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Robert Adolph Wilton Morley
26 May 1908
|Died||3 June 1992 (aged 84)|
Reading, Berkshire, England
Robert Adolph Wilton Morley, CBE (26 May 1908 – 3 June 1992) was an English actor who enjoyed a lengthy career in both Britain and the United States. He was frequently cast as a pompous English gentleman representing the Establishment, often in supporting roles. In 1939 he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of King Louis XVI in Marie Antoinette.
In Movie Encyclopedia, film critic Leonard Maltin describes Morley as "recognisable by his ungainly bulk, bushy eyebrows, thick lips and double chin, ... particularly effective when cast as a pompous windbag." Ephraim Katz in his International Film Encyclopaedia describes Morley as "a rotund, triple-chinned, delightful character player of the British and American stage and screen." In his autobiography, Responsible Gentleman, Morley said his stage career started with managements valuing his appearance for playing "substantial gentleman" roles – as a doctor, lawyer, accountant or other professional member of society.
Morley was born in Semley, Wiltshire, England, the son of Gertrude Emily (née Fass) and Robert Wilton Morley, a major in the British Army. His mother came from a German family that had emigrated to South Africa. Morley attended Wellington College, Berkshire, which he hated, followed by RADA. As he was a famous "Old Wellingtonian", generations of headmasters tried to contact him, without success, with Morley stating "the only reason for me visiting Wellington would be to burn it down".
Morley made his West End stage debut in 1929 in Treasure Island at the Strand Theatre and his Broadway debut in 1938 in the title role of Oscar Wilde at the Fulton Theatre. Although soon won over to the big screen, Morley remained both a busy West End star and successful author, as well as appearing in touring productions.
He co-wrote several plays for the stage. His 1937 play Goodness, How Sad was turned into an Ealing Studios film, Return to Yesterday (1940), directed by Robert Stevenson. Later, he had outstanding success in London and New York with Edward, My Son, a gripping family drama written in 1947 in collaboration with Noel Langley. Morley played the central role of Arnold Holt, but in the disappointing film version Spencer Tracy was miscast, turning Holt, an unscrupulous English businessman, into a blustering Canadian expatriate. Edward, My Son (1949) was directed by George Cukor for MGM-British. Morley's acting career continued with roles as a missionary in The African Queen (1951), The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953), as W. S. Gilbert, and in Oscar Wilde (1960). In 1959 he appeared in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of a Stanley Ellin short story entitled, 'Specialty of the House'.
Ken Annakin's Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines was released 16 June 1965. In the British period comedy film, Morley is featured among an international ensemble cast including Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, Terry-Thomas, James Fox, Red Skelton, Benny Hill, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Gert Fröbe and Alberto Sordi. The film, revolving around the craze of early aviation circa 1910, is about a pompous newspaper magnate (Morley) who is convinced, by his daughter (Miles) and her fiancé (Fox), to organize an air race from London to Paris. A large sum of money is offered to the winner, hence it attracts a variety of characters who participate. The film received positive reviews, describing it as funny, colourful, clever and having captured the early enthusiasm for aviation. It was treated as a major production, one of only three full-length 70 mm Todd-AO Fox releases in 1965 with an intermission and musical interlude part of the original screenings. Because of the Todd-AO process, the film was an exclusive roadshow feature initially shown in deluxe Cinerama venues, where customers needed reserved seats purchased ahead of time. The film grossed $31,111,111 theatrically and on home video $29,950,000. Audience reaction both in first release and even today, is nearly universal in assessing the film as one of the "classic" aviation films.
Morley also personified the conservative Englishman in many comedy and caper films. He was the face of BOAC (later British Airways) as the merry television commercial spokesman of the 1970s with "We'll take good care of you" for British Airways. Later in his career, he received critical acclaim and numerous accolades for his performance in Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? During the 1980s, Morley hosted a celebrity cooking show on Cable TV, Celebrity Chefs. In 1980, Morley hosted (providing explanatory introductions) the 14-episode Granada Television anthology series Ladykillers.
Morley was honoured by being the first King of Moomba appointed by the Melbourne Moomba festival committee and, in typical humility, he accepted the crown in bare feet. Morley was in Australia touring his one-man show, The Sound of Morley.
In his book British Film Character Actors, Terence Pettigrew wrote: "Morley, who has more wobbly chins than a Shanghai drinking club, enjoys poking fun at life's absurdities, among whom he generously includes himself."
Personal life and honours
Robert Morley married Joan Buckmaster (1910–2005), a daughter of Dame Gladys Cooper. Their elder son, Sheridan Morley, became a writer and critic. They also had a daughter, Annabel, and another son, Wilton.
- First stage appearance in Dr Syn (Hippodrome, Margate, 28 May 1928)
- First London role, a pirate in Treasure Island (Strand Theatre, Christmas 1929)
- Touring, plus Playhouse Oxford and Festival Cambridge repertory, (1931–1933)
- Oakes in Up in the Air (Royalty Theatre, London 1933)
- Touring with Sir Frank Benson (1934–35)
- Ran a repertory company with Peter Bull (Perranporth, Cornwall, 1935)
- Title role in Oscar Wilde (Gate Theatre Studio, Villiers Street, London, 1936)
- Alexandre Dumas in The Great Romancer (Strand Theatre and New Theatre, 1937)
- Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (Old Vic Theatre, 1937)
- Title role in Oscar Wilde (Fulton Theatre, New York, October 1938)
- Title role in Springtime for Henry (Perranporth, 1939)
- Descius Heiss in Play with Fire (try-out version of The Shop at Sly Corner, Theatre Royal, Brighton, 1941)
- Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner (Savoy Theatre — and on tour – 1941–43)
- Charles in Staff Dance (also wrote, touring UK, 1944)
- Prince Regent in The First Gentleman (New Theatre and Savoy, 1945–46)
- Arnold Holt in Edward, My Son (also co-wrote, His Majesty's Theatre, 1947; also played this role at the Martin Beck Theatre New York 1948, and in Australia and New Zealand, 1949–50)
- Philip in The Little Hut (Lyric Theatre, 1950)
- Hippo in Hippo Dancing (also adapted, Lyric, 1954)
- Oswald Petersham in A Likely Tale (Globe Theatre, 1956)
- Panisse in the musical Fanny (Drury Lane, 1956)
- The Tunnel of Love (directed, Her Majesty's, 1957)
- Sebastian Le Boeuf in Hook, Line and Sinker (also adapted, Piccadilly Theatre, 1958)
- Once More, with Feeling (directed, New Theatre, 1959)
- Mr Asano in A Majority of One (Phoenix Theatre, 1960)
- Title role in Mr Rhodes (Theatre Royal Windsor, 1961)
- The Bishop in A Time to Laugh (Piccadilly, 1962)
- The Sound of Morley (One-man show, touring Australia 1966–67)
- Sir Mallalieu Fitzbuttress in Halfway Up the Tree (Queen's Theatre, 1967)
- Frank Foster in How the Other Half Loves (Lyric, 1970; also North America, 1972, and Australia, 1973)
- Barnstable in A Ghost on Tiptoe (also co-wrote, Savoy, 1974)
- Pound in Banana Ridge (Savoy, 1976)
- Toured Robert Morley Talks to Everyone (1978)
- Picture of Innocence (co-wrote and toured UK and Canada, 1978)
- Hilary in Alan Bennett's The Old Country (Theatre Royal, Sydney, 1980)
- Scrooge (1935) as Rich man (uncredited)
- Marie Antoinette (1938) as King Louis XVI
- You Will Remember (1941) as Tom Barrett / Leslie Stuart
- Major Barbara (1941) as Andrew Undershaft
- The Big Blockade (1942) as German: Von Geiselbrecht
- This Was Paris (1942) as Van Der Stuyl
- Partners in Crime (1942, Short) as Judge (uncredited)
- The Foreman Went to France (1942) as Mayor Coutare of Bivary
- The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) as Charles James Fox
- I Live in Grosvenor Square (aka A Yank in London) (1945), as Duke of Exmoor
- The Ghosts of Berkeley Square (1947) as Gen. "Jumbo" Burlap
- The Small Back Room (1949) (credited as "A Guest") as The Minister (uncredited)
- Edward, My Son (1949) as Cameo (uncredited)
- Outcast of the Islands (1951) as Elmer Almayer
- The African Queen (1951) as Reverend Samuel Sayer, "The Brother"
- Curtain Up (1952) (opposite Margaret Rutherford) as Harry Derwent Blacker
- The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953) as W.S. Gilbert
- Melba (1953) as Oscar Hammerstein I
- The Final Test (1953) as Alexander Whitehead
- Beat the Devil (1953) as Peterson
- The Good Die Young (1954) as Sir Francis Ravenscourt
- The Rainbow Jacket (1954) as Lord Logan
- Beau Brummell (1954) as King George III
- The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955) as Louis XI of France
- A Likely Tale (1956, TV Movie) as Oswald Petersham / Jonah Petersham
- Loser Takes All (1956) as Dreuther
- Around the World in 80 Days (1956) as Gauthier Ralph
- Fanny (1956, TV Movie) as Panisse
- Law and Disorder (1958) as Judge Crichton
- The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958) as Uncle Lucius
- The Doctor's Dilemma (1959) as Sir Ralph Bloomfield-Bonington
- The Journey (1959) as Hugh Deverill
- Libel (1959) as Sir Wilfred
- The Battle of the Sexes (1959) as Robert MacPherson
- Oscar Wilde (1960) as Oscar Wilde
- A Majority of One (1960, TV Movie) as Koichi Asano
- The Story of Joseph and His Brethren (1961) as Potiphar
- The Young Ones (1961) as Hamilton Black
- Go to Blazes (1962) as Arson Eddie
- The Road to Hong Kong (1962) as Leader of the 3rd Echelon
- The Boys (1962) as Montgomery
- Nine Hours to Rama (1963) as P.K. Mussadi
- Murder at the Gallop (1963) (opposite Margaret Rutherford) as Hector Enderby
- The Old Dark House (1963) as Roderick Femm
- Take Her, She's Mine (1963) as Mr. Pope-Jones
- Ladies Who Do (1963) as Colonel Whitforth
- Hot Enough for June (1964) as Colonel Cuncliffe
- Of Human Bondage (1964) as Dr. Jacobs
- Rhythm 'n' Greens (1964, Short) as Narrator
- Topkapi (1964) as Cedric Page
- Genghis Khan (1965) as Emperor of China
- Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) as Lord Rawnsley
- A Study in Terror (1965) as Mycroft Holmes
- The Loved One (1965) as Sir Ambrose Ambercrombie
- Life at the Top (1965) as Tiffield
- The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (1965) as Narrator
- The Alphabet Murders (aka The ABC Murders) (1965) as Captain Arthur Hastings
- Treasure Island (1965, Short)
- Tender Scoundrel (1966) as Lord Swift
- Hotel Paradiso (1966) as Henri Cotte
- Lucy in London (1966, TV Movie)
- Way...Way Out (1966) as Harold Quonset
- Finders Keepers (1966) as Colonel Roberts
- The Trygon Factor (1966) as Hubert Hamlyn
- Woman Times Seven (1967) as Dr. Xavier - episode "Super Simone"
- Luther (1968 TV movie) as Pope Leo X
- Hot Millions (1968) as Caesar Smith
- Some Girls Do (1969) as Miss Mary
- Sinful Davey (1969) as Duke of Argyll
- Twinky (1969) as Judge Roxborough
- Doctor in Trouble (1970) as Captain George Spratt
- Cromwell (1970) as The Earl of Manchester
- Song of Norway (1970) as Berg
- When Eight Bells Toll (1971) as Uncle Arthur
- Many Moons (1973, Short) as Narrator
- Theatre of Blood (1973) as Meredith Merridew
- Great Expectations (1974, TV Movie) as Uncle Pumblechook
- Hugo the Hippo (1976) as The Sultan (voice)
- The Blue Bird (1976) as Father Time
- The Fortune Hunters (1976, TV Movie) as Mr. Justice Bosanquet
- Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (aka Too Many Chefs) (1978) as Max Vandeveer
- The Human Factor (1979) as Dr. Percival
- Scavenger Hunt (1979) as Charles Bernstein
- Tales of the Unexpected (1980) as Harry Knox
- Oh! Heavenly Dog (1980) as Bernie
- Loophole (1981) as Godfrey
- The Great Muppet Caper (1981) as British Gentlemen
- The Deadly Game (1982, TV Movie) as Emile Carpeau
- High Road to China (1983) as Bentik
- The Old Men at the Zoo (1983, BBC TV mini-series) as Lord Godmanchester
- Second Time Lucky (1984) as God
- Alice in Wonderland (1985, TV Movie) as King of Hearts
- The Wind (1986, direct to video) as Elias Appleby
- The Trouble with Spies (1987) as Angus
- Little Dorrit (1988) as Lord Decimus Barnacle
- War and Remembrance (1988–1989, TV Series) as Alistair Tudsbury
- The Lady and the Highwayman (1989, TV Movie) as Lord Chancellor
- Istanbul (1989) as Atkins (final film role)
- A Musing Morley (1974, ISBN 0 340 19997 0)
- Morley Marvels (1976, ISBN 0 340 22331 6)
- More Morley (1978, ISBN 0 340 24763 0)
- Robert Morley's Book of Bricks (1978, ISBN 0 330 25881 8)
- Worry! (with Margaret Morley, 1979, ISBN 0 399 12596 5)
- Robert Morley’s Book of Worries (U.K. Version of Worry!) (with Margaret Morley, 1979, ISBN 0 297 77698 3)
- The Pleasures of Age (Hoddder and Stoughton) (1988 ISBN 0 340 50606 7) (re-published in a 'Coronet' imprint 1989)
- "Robert Morley".
- Morley, Margaret (1979). Larger than life: the biography of Robert Morley - Margaret Morley - Google Books. ISBN 9780860510642. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
- "PASSED/FAILED: Sheridan Morley". Independent.co.uk. 22 May 1997.
- "Robert Morley, Jowly Actor of Jovial Roles, Dies at 84". The New York Times. 4 June 1992.
- McLaren, Angus (15 September 2017). Playboys and Mayfair Men: Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London. JHU Press. ISBN 9781421423470.
- League, The Broadway. "Oscar Wilde – Broadway Play – Original - IBDB". ibdb.com.
- "1938 Academy Awards® Winners and History". filmsite.org.
- "Return to Yesterday (1940)".
- "Edward, My Son (1949) - George Cukor - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Specialty of the House (1959) - Robert Stevens - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- Crowther, Bosley (17 June 1965). "Movie Review: Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines (1965)". The New York Times.
- "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines – Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes". Variety. 1 January 1965. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
- "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines – Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes: TV Guide Review". TV Guide.com. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- "Director's Voice-over Commentary". Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines DVD, 2004.
- Munn (1983), p. 161.
- "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
- Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 324. ISBN 9780818404856.
- Hardwick & Schnepf (1989), p. 58.
- "Robert Morley - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- "Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe?". TV Guide.
- marcus, laurence. "LADYKILLERS - A TELEVISION HEAVEN REVIEW". televisionheaven.co.uk.
- The many meals of Robert Morley. British Comedy Guide, Graham McCann, 28 June 2020. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
- Moomba – A festival for the people Archived 25 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine PDF pp 18 & 22 Craig Bellamy, Gordon Chisholm & Hilary Ericksen (2006)
- photo of Robert Morley accepting King of Moomba crown Melbourne Herald newspaper
- "Morley, Robert (-1992) - People and organisations". Trove.
- Pettigrew, Terence (4 November 1982). British Film Character Actors: Great Names and Memorable Moments. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780715382707.
- "BFI Screenonline: Morley, Robert (1908-1992) Biography". screenonline.org.uk.
- Hope, Christopher (25 January 2012) "JB Priestley, Roald Dahl, Lucian Freud and LS Lowry among 277 people who turned down honours", The Telegraph
- Morley, Sheridan (27 February 2005). "The final curtain". The Daily Telegraph.
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