When Eleanor Murray was a high school student in small-town Alabama, she dreamed of taking the theater world by storm—singing and dancing and acting on big city stages to the delight of an adoring public.
As it turns out, she did take the theater world by storm.
Although she never performed professionally on stage, her influence as a theater benefactor was just as profound.
Murray, who dedicated four decades to advancing the mission of Buffalo’s Studio Arena Theatre, recently established an endowed fund to ensure; that the archival records and history of Studio Arena are preserved for future generations by the experts in Buffalo State’s Archives and Special Collections Office in E. H. Butler Library.
During its heyday, Studio Arena was regarded as a top regional theater and welcomed the likes of Glenn Close, John Goodman, Kathy Bates, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Walken, and Christine Baranski to its stage. Shuttered in 2011 by financial difficulties, the space reopened as 710 Main Theatre and is owned by Shea’s Performing Arts Center.
Murray’s generous gift will provide for the ongoing maintenance of the Studio Arena archival collection, a permanent display of the collection in Butler Library, and the development of a searchable online database of the collection.
Murray earned her degree in English, with a concentration in theater,from the University of Illinois, graduating a year early so that she could marry Gerard Murray in 1942. Gerard was an up-and-coming chemical engineer working for DuPont on wartime projects. During the war, the couple moved from Indiana to Illinois to Tennessee—and ultimately landed in Buffalo in 1945, where they raised four children.
“We loved Buffalo immediately. Gerard had offers to move for new jobs over the years, but we were always very happy in Buffalo, and so we stayed and became involved with a number of wonderful local organizations,” said Murray, whose late husband left DuPont to manufacture the Ocelo brand with two business partners.
One of those organizations was the Studio Arena Theatre.
“I paid $3 to join the Studio Arena Women’s Board—and they put me on the fundraising committee!” Murray recalled. “My only prior experience in fundraising was walking door-to-door collecting for Community Chest.”
Murray spent the next 40 years raising money for the theater and contributing significant funds from her own resources. She also initiated the theater’s popular costume show, which brought the thrill of theater life to school and community groups across Western New York. She served as president of the theater’s Women’s Board and as a member of the Board of Trustees along the way.
“Truth be told, my knowledge of professional theater was not very extensive when I started, but I learned a lot and met a lot of marvelous people,” said Murray.
“I made this gift because Studio Arena played such an important role in Buffalo’s cultural history. I want that to be remembered.”
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