Henry Cruse Murphy, Jr. was born February 26, 1886 in Brooklyn, NY. He was a member of one of Brooklyn's oldest families. His great grandfather was Henry C. Murphy, the fifth Mayor of Brooklyn, the first editor of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper, a two-term Senator, Ambassador to the Netherlands, Founder and President of the Brooklyn Bridge Company. His father, also named Henry C. Murphy, was a chemist who invented artificial flavoring for soda water. His mother was May D. Tyrrell of Templeton, Massachusetts. They married in 1884 and had two children. His younger sister was Julia A. Murphy. They lived at 390 Union Street in Brooklyn. The family also had a country home in Indian Chase Park of Greenwich, Connecticut.
In 1904 he graduated from a Brooklyn public high school, after which he attended Columbia University School of Applied Science for a degree in Electrical Engineering, Class of 1908.
Thanks to his natural drawing talent he became popular among classmates as a gifted cartoonist. He contributed illustrations to the student newspaper The Columbia Daily Spectator, of which he eventually became the art editor. Encouraged by these achievements he decided in his junior year to pursue an artistic career instead of electrical engineering. In September 1907 he transferred to the School of Fine Arts, Class of 1909. He became the art editor of a student magazine, The Jester. He began to take classes at The Art Students League, while neglecting his college studies. He continued to attend Columbia University until June 1909 but he did not earn his degree.
In the summer of 1909 he moved to a working class tenement at 425 West 26th Street, and at the same time opened an art studio in an office building at 115 Broadway, in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan near Trinity Church, where he struggled to find work as a newspaper cartoonist.
By 1910 he was living back at home with his parents in Brooklyn, while spending the warmer months working as a landscape artist with oil paints and watercolors at his family's country home in Indian Chase Park near Greenwich, CT.
On February 10, 1918 he reported for draft registration in the Great War, at which time he was recorded to be tall and slender, with blue eyes and brown hair. At the age of thirty-two he was not selected for military service.
In 1919 his paintings were exhibited at Greenwich High School.
Throughout the 1920s he painted many cover illustrations for pulp magazines, such as Everybody's Magazine, Ace-High Magazine, Action Stories, Adventure, Air Stories, All Fiction, Fight Stories, Frontier Stories, Lariat, North West Stories, Sea Stories, Short Stories, Soldier Stories, Star Magazine, The Popular, and West Weekly.
On March 28, 1921 he married Claire Van Halme, a Belgian pianist, who had graduated from the Brussels Conservatory of Music with the highest honors. Her orchestral compositions were played in Europe at the time. They met when she came to NYC to visit her cousin. The newlyweds lived in his parent's home at 105 Willow Street in Brooklyn. In 1923 their daughter Clairette Murphy was born.
In 1924 he painted the historic World War battle scene of the U.S. Army 27th Division breaking through the Hindenburg Line. The painting is in the permanent collection of the National Museum in Washington, DC.
He painted cover illustrations of outdoor sports for the magazine Field & Stream.
He also painted several memorable covers for Black Mask, including the issue from September 1929 that featured the first publication of Dashiell Hammett's famous novel The Maltese Falcon.
Henry C. Murphy, Jr. died of cancer in Greenwich, CT, at the age of forty-five on January 1, 1931.
© David Saunders 2009