Q&A:Circle Line tour guide Malachy Murray takes us on a tour of lesser known NYC
Actor Malachy Murray, 47 is perhaps best known as Officer Maloney on All My Children. But he's also an NYC history buff, Circle Line tour guide and author of the book Unique New York and of the upcoming sequel, Uniquer New Yorker. Divorced, he lives in Hell's Kitchen with his pet macaw, Bartie.
Q What would you most like accomplished in New York City?
A Put the United Nations on Governor's Island, which has all the military housing and office space it could ever need and two very decent golf courses. Maybe these countries could get along better after their representatives play a couple rounds of golf together. The UN brings way too much traffic to an already congested mid-town and those diplomats never pay any of their tickets anyway: Put them on the island! I'd also like to see a more aggressive effort to revitalize our waterfront: New York has more than 1,000 miles of shoreline. We led the world for three and a half centuries in commercial shipping, but today, we're almost non-existent.
Q What's the funniest question you've ever gotten on your tours?
A We're up the Harlem River in some desolate industrial wasteland and a tourist will point and ask, "why is that window broken?" Also, every time I point out the Staten Island Ferry, someone always asks, "where does it go?"
Q Tell us something about New York that only you know.
A There is no taller statue in the world than the Statue of Liberty. We have 25 million people within a 90-mile radius of NYC: That's three-quarters of California! We have the largest collection of skyscrapers anywhere on the planet, including the first and third largest. When you're on the river and looking at Manhattan, you're looking at success, because every one of those skyscrapers is somebody's dream.
Q Maybe. But they probably also destroyed the dreams of a lot of other people who were displaced to make way for them.
A Well, it's like John Lennon said: If all the birds in the forest sang the same tune, it wouldn't be music.
Q What's your biggest fear for New York?
A That we'll become nothing but a playground for the rich. There are no more new programs like rent control or rent stabilization. The city isn't as democratic as it used to be.
Q I understand you've had celebrities take your tours. Who was most memorable?
A Bruno Sammartino! His cousins told him I mentioned him on my tour because he had come through Ellis Island so he came and asked for me. He was the most wonderful, genuine person. He was in Italy as a boy and the Nazis took all their food: His family was hiding up in the mountains, starving, eating worms and grass. When he came as a kid he was so sick he was quarantined for a couple months: He came over the hard way. During all those initial waves of immigration Italy was the last country to come up with passports. On the backs of the Italians, the Ellis Island inspectors wrote "With Out Papers" in chalk on their coats. The initials of "With Out Papers" were used to create a slur to refer to Italian Americans." Bruno Sammartino was the classic 90-lb. weakling and he grew up to be the longest running champ of the WWF ever! Really - a great guy.
Q Boy do you ever have a New York accent. What is the origin of New York accents, anyway?
A I'm from Queens. But our accents here aren't regional: They're "ethnical" - English, Yiddish, Irish and Dutch. We have the largest population of Irish, incidentally, of any city outside of Dublin.
Q You work in the tourist industry, which is in part responsible for decimating all the cool, kitschy aspects of the old Hell's Kitchen, where you live. Any ambivalence about that?
A You got to dance with the devil a little bit. We have a $3 billion entertainment industry, but tourism is $30 billion a year.
Q So what restaurant gives you the flavor of old Hell's Kitchen before all the high-priced, high-carb, high-turnover spots invaded?
A Amarone on Ninth Ave. Everything there is made from scratch. The owners are Italian, and you can just tell them what you want - even if it's not on the menu - and they make it for you.
Q What's your favorite piece of New York apocrypha? A Audrey Munson! (Born in 1891), she was the first nude film star - in silent films - and a model who was sought out by all these sculptors and models because she was considered the perfect woman: perfect hair, the perfect feminine shape, everything. We have 16 statues based on her in New York City, including one on City Hall in gold leaf, and two in Central Park. The Lady of Columbia - you know, Columbia Pictures? That's her. When she was in her 20s, she felt her career was over and got depressed and tried to kill herself by taking poison. She went into an insane asylum and never came out. She finally died in 1996 at the age of 104.
Q That's pretty good. I bet you have more.
A I do! The name, "The Big Apple" came from the African American jazz musicians up in Harlem. A lot of them had day jobs as horse trainers and apples have the highest sugar content of any fruit and sugar was slang for money, which everyone knew you made in New York. Like: "Where's all the sugar? It's in New York: The Big Apple!" Everyone started using it from Walter Winchell to Frank Sinatra, but its origin was with musicians up in Harlem.
Q What's the best investment a New Yorker can make?
A A library card. You don't need a lot of money to get a good education.
Q And your favorite book about New York?
A Kenneth Jackson's Encyclopedia of New York City. He's my go-to guy. The book is 11 pounds! And I don't mean in British money!