Oscar Actors: Abraham, F. Murray (Winner)–Oscar Jinx, Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage, Emmy)

Research in Progress (April 23, 2021)

F. Murray Abraham Career Summary

Occupational Inheritance: No

Nationality: US

Social Class: working class; father auto mechanic; mother housewife

Education: Texas Western College

Training: BH (Hagen), NYC

Stage Debut: L.A.

Film Debut: 1971; age 32

Gap between First Film and First Nom: 13 years

Oscar Award: Amadeus, 1984; age 45

Other nominations: No (Oscar Jinx)

Other Awards: 1 Emmy award and 1 Emmy nomination

Marriage:

Politics:

 

Abraham was born Murray Abraham on October 24, 1939 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Fahrid “Fred” Abraham, an auto mechanic, and his wife Josephine (née Stello), a housewife. His father emigrated with his family from Ottoman Syria at age five due to the famine of Mount Lebanon; his paternal grandfather was a priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. His mother, one of 14 children, was Italian American, and the daughter of an Italian immigrant who worked in the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. He had two younger brothers, Robert and Jack, who were killed in separate car accidents.

Abraham was raised in El Paso. Murray and his two younger brothers were altar boys in the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in El Paso. He attended Vilas Grammar School, and graduated from El Paso High School in 1958. He was a gang member during his teenage years.

In El Paso, Abraham worked in the Farah Clothing factory owned by a Lebanese family before launching a career in acting.

He attended Texas Western College (later named University of Texas at El Paso), where he was given the best actor award by Alpha Psi Omega for his portrayal of the Indian Nocona in Comanche Eagle during the 1959–60 season. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, then studied acting under Uta Hagen at HB Studio in New York City.

He began his acting career on stage, debuting in a Los Angeles production of Ray Bradbury’s “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.”

He made his screen debut as an usher in the George C. Scott comedy They Might Be Giants (1971).

By the mid-1970s, he had steady employment as an actor, doing commercials and voice-overs.

He was one of the undercover police officers along with Al Pacino in Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (1973), and in television roles including the bad guy in one fourth-season episode of Kojak (“The Godson”).

He played a cabdriver in the stage version of The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), a mechanic in the theatrical version of The Sunshine Boys (1975), and a police officer in the film All the President’s Men (1976).

Abraham continued to do commercials and voice-over work for income.

In 1978, he decided to give them up. His wife, Kate Hannan, went to work as an assistant and Abraham became a “house husband.” He described, “I cooked and cleaned and took care of the kids. It was very rough on my macho idea of life. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Abraham gained prominence when he appeared as drug dealer Omar Suárez in the gangster film Scarface (1983).

Then, in 1984, he played envious composer Antonio Salieri in the Amadeus (1984), directed by Miloš Forman. Abraham won the Best Actor Oscar, an award for which his co-star in the film Tom Hulce, playing Mozart, had also been nominated. He won a Golden Globe Award, among other awards, and his role in the film, remains as his most iconic.

He narrated the plot summaries of the operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in the 1990 PBS broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera, to the largest viewing audience of the Ring Cycle in history, conducted by James Levine.

After Amadeus, he next appeared in The Name of the Rose (1986), in which he played Bernardo Gui, nemesis to Sean Connery’s William of Baskerville.

He became known for his roles in Peter Yates’ An Innocent Man (1989), Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Ahdar Ru’afo in Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), and Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester (2000), where he again played the nemesis to Connery.

He had a significant role in Brian De Palma’s adaptation of The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), but chose not to be credited due to a contract dispute.

Abraham’s low-profile film career subsequent to his Academy Award win has been considered an example of the “Oscar jinx.”

Abraham’s most notable TV role came about through Showtime’s drama series “Homeland,” in which he portrayed black ops specialist Dar Adal, earning his first Emmy Award nomination in 2015, followed by a second in 2018.

In the 2010s, he played folk music impresario Bud Grossman in the Coen brothers’ drama “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013), and the mysterious Mr. Moustafa in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014).

More recently, he has voiced roles in Isle of Dogs (2018) and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) and played Tony in the 2019 live-action Lady and the Tramp.

In the Oscar’s annals, a very small number of films have garnered two lead nominations to their performers. Milos Forman’s musical biopic “Amadeus,” based on Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play, which swept most of the Oscar in 1984, was such a film.

Both F. Murray Abraham, who played the composer Antonio Salieri, and Tom Hulce, as the young genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, received Best Actor nomination, and Abraham won.

Did Abraham have a better-written part? Was his performance splashier? He certainly had wittier, more resonant lines to deliver. Consider, his self-questioning early on, “Did I do it? Did I do it?” on whether he had actually murdered Mozart.

Salieri also had the closing line in the movie: “Mediocrities everywhere. I absolve you. I absolve you. I absolve you. I absolve you. I absolve you all.”

Oscar Context

The three other Best Actor nominees in 1984 were: Jeff Bridges in “Starman,” Albert Finney in “Under the Volcano,” and Sam Waterson in “The Killing Fields.”