In 1964, a band of surfers from Miami were responsible for the one of the biggest jewel heists in American history, stealing the Star of India sapphire and other gems from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The key to the operation was Jack Roland Murphy, otherwise known as “Murf the Surf,” whose name was propelled into pop culture following the crime. The new MGM+ docuseries Murf the Surf, premiering February 5, is a fascinating deep dive into his tumultuous life.
We caught up with writer and executive producer R.J. Cutler to learn more about the story.
Tell us about the true-crime docuseries 'Murf the Surf.'
It’s the story of Jack Roland Murphy, “Murf the Surf,” who was America's first true-crime celebrity television superstar. This man was a jewel thief and a figure in popular culture—he was a champion surfer—who went on to commit a couple of grisly murders. He was sentenced to multiple years in prison, only to find the Lord and open a prison ministry. Jack Roland Murphy was paroled, and spent the rest of his days rewriting the story of his past.
What drew you to the story?
I was drawn by what a great yarn it was and how much it has to say about the time in which it took place. It began in the mid-1960s, in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. America was really looking for heroes to engage them, and to entertain them. They found this jewel thief, who had stolen the biggest diamond in the world from the American Museum of Natural History with a bunch of other surfers.
In addition to being a thief, what other crimes did Jack Roland Murphy commit?
He got caught up in a couple of murders, which he was convicted for, and he spent many years in prison. He became a protege of Pat Robertson’s when he was released. All of these twists and turns are what compelled me to think, “Oh, there's a lot of opportunity here.”
Did you have a special connection with him?
We met in the weeks before his death. We were able to do the interviews that are featured in the series. In some ways, it was chilling to talk to him and to understand the efforts he was going through to manipulate the way the story might be told. He had a lot to say about what he wanted, and it's not necessarily what the series ends up being.
This true-crime docuseries is available MGM+. How is it being part of the MGM+ family?
We're partnered with MGM+ on this series, which is fantastic. We're also thrilled to be partnered with our friends at Imagine Entertainment, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, our executive producing partners. It's a mighty team and platform.
MGM+ is an Amazon company. What is the last thing that you ordered from Amazon?
I have a deal with my daughter that any book she wants, she gets, and she takes full advantage of it. We just ordered her a book that’s part of The Baby-Sitters Club series.
Amazon’s MGM+ premium channel and streaming service has the latest movies, including Top Gun: Maverick, James Bond, the Rocky franchise, and film favorites like Robocop and Father of the Bride. The service also recently unveiled a broad lineup of original series, including sci-fi horror series FROM, Emmy-winning series Godfather of Harlem, the Western adventure Billy the Kid, and cinematic dramatic series War of the Worlds, Rogue Heroes, and Belgravia.