14 November 2008
1 hour, 18 minutes, 59 seconds
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Mary Murphy was born in 1959 in Woodside, Queens, New York. Her mother, Mary Christine Murphy, was born in County Galway Ireland and her father, James Thomas Murphy (1925‒2007), came from County Mayo. They immigrated to New York in 1951 and 1948, respectively, and met at a dance in Rockaway Beach, Queens(1). Mary is the oldest of four children.
Mary attended grammar school at Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic primary school in Queens Village, from 1965 to 1977. Mary then tested into and received a scholarship for Delehanty High School, a private secondary school in Jamaica, Queens from 1973 to 1977. While in high school, Mary worked at a nursing home called The Queen of Peace Residence run by the Little Sisters of the Poor(2). She graduated as class president and proceeded to Queens College, where she double majored in communications and creative writing. While in college, she interned at WCBS-TV (New York) for a semester and learned a great deal about the television industry. Following her graduation in 1981, Mary quit her job as a receptionist at the nursing home in Queens to see if WCBS-TV had a position available.
Unfortunately, nothing was available at the station at the time. Working temporarily as a typist, she quit after two weeks to return to reporting. Jim Murphy, her younger brother, worked as a producer at WPIX-TV (New York) at the time and recommended her for a job. Hired as an entry level production assistant, Mary received hands on experience and slowly worked her way from behind the scenes to being on camera. Her first piece, “Aging in America”, was nominated for a local Emmy. In 1986, WCBS-TV took notice of her work and offered her a job on the breaking news team. While at WCBS-TV, Mary covered stories such as the crack cocaine epidemic from 1986 to 1990, establishing herself as one of New York’s top crime reporters. Her coverage of the Joel Steinberg trials(3) in the late 1980s earned her her first Emmy. Her investigation of the case turned out to be a success and gave her a name in the television business. In 1993, she returned to WPIX-TV and remained on breaking news until 2004. Her work in total has brought her 15 local Emmys.
In 2001, Mary covered the September 11th attacks from the WPIX-TV studio. While she did not have any relatives in the fire or police force, she lost friends she had met through her profession. She did a few stories, one titled “Heart of a Lion: Timmy’s Story”, about firefighter Timmy Stackpole who lost his life on that day. In Ireland, she also wrote and produced a piece about a woman who planted a tree in Ireland for every firefighter lost in 9/11.
Mary married New York City policeman and former boxer Tom Santino in 1992. Together, they have one son. Since 2004, Mary has remained on camera with her unit, the “Fact Finders”, a crime investigative team consisting of herself and fellow reporter Peter Thorne.
Excerpt No. 1
Saying Thank YouTrack 2, 4:38‒6:03
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
MM: Well, we had some nuns, we did, we had some sisters. I remember Sister John Dominic from the 4th grade and Sister Florian from the 7th grade, they both were very nice to me. I got a real, I think we got a really good foundation at the school. My religion has been a big part of my life and my mother has a lot of faith. You know, she always made sure we got to mass and were thankful for what we had and prayed for help with things that we were seeking. And I mean my faith served me well in even this profession because it’s a hard field to get into, especially on camera. And it was something I really wanted and there were times where I didn’t think I would achieve it. Especially since most people who do get on camera in New York have to work out of town first, but I never left town. I tried to get a job in Binghamton, NY. I’m looking north. But, uh, you know, my faith has helped me a lot in terms of not just giving up. I try to give back, because I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve received. I’m certainly not a perfect person, but I do try to be generous when I can be generous and say thank you instead of just praying when things are bad. You know, try to pray and say thank you once in a while too.
Excerpt No. 2
Working HardTrack 3, 3:03‒5:26
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
MM: WCBS-TV, yes, Channel 2 local. My brother had left Channel 11, and this is how, this was one time my brother put in a word for me. He had gone to Channel 7, he put in a word for me maybe another time, but he had gone to Channel 7 as a writer and within six months, he was producing Roger Grimbsy’s, you know, Six O’Clock News and Bill Beutel. But he knew that if you went to a place like Channel 11, which was sort of more of, not that it was a training ground, but they gave people more opportunity than at some of the network owned stations. He knew that if I had any talent, that I’d probably be able to develop it much faster there. So he asked this man if he’d see me for an interview, so I did go, the man’s name was Bill Littauer, and they hired me as entry level production assistant, which meant I was ripping the scripts. We didn’t have, you know, the computers back then, changing the ribbons on the wire service machines and all that kind of glamorous stuff. But it was fun, it was exciting. They would let you write a little bit sometimes, they would give you an opportunity to learn to write for TV. And within a few months of me being there, I came up with an idea for a series called “Aging in America.” President Reagan was in office then and he was one of the oldest presidents to be sworn into office. And this was when a lot more seniors were living longer, also, you know, trying to stay at their home and not go into a nursing home, so we looked at all, some were trying to work, stay in the business world a lot longer than they traditionally had. So we did a five part series and, I wasn’t on camera, but basically came in on my off time, before I worked a 3 to 11 shift, and would do the research, went out and did the interviews, did pretty much everything, even write it, but I was not the narrator, the reporter. But it was not…
LA: Did you get credit for it?
MM: Yes, I did get credit for it. In fact, they submitted it and it was nominated for an Emmy. I didn’t win, I thought that if I win this Emmy, that was going to be the be all to end all, all of a sudden my career is set. But that was a good lesson, not to win. I lost a number of Emmys before I finally won. It was good to lose, because you learn that life has disappointments and it has triumphs. And this is a difficult business, so, but you know, it was a nice thing to be 22 and nominated for an Emmy.
- Sydney de los Reyes
- Professor Linda Dowling Almeida [LA]
- Mary covering the Pope’s visit at Yankee Stadium.
- Mary Christine Murphy (Mary’s mother) and grandson (Mary’s son) Anthony Santino in front of the cottage she grew up in.
- Mary’s family in Ireland: Mary, Anthony and Tom Santino.
- Mary with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
- Mary with current New York Governor (2009) David Patterson.
- Mary Murphy performing at the Inner Circle Charity Show, second from right. The Inner Circle is an organization of political writers in New York City who hold a stunt dinner every year to satirize City politicians. It is modeled after the Gridiron Club in Washington, DC and is one of the City’s major social events of the year. The Inner Circle began as the Amen Corner in the late 19th century as a meeting place for politicians who typically gathered on Sundays, giving the group its name. All proceeds from the event are donated to selected charitable organizations.
- Mary in costume as a nun at the 2008 Inner Circle Charity Show with Mayor Bloomberg to her left and an unidentified man to her right.
- Rockaway Beach was a popular summer resort community in Queens that was favored by generations of Irish immigrants and their families. Many Irish Americans frequented the beaches, pubs and dance halls of the community.
- The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of nuns whose mission it is to care for the elderly. Founded in the 19th century by Jeanne Jugan a French woman, the order runs senior residences in 30 countries.
- Joel Steinberg was charged with the November 1, 1987 murder of his 6 year old adopted daughter Lisa, found guilty of first degree manslaughter and sentenced to 8 1/2 to 25 years in prison. The trial lasted from October 25, 1988‒January 30, 1989 and was New York’s first televised trial. The crime created a sensation because of the affluence of Steinberg and his live-in partner, Hedda Nausbaum, her claim of battered spouse syndrome, the brutality of the child’s death and abuse, and the fact that the child’s neglect went undetected for so long.