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Ilona Murai Kerman: Dancer enjoyed successful career in show business

Ilona Murai Kerman, in an undated photo, was

Ilona Murai Kerman, in an undated photo, was a dancer and performer for nearly 30 years.   Credit: Christina Kerman

At 16, ballet prodigy Ellen Josephine Muray made her debut as a dancer at the Metropolitan Opera House, on Dec. 6, 1940, in a production of "Samson et Dalila." It was the beginning of a career in show business that spanned nearly 30 years.

She adopted the stage name “Ilona Murai” to honor her family’s Hungarian heritage, according to her daughter, Christina Kerman, and later made it her legal name.

Ilona Murai Kerman died of complications from COVID-19 on April 8 at age 96 at Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation in New Hyde Park, according to her daughter.

Murai married playwright and actor Sheppard Kerman in San Francisco in 1957 and added his last name to her own. The actor Dennis Weaver was one of two witnesses at the wedding, according to Christina. Sheppard Kerman died in 1991.

The family moved to Melville in 1970, where Ilona became a choreographer for the P.A.F. Playhouse in Huntington. She also taught at various dance studios on Long Island.

“My mother was eccentric and theatrical,” said Christina, a Glen Cove resident. “Dance was her spirit. That was her soul.”

According to her biography on Playbill.com, Ilona made her Broadway debut in 1949. She was featured in multiple Broadway productions, starting with “Touch and Go” and culminating with “The Girl Who Came To Supper,” which opened in 1963 with the stars José Ferrer and Florence Henderson.

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Murai also had featured TV appearances on "The Ray Bolger Show," "Omnibus & The Seven Lively Arts,” according to an April 21 obituary in Dance Magazine that was written by her daughter.

Ilona had dementia in her later years, Christina said, and her final days were spent quarantined because of COVID-19. Christina was able to say goodbye via FaceTime the day before Ilona died.

“The nurse put me to her ear and I told her, ‘It’s Christina, I love you,’ ” she said. “ ‘But if you have to let go, you can let go now.’ The following morning, I got a phone call saying she had passed.”

Ilona is also survived by her sister, Connie Muray Braun of Silver Spring, Maryland, and Christina’s partner, Steven Wurtzel, also of Glen Cove.

Ilona will be honored at a future date, Christina said.

“When this whole thing is finished,” Christina said, “I will go to a beautiful area, with some beautiful music, a small group of friends and relatives, and let her go that way.”

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