Director Joe Cornet never initially considered Don Murray, now 92 years old, for a role in his 2021 western drama, Promise.
“I wanted an iconic actor for one of the roles and approached two other veteran western stars, but, for one reason or another, neither worked out,” Cornet, the writer, director, and producer of Promise, said from Los Angeles.
Already acquainted with Murray’s son, Cornet explained his dilemma to the younger Murray, who proposed a simple solution: “Why don’t you get dad?”
“So,” Cornet continued, “I sent Don the script but wasn’t expecting to hear from him. I just didn’t think he would do it. However, he called the following day to say he loved the story, called it a classic, and asked when the shooting started!”
Murray’s previous big-screen appearances had been a pair of films from 2001, but he required little convincing to dude up in cowboy gear for Promise, which depicts a desperate search for lost gold and lost love, both linked to the Civil War.
“It has elements of the classic western, but it’s also not cliché-bound,” Murray said from his home in Santa Barbara. “It was a great concept, very imaginative with good writing.”
Murray, on set for a week to shoot his scenes at a Southern Californian ranch, “was a gem,” according to Cornet.
“He has three large, important scenes, two with me,” Cornet continued. “He added a lot of quirks and nuances to create an interesting character.”
Currently available on Amazon Prime, Promise played at Wild Bunch Film Festival in Tucson, Ariz., in October 2022. It won 11 awards, including Best Picture.
Don Murray is no stranger to award ceremonies. His first film role in 1956’s Bus Stop, co-starring Marilyn Monroe, garnered him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
“It was a total surprise. I couldn’t believe it,” Murray said of his learning the film’s director, Josh Logan, insisted the producers cast him as a rowdy cowboy alongside the notoriously difficult Monroe.
Continued Murray: “I was aware of her reputation but didn’t let that bother me. I didn’t pay any attention to what people thought of her. I was just involved with the work and working with her, which was a great experience. She was very supportive of me, and we got along well. No problems ever.”
Murray also remembers Logan going to great lengths to put Monroe at ease.
“He was always very supportive and made her feel comfortable,” Murray said. “He was very positive and didn’t criticize what she was doing.”
After Bus Stop, Murray went on to work in numerous TV shows and appeared in some 40 films, often tackling challenging roles that portrayed compelling characters. He appeared in several westerns and feels the genre, though far less common today, can still attract audiences.
“There’s always the classic theme of the western, but there’s also room for creative changes in the screenplay, giving a better sense of western reality,” Murray said. “[Cornet] took advantage of that and created a classic piece, and I was very proud to be part of it.”