Jane Ward Murray, 74, ballet dancer, teacher

October 15, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Jane Ward Murray, a dancer, teacher and ballet figure for five decades, ended her life Friday at her Roland Park home. She was 74.

Known to many for her decade on the television program The Critics' Place, she had a lengthy career that began on the Broadway stage and included stints in local modeling and as a featured performer in an American Beer television commercial. She then taught ballet at the Peabody Institute and Goucher College for more than 20 years.

Born Jane Ward in Baltimore, she began dancing at age 3. She studied with teacher Carol Lynn at her North Calvert Street studio, then attended a summer session at the School of American Ballet in New York, where instructors recognized her ability.

"Dance was her life," said her brother, retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward. "She and my mother would get on a B&O train at Mount Royal Station on Sunday nights and when they reached New York, would walk across Central Park to an apartment on East 65th Street. Jane studied ballet during the week and returned to Baltimore with my mother on Fridays."

Mrs. Murray studied under legendary names of American ballet: George Balanchine, Pierre Vladimiroff, Anatole Oboukoff and Muriel Stuart.

"She had a beautiful, lyrical quality," said Laura Dolid, a friend who teaches dance at Goucher College. "She became a caring, intuitive teacher. She cultivated the intellectual side of her students and was an educator in every sense of the word."

In 1941, at age 13, she danced in a revival of The Merry Widow at the Majestic Theater in New York. She was tapped for a dancing role in the 1944 Broadway production of Fritz Kreisler's Rhapsody at the Century Theater.

"If there was any word that defined Jane, it was discipline," said Robert V. Walsh, a friend and retired advertising executive who cast her in television commercials. "She had an ability to control her mind and body, and, at the same time, was an unbelievably kind person."

While in New York, she danced with the forerunner of the New York City Ballet.

In 1944, when her father, Thomas J. Ward, a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad terminal superintendent, became ill with cancer, she returned to Baltimore. She enrolled as a senior at Western High School and graduated in 1945.

She won a full scholarship to Radcliffe College, but left the school in Cambridge, Mass., to marry Herbert Frazier Murray - who later was a federal judge in Baltimore.

She spent a year dancing and performing at the Peabody, and studied again in New York with Antony Tudor of the American Ballet Theatre. She performed on many occasions in Baltimore in the 1950s, often with the Peabody Opera, Peabody Ballet and Igor Youskevitch Ballet Company.

In the late 1950s, she took a dancing job for American Beer television commercials. She was selected to be the brewing company's "American Beer Indian Girl."

"We gave her a tape with the music, really a trite little jingle. She devised a beautiful dance she performed on a big drum and filmed at a New York studio," said Robert Walsh, a former advertising executive. "People talked about the American Beer Indian Girl. It was eventually used on billboards and in print ads."

Mrs. Murray was a founder of Baltimore Actors Theatre and served on its board of directors. She choreographed its productions of Pal Joey, Peter Pan and Kismet at the old Ford's Theatre on Fayette Street.

Her photo appeared in the February 1965 issue of Vogue magazine as she modeled for Hutzler's department store. About that time, she switched from performing to teaching dance.

In 1971, she joined the faculty of the Peabody Institute and taught at its prep department. From 1974 to 1984, she was dance critic on Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting's weekly show The Critics' Place. She was also host of its Women and the Law series in early 1976.

In 1977, she joined the faculty of Goucher College and taught advanced ballet. She also helped to lure international ballet stars as artists in residence. She retired in 1993.

"She established the standard for ballet training at Goucher," said Chrystelle T. Bond, founding chairwoman of Goucher's dance department. "She was impeccable. She was searching for the best in herself and others."

At her death, she had been teaching several times a month at the Sudbrook Arts Centre in Pikesville. She also coached soloists in the Baltimore County Youth Ballet.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday at the Goucher College Chapel, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson.

Her husband, an attorney named to Maryland's U.S. District Court by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971, died in 1999.

In addition to her brother, survivors include a son, Douglas Frazier Murray of Reisterstown, and two granddaughters. Her half-brother, Paul W. Ward, a Sun reporter and 1948 Pulitzer Prize winner, died in 1976.

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