.
The backbone of the Arthur Murray Studios’ clientele has always been the ordinary citizen, but a considerable number of celebrities of the arts, business and politics have also taken lessons: Johnny Carson, Mr. and Mrs. Mere Griffin, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn, Ed Sullivan, John D. Rockefeller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Senator Percy, The Duke of Windsor, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, S. Klein, John Hartford (former head of A&P), Walter Winchell, Henry Morgenthau, Freddie Bartholomew, Gene Tunney, Walter Pidgeon, Rudy Vallee, Myrna Loy, Lowell Thomas, Marie MacDonald and Bing Crosby, among others.