Murray Joseph Schisgal was born on November 25, 1926, to Abraham and Irene (née Sperling) Schisgal, in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a tailor in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Schisgal was in high school during World War II, but he quit to join the United States Navy in 1943, in which he served until 1946, earning the rank of radioman, third class. He returned to earn his high school diploma at night and attended Long Island University. He gained a bachelor of laws degree in 1953 from Brooklyn Law School and a bachelor of arts from New York’s New School for Social Research in 1959.
From the age of twenty-one, Schisgal knew that his main professional interest was in writing. His initial efforts in the world of letters were in prose fiction: more than sixty stories and three novels, none of which was immediately published. He supported himself through a variety of odd jobs, including setting pins in a bowling alley, pushing clothing racks in the garment district, and playing saxophone and clarinet in a small band. After receiving his law degree, Schisgal practiced law for two years on Delancey Street, near Greenwich Village, but he gave this up to devote more time to his writing. He then turned to teaching English while he continued to write on the side. From 1955 through 1960, he taught English at James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School in East Harlem, New York City. While teaching, he turned to writing plays.
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