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Destined for show business

Murray Siegel’s grandfather ran off to join the circus, and so it began

Posted: June 3, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 3, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Murray Siegel with his Directors Guild of America award for his work as stage manager on the 2006 “Tony Bennett: An American Classic” special. He has also won 13 Emmys.

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If you're a fan of ABC's long running hit "Dancing with the Stars," or NBC's newest entry in reality competition television programing, "Fashion Star," you've probably seen Murray Siegel.

Siegel, of Newhall, wearing the trademark black clothes and mandatory headset of the stage manager, often can be seen on camera in the background on various television productions, ushering participants onstage or down the red carpet.

He is just one of the legions of (mostly) faceless engineers and production employees who work behind the scenes to bring television into our homes.

"I've had a lot of people tell me this year they've seen me on ‘Fashion Star,' Siegel said.

Born in Chicago

Siegel was born in Chicago and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 11. He grew up in North Hollywood and graduated in 1970 from Grant High School in Van Nuys.

It was perhaps preordained that Siegel would work in show business. His maternal grandfather ran away and joined the circus.

"My family has worked in show business since the early 1900s," said Siegel. "My grandfather got in trouble at home, so he ran away and joined the circus."

He worked for the Cole Bros. Circus, a rival to Ringling Bros. After marrying, Siegel's grandfather eventually settled down in Chicago. He became the manager of The Chicago Theater (the setting of the stage play and movie "Chicago.")

Siegel's grandfather eventually became a movie theater manager, where his daughter (Siegel's mother) met one of the theater concession stand workers, Siegel's father.

"My mother was involved in a dance troop with her sister and brother, and they danced at the 1939 World's Fair and in theaters," he said. Another tie to his show business pedigree.

Doc Siegel

The couple, Doc and Marilyn, married and Doc Siegel joined the Army Air Corps in WWII. After crashing a plane and breaking his back, he became involved in Army entertainment.

"When he left the service, he went to work for one of the first television stations in Chicago," said Siegel.

Doc Siegel moved his family to Los Angeles and went to work for Gold Star Recording Studios.

"His love was sound," said Siegel. "People know that in the 1960s and 1970s Gold Star was the place to go to make hit records. My father was the guy who had the ‘golden' ears."

Doc Siegel worked with such famous acts of the day as Sonny and Cher, Buffalo Springfield and Herb Albert.

"I don't know how many gold records he worked on. He recorded the Bobby Darin album, ‘If I Were a Carpenter,'" said Siegel.

Siegel said he grew up around celebrities.

"My entire life growing up was always around entertainers," Siegel said. "I would call the studio and Cher would answer the phone and we would have these long conversations. I was a kid. She was 17 and was an older women to me."

After his transition to television as an audio technician and sound mixer, Doc Siegel worked on "Full House," "Soap," "Golden Girls" and "WKRP in Cincinnati." He also worked on sound effects for the film "The Exorcist."

Show business

Siegel began his television career after earning a college degree and teaching credential. He briefly worked in education. But the lure of the entertainment industry found Siegel following in his father's footsteps in sound.

He began working in children's television, "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Land of the Lost." Siegel soon found himself working on music specials with Neil Diamond and then Tony Bennett in Hawaii.

"It was fun," Siegel said. "People were always very generous to me. They were willing to teach me and show me. I've always been grateful and I try to pay it back."

One of his first shows after joining the union (IATSE Local 695) was the Nixon-Frost interviews.

"I was also working on the ‘Mickey Mouse Club' at the same time," said Siegel. "We did the Nixon-Frost interviews every other day, so I'd go from Richard Nixon to Mickey Mouse."

Siegel has worked on some of the highest profile events and programs on television including "The Grammy Awards," "American Music Awards," "Kennedy Center Honors" and dozens of others.

"I became the go-to sound guy in the industry," said Siegel. "But after years of doing the same thing every day I wasn't enjoying it anymore. I realized I was not having fun. I had done it too much."

Reinvention

Siegel decided to reinvent himself by joining the Director's Guild.

"It was like starting over again, it was about learning a new set of skills and a different way of looking at a production," he said.

His decision to leave his "comfort zone" hasn't always been easy.

"People tend to put you in a box in the business," he said. "They know what you can do in that job and don't know if you can do a new job."

However, Siegel has persevered in his goal to be closer to the creative process.

"I am enormously grateful to the people who have embraced me and let me change careers," he said. "After 10 years I'm almost back to where I was when I left sound. As a stage manager, I am doing awards shows again, as well as ‘American Idol,' ‘Dancing with the Stars' and others."

Awards and honors

In the course of his long career, Siegel has worked on more than 50 sitcoms, almost 100 variety shows, dozens of commercials, numerous television movies, more than 100 award shows and several feature films - including "Beetlejuice," "Hair," "Norma Rae" and "Raging Bull."

He has won 13 Emmy Awards and a Director's Guild Award. Siegel shares an Academy Award nomination with the sound team for the Henry Fonda film "On Golden Pond." He also has another 13 Emmy nominations to his credit.

"Every award I've ever won is because of the team I've worked with," he said.

Passion

He also dabbles as a playwright in addition to his career creating corporate, political and social events - every thing from high end birthday parties to corporate training videos.

"Now, I am excited to get up and go to work in the morning again, like when I first started," he said.

Siegel also submitted a plan for the World Trade Center Memorial.

" Even a decade later, I am still unable to articulate why Sept. 11, 2001, resonated with such powerful emotion for me," said Siegel.

Siegel also wrote and produced a play about Sept. 11, which was performed on the one year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the Santa Clarita Repertory Theatre. The one act play was titled "... his voice as the sound of many waters."

Siegel said his passion is about telling stories.

"I tell stories. It's what I do," he said. "It doesn't matter if you are selling a product, if it's a TV show or a party or trying to win an election, the way I look at my job is that I'm here to tell that story."

Siegel said his dream job is to produce and direct television commercials.

"The idea to be able to tell a story in 30 seconds, to influence people in what they buy and how they think in 30 seconds - if I could do that, there is no further goal beyond that," Siegel said.

Siegel has been married to wife, Mary, for 35 years. They have lived in the Santa Clarita Valley since 1987.

mbuttelman@the-signal.com

661-287-5590

 

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