Image courtesy of Jefferson Miller Image courtesy of Jefferson Miller
By Amy Phillips Penn

On a clear Southampton day, you can see forever and back.

There was a time when three generations of the Murray/McDonnell family would walk across potato fields to visit a cousin, swim in their private ocean, and feel confident that the land would always be theirs, even if a parcel or two went to a new, carefully scrutinized owner.

The clan ranged from Fords and Vanderbilts to a cousin who was said to be engaged to JFK. The marriage was severed by the bride-to-be’s mother, who did not consider the Kennedys to be good enough for a Murray/McDonnell merger.

Before the glaring misnomer of ‘celebrity’ attributed to reality Housewives and Kardashians, Ali McGraw and her husband, producer Robert Evans, were having lunch ocean-side in the complex.

No one read about it the next day, nor was it all but smeared in newsprint on your face in the supermarket check-out line.

A private lunch was still a private lunch, and a private beach was the same.

The Tom Murray family seemed ideal. Tom was a stockbroker who came from a long line of inventors, one who partnered with Thomas Edison.

Tom’s wife Janice was beautiful, as were their first three children: Tom, Helen, and David.

When Janice was pregnant with her fourth child, Christopher, she had a premonition that “this was going to be a difficult one.”

The premonition was fulfilled. Christopher had autism.

“Dad would rather be picked apart by crows on a rack than deal with a psychiatric issue,” said David.

“Autism wasn’t even on the radar then,” adds Tom.

“God turned around on August 4th, 1979, and saw seven people — including a fifth child, daughter Constance — in incredible pain. He took the one who was in the most pain, and also the source of everyone else’s pain,” Helen reflects.

Tom Murray, father, stockbroker, and Southampton resident, died an early death, leaving an avalanche of disastrous financial decisions behind.

The Southampton home was sold, followed by their Fifth Avenue apartment.

Dad’s in Heaven with Nixon is written, produced and directed by Tom Murray, who had a successful career in sports reporting.

He was compelled to do a film about Christopher’s struggle with autism.

Image courtesy of Jefferson Miller

Image courtesy of Jefferson Miller

In its embryonic stage, the film was going to center round the relationship between his mother and Christopher. The tentative title was “A Light in His Eyes,” which is what his mother saw in Christopher, when no one else had hope.

The title changed along with the storyline.

Tom stumbled up some treasured family movies (the one that you carefully wound on a projector and hoped or the best.)The footage spanned several generation of the Murray family, and he knew that the film had evolved.

It was clear that his father’s life, relationship with family, past and present, and his legacy were expanded into Tom’s vision. Murray had been tentative about revisiting these uncomfortable chapters of his life, but bravely recognized their necessity.

“The film wasn’t working until I found those films and expanded my vision,” Murray admits.

Miracles rise to a heart-beat of their own.

Christopher began to paint methodical, linear, colorful cityscapes, where the sky was always an optimistic shade of blue.

Carnegie Deli by Chris Murray

“New York Skyscrapers and Street” by Chris Murray

His paintings took on a life and celebrity of their own.

Gloria Vanderbilt saw his work and was so impressed that she arranged for an agent to represent Christopher the artist.

Chris lives in New Haven, works in a supermarket, and takes pride in his work as an artist.

In a quiet moment, he sits on a park bench in an endearing pose with his mother.

“Please don’t die,” he begs her.

Image courtesy of Jefferson Miller

Image courtesy of Jefferson Miller

Christopher’s world is seen through the inimitable, unconditional loving eyes of a child.

He doesn’t know or care who Gloria Vanderbilt is, only that she took an interest in his art.


Image courtesy of Jefferson Miller

How did Dad wind up in heaven with Nixon?

Tom Murray, Senior, detested Nixon. He would turn an apoplectic shade of WMD when the President’s name was mentioned.

Christopher believes in a heaven where his father and Nixon can be playing cards together, and are having wonderful chats about everything and everyone, including Christopher. That’s how strong his vision of love is.

We embrace him for that.


Dad’s in Heaven with Nixon is available on Netflix and Hulu. Chris Murray’s artwork can be seen and ordered at

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