When it comes to true crime celebrities, few have captured the public’s imagination like Jack Roland Murphy, better known as “Murf the Surf”. Filmmaker R. J. Cutler calls him “television’s first true crime celebrity”, and it’s easy to see why. He was a convicted murderer and the mastermind behind the 1964 jewel heist of New York’s Museum of Natural History, and he had a certain charisma that the public couldn’t help but be drawn to.
Cutler had the unique opportunity to spend time with Murphy, and he noticed a certain quality that reminded him of Donald Trump. “He was very garrulous, if garrulous means overly verbose and Trumpian in his speech patterns,” Cutler says. “He would often speak for several minutes at a time without letting up.” Murphy was also interested in Cutler telling his story, and he was eager to share his story with viewers.
Cutler’s documentary, “Murf the Surf”, captures four periods in Murphy’s life, using archival footage, animation, interviews and photographs to piece together the man’s persona. Executive producer Ron Howard compares Murphy to the stars of “77 Sunset Strip”, “Hawaiian Eye” and “Route 66”, noting that he was learning from the “hypnotic power of charisma”. Cutler adds that Murphy was “Keith Richards before Keith Richards”, but darker.
The documentary enables viewers to have a deeper understanding of celebrities – and politicians – in the spotlight today. Cutler didn’t have the same opportunity with Murphy as he did with other subjects, like Billie Eilish, but he was still able to capture the essence of the man and his story. “My goal wasn’t to sift fact from fiction…the goal was to have his version of the story told,” he says.
“Murf the Surf” begins Feb. 5 on MGM+, and it’s sure to be a captivating look at the life of one of America’s most notorious true crime celebrities.