Chester Morris

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Chester Morris
Chester Morris in Corsair.jpg
in Corsair (1931)
Born John Chester Brooks Morris
(1901-02-16)February 16, 1901
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died September 11, 1970(1970-09-11) (aged 69)
New Hope, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Cause of death
Barbiturate overdose
Occupation Actor
Years active 1917–1970
Spouse(s) Suzanne Kilbourn (m. 1926; div. 1940)
Lillian Kenton Barker (m. 1940–70)
Children 3
Parent(s) William Morris
Etta Hawkins

Chester Morris (February 16, 1901 – September 11, 1970) was an American stage, film, television and radio actor. He is best known for portraying Boston Blackie, a criminal-turned-detective, in the Boston Blackie film series of the 1940s.

Early years[edit]

He was born John Chester Brooks Morris in New York City, one of four children of Broadway stage actor William Morris and stage comedian Etta Hawkins.[1] Morris dropped out of school and began his Broadway career at 15 years old opposite Lionel Barrymore's The Copperhead.[2] He made his film debut in the silent comedy-drama film An Amateur Orphan for Thanhouser/Pathé.[3]

After appearing in several more Broadway productions in the early 1920s, Morris joined his parents, sister and two brothers, Gordon and Adrian (who also became a film actor), on the vaudeville circuit.[4] The family's act consisted of a comedy sketch entitled "The Horrors of Home". Morris toured with his family for two years before returning to Broadway with roles in The Home Towners (1926) and Yellow (1927). While appearing in the 1927 play Crime, Morris was spotted by a talent agent and was signed to a film contract.[1]

Career[edit]

Morris made his sound film debut as "Chick Williams" in the 1929 film Alibi, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.[5] He followed with roles in Woman Trap (1929), The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930) and The Divorcee, starring Norma Shearer in 1930. Later that year, Morris was cast as one of the leads (opposite Wallace Beery and Robert Montgomery) in the M-G-M prison drama The Big House. For the next two years, he worked steadily in films for United Artists and M-G-M before being cast opposite Jean Harlow in the 1932 comedy-drama Red-Headed Woman.[6]

By the mid-to-late 1930s, Morris' popularity had begun to wane and he was cast as the lead actor such B-movies as Smashing the Rackets (1938) and Five Came Back (1939).[3] In 1941, Morris' career was revived when he was cast as criminal-turned-detective Boston Blackie. Morris appeared in a total of fourteen Boston Blackie film serials for Columbia Pictures, beginning with Meet Boston Blackie. He reprised the role of Boston Blackie for the radio series in 1944. He was replaced after one season.[7] During World War II, Morris performed magic tricks in over 350 USO shows. He had been practicing magic since the age of 12 and was considered a top amateur magician.[8]

While appearing in the Boston Blackie series, Morris continued to appear in roles in other films mostly for Pine-Thomas films for Paramount Pictures.[3] After appearing in 1949's Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture, the final Boston Blackie film, Morris largely retired from films.[2] During the 1950s, he focused mainly on television and regional theatre role. During this time, Morris also appeared in guest spots for the anthology series Cameo Theatre, Lights Out, Tales of Tomorrow, Alcoa Premiere, Suspense, Danger, Robert Montgomery Presents, The Web, Phillip Morris Playhouse, Studio One, and Kraft Television Theatre. He briefly returned to films in 1955 with a role in the prison drama Unchained, followed by a role in the 1956 science-fiction horror film The She-Creature. In 1960, he had recurring role as Detective Lieutenant Max Ritter in the CBS summer replacement series, Diagnosis: Unknown. After the series was canceled after a year, Morris appeared in the NBC television film A String of Beads. In November 1960, he returned to Broadway as "Senator Bob Munson" in the stage adaptation of the 1959 novel Advise and Consent. Morris remained with the production until it closed in May 1961. In October, he reprised his role for the touring production.[9]

In the early to mid-1960s, Morris appeared in guest spots for the dramas Route 66, The Defenders, and Dr. Kildare. In 1965, he replaced Jack Albertson in the Broadway production of The Subject Was Roses.[3] He reprised his role in the play for the touring production in 1966.[10]

Morris and Mae Marsh in a scene still for the 1918 Goldwyn silent drama, The Beloved Traitor

Personal life[edit]

Morris was married twice. He first married Suzanne Kilbourne on November 8, 1926. They had two children, John Brooks and Cynthia.[1] Kibourne was granted an interlocutory divorce in November 1939 which was finalized on November 26, 1940.[11][12] On November 30, 1940, Morris married socialite Lillian Kenton Barker at the home of actor Frank Morgan.[13] They had a son, Kenton, born in 1944. The couple remained married until Morris' death in 1970.[2]

Final years and death[edit]

In mid-1968, Morris starred opposite Barbara Britton in the touring production of Where Did We Go Wrong?.[14] After the production wrapped, he returned to his home in Manhattan where his health began to decline. Morris was later diagnosed with stomach cancer.[15] Despite his declining health, Morris began work on what would be his last film role, as "Pop Weaver" in biographical drama The Great White Hope (1970). The film was released after his death.[16][17] After filming wrapped, Morris joined the stage production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania.[8]

On September 11, 1970, Lee R. Yopp, the producer and director of Caine, was scheduled to have lunch with Morris. After Yopp could not reach Morris by phone at his motel room, he went to Morris' room where he found the actor's body lying on the floor.[14] The county coroner attributed Morris' death to an overdose of barbiturates.[18][14] His remains were cremated and scattered over a German river.[19]

Broadway credits[edit]

Date Production Role
February 18 – June 1918 The Copperhead Sam Carter
September 22 – October 1918 Thunder Sam Disbrow
December 12, 1921 – April 1922 The Mountain Man Carey
September 22 – October 1922 The Exicters Lexington Dalrymple
January 23 – February 1923 Extra Wallace King
August 23 – October 1926 The Home Towners Waly Calhoon
September 21, 1926 – January 1927 Yellow Val Parker
February 22 – August 1927 Crime Rocky Morse
February 20 – May 1928 Whispering Friends Al Wheeler
September 26 – October 1928 Fast Life Chester Palmer
February 27 – July 19, 1958 Blue Denim Major Bartley
November 17, 1960 – May 20, 1961 Advise and Consent Bob Munson
May 25, 1964 – May 21, 1966 The Subject Was Roses John Cleary

Selected filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
1917 An Amateur Orphan Dick
1918 The Beloved Traitor Dan
1923 Loyal Lives Tom O'Hara
1925 The Road to Yesterday Party Guest Uncredited
1929 Alibi Chick Williams Nominated: Academy Award for Best Actor
1929 Woman Trap Ray Malone
1929 The Show of Shows Performer $20 Bet sketch
"Bicycle Built for Two" number
1930 Second Choice Don Warren
1930 Playing Around Nickey Solomon
1930 She Couldn't Say No Jerry Casey
1930 The Case of Sergeant Grischa Sgt. Grischa Paprotkin
1930 The Divorcee Ted
1930 The Big House Morgan
1930 The Bat Whispers Detective Anderson
1931 Corsair John Hawks
1932 Cock of the Air Lt. Roger Craig
1932 The Miracle Man John "Doc" Madison
1932 Sinners in the Sun Jimmie Martin
1932 Red-Headed Woman William "Bill"/"Willie" Legendre, Jr.
1933 Blondie Johnson Danny Jones
1933 Infernal Machine Robert Holden
1933 Tomorrow at Seven Neil Broderick
1933 Golden Harvest Chris Martin
1934 Gift of Gab Doyle
1934 The Gay Bride Jimmie "Office boy" Burnham
1934 Society Doctor Dr. Morgan
1935 Public Hero No. 1 Jeff Crane
1935 Pursuit Mr. "Mitch" Mitchell
1936 Three Godfathers Bob
1936 Moonlight Murder Steve Farrell
1926 Frankie and Johnny Johnnie Drew Alternative title: Frankie and Johnnie
1927 I Promise to Pay Eddie Lang
1937 Flight From Glory Paul Smith
1937 Sunday Night at the Trocadero Chester Morris Short subject
1938 Law of the Underworld Gene Fillmore
1938 Sky Giant Kenneth "Ken" Stockton
1938 Smashing the Rackets Jim "Sock" Conway
1939 Pacific Liner Doctor Craig
1939 Blind Alley Hal Wilson
1939 Five Came Back Bill Brooks
1939 Thunder Afloat "Rocky" Blake
1940 The Marines Fly High Lt. Jim Malone
1941 Meet Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
1941 No Hands on the Clock Detective Humphrey Campbell
1941 Confessions of Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
1942 Alias Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
1943 I Live on Danger Jeff Morrell
1942 Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood Boston Blackie
1942 Wrecking Crew Duke Mason
1943 Tornado Pete Ramsey
1943 After Midnight with Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
1943 Aerial Gunner Sgt. "Foxy" Pattis
1943 The Chance of a Lifetime Boston Blackie
1944 Gambler's Choice Ross Hadley
1944 Secret Command Jeff Gallagher
1944 One Mysterious Night Boston Blackie
1944 Double Exposure Larry Burke
1945 Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion Boston Blackie
1945 Boston Blackie's Rendezvous Boston Blackie
1946 A Close Call for Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
1946 The Phantom Thief Boston Blackie
1946 Boston Blackie and the Law Boston Blackie
1947 Blind Spot Jeffrey Andrews
1948 Trapped by Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
1949 Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture Boston Blackie
1955 Unchained Kenyon J. Scudder
1956 The She-Creature Dr. Carlo Lombardi
1970 The Great White Hope Pop Weaver Released posthumously
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1951 Starlight Theatre Ed Kennedy Episode: "Act of God Nonwithstanding"
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars The Dansker Episode: "Billy Budd"
1952 Lux Video Theatre Lefty Episode: "Welcome Home, Lefty"
1953 Omnibus The Battler Segment: "The Battler"
1955 Appointment with Adventure Lt. Kizer Episode: "Time Bomb"
1957 The Red Skelton Hour Tony Episode: "Clem's Fish Market"
1957 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre Frank Simmons Episode: "Black Is for Grief"
1957 Playhouse 90 Warden Episode: "Child of Trouble"
1958 Pursuit Mood Episode: "Tiger on a Bicycle"
1959 The United States Steel Hour Henry Vining Episode: "Whisper of Evil"
1960 The Play of the Week Swanson Episode: "Morni
1960 Diagnosis: Unknown Detective Lieutenant Ritter 3 episodes
1960 Rawhide Hugh Clements Episode: "Incident on the Road to Yesterday"
1961 Naked City Frank Manfred Episode: "Make-Believe Man"
1961 Checkmate Albert Dewitt Episode: " Portrait of a Man Running"
1961 Ben Casey Walter Tyson Episode: "An Expensive Glass of Water"
1962 Eleventh Hour Frankie Morrison Episode: "Along About Late in the Afternoon"
1964 Espionage Harry Kemp Episode: "Castles in Spain"
1964 East Side/West Side Walt McGill Episode: "The Name of the Game"
1964 Mr. Broadway Orin Kelsey Episode: "Don't Mention My Name in Sheboygan"
1965 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Major Whitman Episode: "The Fliers"
1967 Coronet Blue Dr. Michael Wilson Episode: "A Time to Be Born"
1968 Cimarron Strip George Deeker Episode: "Without Honor"
1969 Gentle Ben Elsmore Episode: "Busman's Holiday"

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1945 Old Gold Comedy Theatre Boy Meets Girl[20]
1952 Philip Morris Playhouse Each Dawn I Die[21]

References[edit]

  • Blottner, Gene (2011). Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-48672-4. 
  • Frasier, David K. (2002). Suicide in the Entertainment Industry: An Encyclopedia of 840 Twentieth Century Cases. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-41038-8. 
  • Morton, Lisa; Adamson, Kent (2009). Savage Detours: The Life and Work of Ann Savage. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-45706-6. 
  • Parish, James Robert; Leonard, William T. (1976). Hollywood Players: The Thirties. Arlington House. ISBN 0-870-00365-8. 
  • Rosen, Fred (2004). Cremation in America. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-615-92756-5. 
  • Young, William H.; Young, Nancy K. (2010). World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0-313-35652-1. 

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Veteran Actor Chester Morris, 69". The Palm Beach Post (Palm Beach, Florida). September 12, 1970. p. 6. 
  2. ^ a b c "Movies' 'Boston Blackie,' Chester Morris, Dies". Reading Eagle (Reading, Pennsylvania). September 12, 1970. p. 13. 
  3. ^ a b c d (Blottner 2011, p. 51)
  4. ^ (Parish, Leonard 1976, p. 410)
  5. ^ (Morton, Adamson 2009, p. 86)
  6. ^ (Parish, Leonard 1976, p. 413)
  7. ^ (Young 2010, p. 241)
  8. ^ a b "Veteran Actor Chester Morris Found Dead". The Times-News (Hendersonville, North Carolina). September 12, 1970. p. 9. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  9. ^ (Parish, Leonard 1976, p. 413)
  10. ^ "No Book---Says Chester Morris". Spokane Daily Chronicle (Spokane, Washington). November 8, 1966. p. 17. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Divorce Decree Given Wife Of Chester Morris". The Telegraph-Herald. November 12, 1939. p. 7. 
  12. ^ "Marriage Not To Be Blocked". Warsaw Union. November 26, 1940. p. 8. 
  13. ^ "Honeymoon Precedes Work of New Movie". The Miami News. December 1, 1940. p. 5-A. 
  14. ^ a b c (Parish, Leonard 1976, p. 414)
  15. ^ (Frasier 2002, p. 233)
  16. ^ "Chester Morris Back On Screen". The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). October 1, 1969. p. 93. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  17. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 20, 1971). "'Hope' Tackles Issues Of Today's World". Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Daytona Beach, Florida). p. 7B. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  18. ^ "'Boston Blackie' Dies". St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Florida). September 12, 1970. pp. 4–A. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  19. ^ (Rosen 2004, p. 188)
  20. ^ "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest 40 (1): 32–39. Winter 2014. 
  21. ^ Kirby, Walter (April 20, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved May 9, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read

External links[edit]