Monday, March 16, 2015

♣ The Films of Dennis Morgan ♣


Dennis Morgan was born Earl Stanley Morner on Dec. 20, 1908 in Wisconsin. His parents were Frank and Grace Morner. Dennis was the second of three children. His older brother died 12 days before Earl/Dennis was born. His younger sister's name was Dorothy.

All family photos found here - source
The handsome 6'2" married Lillian Vedder in 1933 and remained married to her until his death on Sept. 7, 1994 of respiratory failure (two days after their 61st wedding anniversary). They had three children: Stanley Morner, Kristin Morgan (who appeared with him in the 1947 film My Wild Irish Rose when she was eight years old), and James Morner.

         
Morgan and his wife, Lillian
 
I was selling poppies. After we really became acquainted,
he told me he was too shy to come over!  I was interested in him from the start.
~Lillian on her husband
 
It's not the easiest thing in the world to be a success in Hollywood
and still be the ordinary husband and father.

         
With his wife and two oldest children: Stanley Jr. and Kristin

With son Stanley Jr.

       
With Stanley Jr., Kristin, and James
 
More great photos here!

 
He studied opera before getting into movies. In 1939 he signed with Warner Bros. and changed his name to Dennis Morgan. His breakthrough role was as  in Kitty Foyle (1940). He retired from movies in the 1950s, occasionally making cameo appearances. After his best friend, actor Jack Carson, died from cancer in 1963, Morgan became a national spokesman and fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. He is buried in Oakhill Cemetery in Oakhurst, California. You can read more of his biography here.

Headstone - "My desert is waiting" (he was in a movie called The Desert Song - 1943)

Here's an interesting tidbit I found on Dennis Morgan: Warner's Regular Guy - "Since he played at Warner Bros. at a time when all their male stars were predominantly of the Irish nationality, it was understood that he was too.  Add to that a number of “Irish” roles, such as his hugely successful My Wild Irish Rose (as Chauncey Olcott), naturally he has been associated with the Irish for many years.  His fans still fancy Dennis to be of true Irish descent—in spite of the facts." He is actually of Swedish, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Scottish descent.

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Last year I watched a lot of Dennis Morgan movies. I had previously only seen him in Christmas in Connecticut, and I liked what I saw. Generally, his films all have the same good feel to them so if you watch too many the story lines get a little muddled, but that doesn't matter to me. So now, every time I see that one of his films is going to be showing on TCM (usually in the middle of the night or early morning) I set my dvr to record it. Here is a list of all of his films I have seen so far:

The Great Ziegfeld (1936) - starring William Powell as Ziegfeld. Morgan is the uncredited (and dubbed!?!) singer in the number 'A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.'

 
Here's a possible explanation to why he was dubbed: "For some unexplained reason, Allan Jones’ voice was on the soundtrack, while Dennis mouthed the words.  It’s a mystery since everyone at MGM knew he could carry a tune.  Much speculation has been made through the years concerning the reasons why, but no one seems to agree.  Dennis was an unknown in 1936, and it seems unlikely MGM would trust in him a big song in an important musical sequence.  It’s very likely that Allan Jones recorded the song with every intention to film it but at the last minute wasn’t available.  MGM, in a corner, subbed in the attractive Dennis.  The music track was already laid down, so no new expense was added to the movie’s already large budget for Dennis to re-record the number." - source.


Suzy (1936) - Lieutenant (as Stanley Morner) - don't remember him in this movie, which stars Jean Harlow, Franchot Tone, and Cary Grant (in one of his early films). It was a great film and a departure for Jean Harlow. I really liked her character. She marries Tone, witnesses him being murdered, and flees the country. At the club where she works, she meets Grant. They fall in love and marry. The only problem is, Grant is always falling in love and getting married and then divorced. Also, he is sent right back to fight in the war, where Suzy can't keep an eye on him. She must be content to wait with his father for his return. The only thing is, will Grant stay faithful to his Suzy while he's away? In the midst of this, Tone shows up. If Suzy wouldn't have fled the scene, she would have discovered that her husband was only wounded. Now she has two husbands: one that loves her and one that says he does, but who has in fact fallen in love with another girl - the same one who shot Tone. Watch the movie to find out what happened when she was confronted!


Waterfront (1939) - remake of the pre-code James Cagney/Loretta Young movie, Taxi! (1932). His first film as Dennis Morgan. He plays a rougher character than what we're used to, as he hasn't found his niche in Hollywood yet. Also starring Gloria Dickson and Ward Bond.

With co-star Gloria Dickson

Three Cheers for the Irish (1940) - Morgan plays a Scotchman, excuse me, Scotsman! Starring Priscilla Lane, Thomas Mitchell, and Virginia Grey. Mitchell is an Irish policemen who is forced to retire on his 25th anniversary on the job. Morgan is the young policeman taking his place. The fact that he is a Scotsman does not help. Morgan also romances Lane, who plays Mitchell's daughter, and secretly weds her. When Mitchell finds out he disowns her and tell her he has no daughter. It takes a miracle, actually two, to make him change his mind.


 
 
Tear Gas Squad (1940) - also starring Gloria Dickson and John Payne. Another policeman film. Morgan is a nightclub singer who becomes a policeman to impress a girl (Dickson) whose father, brothers, and boyfriend (Payne) are all policeman. Watch the family accept him as he sings a delightful Irish tune.

"When Irish Eyes are Smiling"


Kitty Foyle (1940) - Morgan's breakthrough role. Morgan plays the wealthy Wyn Stafford who meets and marries 'white collar girl' Kitty Foyle, played by Ginger Rogers. The entire movie is a flashback, as Roger's thinks back on her difficult life and tries to decide who to marry: wealthy Wyn who she has always loved but whose snobby family won't accept her (Morgan) or the handsome young doctor, played by James Craig,  just starting out. Rogers won an Oscar for her performance. You can read a great post on the movie here.


Affectionately Yours (1941) - Morgan is a newspaper reporter in Lisbon who uses his marriage to Merle Oberon as a way to date girls without having to marry them. He tells them that his wife won't give him a divorce. Suddenly, he get's a telegram saying that his wife IS divorcing him. His girlfriend, Rita Hayworth, is happy because now THEY can get married. Morgan, in a panic, goes back home to the states to try and talk his wife out of it. Hayworth follows and discovers his scheme. Now he has two angry women on his hands! How will he ever get out of this mess?! Also starring Ralph Bellamy (as Oberon's boyfriend) and James Gleason. It also had Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen!




Kisses for Breakfast (1941) - Morgan, newly married, is being blackmailed and after being hit on the head loses his memory right before his honeymoon. He finds a name in his pocket, the name of his new wife's cousin Jane Wyatt) who doesn't know what her cousin's new husband looks like. She cares for him and a year, while on the way to Morgan's other wife's wedding (thinking her husband is dead she is finally going to remarry), they get married. Naturally women are fainting right and left when they show up as they thought Morgan was dead. How can they prove that he is already married? And before his honeymoon with Wyatt?


...so I missed how he eventually finds out who he's married to because the electricity went out while I was watching it. Anyone able to fill me in?

In This Our Life (1942) - I personally found this to be a rather depressing movie. Morgan is married to Olivia de Havilland. Bette Davis, playing her sister, is engaged to George Brent. Then, as only Davis can do, she steals Morgan from her sister and marries him. She drives him to suicide and then, when she finds out that de Havilland is now going to marry Brent, becomes jealous. She gets her punishment though. Morgan gives a good dramatic performance, showing that romantic comedy is not the only thing he is good at.


The Very Thought of You (1944) - a romantic movie with Morgan playing a soldier on leave who meets the girl he was sweet on as a boy (Eleanor Parker). She is now attracted to him and they end up getting married before he has to go back. They spend their honeymoon night in a tent on the beach. My favorite parts of the movie are actually the parts with their best friends, played by Dane Clark and Faye Emerson. I especially like the ending scene when they come home. Watch the trailer here.

 
 
 
With Eleanor Parker
 
3/17 - was doing some research for a Sound of Music post and just realized Parker plays the baroness!! Whoa!! Now I need to re-watch this movie!
 
Hollywood Canteen (1944) - all about the Hollywood Canteen started by Bette Davis and John Garfield. Morgan plays himself.


Christmas in Connecticut (1945) - his most well known role. Morgan is a sailor going to spend Christmas with the famous magazine writer and homemaker, Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), who lives on a farm in Connecticut with her husband and baby. The only problem is, she's really a single woman who lives in an apartment. And she can't even cook! One of my favorite holiday movies. My favorite scenes are the barn dance and all the parts with Uncle Felix (S.Z. 'Cuddles' Sakall). I love the house in the movie too. Check out this great post on The Stone Farmhouse in Christmas in Connecticut.


 
 

One More Tomorrow (1946) - Shiftless playboy Tom Collier (Morgan) lives to jump from party to party--until he meets photographer Christie Sage (Ann Sheridan). Through Christie, Tom takes over the ownership of The Bantam, a liberal magazine which opposes everything his family represents. As Tom and Christie's relationship deepens, love blooms and he proposes to her. Realizing that she could never fit in with Tom's social circle, Christie says no, a decision she later regrets. But Tom isn't left alone for long--scheming gold-digger Cecelia Henry (Alexis Smith) wastes no time in catching Tom on the rebound and forcing him into a disastrous marriage. Jane Wyman plays Sheridan's photographer and Jack Carson is Morgan's friend, an embarrassment Mrs. Collier! - source


Morgan and Sheridan

Two Guys From Milwaukee (1946) - Reminiscent of Roman Holiday (1953) Morgan plays a Balkan prince who's visiting America and wants to see what it's really like, instead of what they want to show him. He also wants to meet the famous actress, Lauren Bacall. He secretly takes a cab around New York City, befriends the driver (Jack Carson), and takes him out to dinner (with Carson paying as he is carrying no money) and gets drunk. Carson takes him to his house for the night. In the morning, he discovers who Morgan is. He keeps it a secret though and shows Morgan what the average American is like. Morgan, whose country is trying to decide if they want to keep their monarchy, accidently broadcasts a speech on how democracy is better than a monarchy. He also falls in love with Carson's girlfriend, played by Joan Leslie. Leslie is awed by his royal status and thinks she is in love with him. Will she choose him or stay with Carson? Watch the trailer here.

In 1948 they made a sequel of sorts, playing different characters, titled Two Guys From Texas.

 
Carson's cute little house he share's with his sister and niece.
 
Carson and Morgan with the director.
 
The film ends with this fun scene: "Finding himself out of a job in the film's final scene, Henry (Morgan) books a flight to Milwaukee with plans of becoming a beer salesman. And who should be seated next to him but the dream girl herself - Bacall! So what happens to the guy's wish fulfillment when Bogie, the ultimate tough guy, also shows up? Bogart and Bacall made their guest appearance (in what would now be called "cameos") as a lark - although the publicity didn't hurt their next co-starring vehicle, The Big Sleep (1946), which opened a month after Two Guys From Milwaukee." - source. You can watch the scene here.
 

Joan Leslie remembered: “Carson and Morgan were like a couple of kids at play. When they worked, they would tease each other, play jokes on each other all the time.  A lot of times, they would take off for lunch and go over to Lakeside Golf Club, which is just across the way [from Warners], and maybe they would tee off or maybe they would have lunch.  They’d dawdle over lunch, and sometimes they wouldn’t come back at the end of the hour.  The director [David Butler] would say, ‘Do you know where they are?’  I’d say, ‘No, I don’t know where they are!’  And they would call Lakeside—and they would say, ‘No, they’re not here,’ and after two hours, they came in the big soundstage door, eating ice cream cones—’Oh! Were you looking for us?!’  That’s the kind of thing they did, and who could get mad at that?  Who could fire the two movie stars when they come walking in like that, being so darn cute!  I think that happened more than once!” - source

My Wild Irish Rose (1947) - The life of Irish tenor Chauncey Olcott is chronicled from his childhood to his days as the toast of New York. In between, his rise to the top is complicated by romances with two women: his true love Rose Donovan and stage star Lillian Russell, who wants to make him a star - source.

Morgan's real life daughter, Kristin, is in the "Wee Rose of Killarney" number at the end of the film. I'll be watching it tomorrow on TCM at 6am ET. Also starring Arlene Dahl, William Frawley, and Alan Hale.


One Sunday Afternoon (1948) - A dentist recalls his past as he prepares his chair for the man who was responsible for him spending time in the penitentiary. A turn-of-the-century musical with Don Defore and Dorothy Malone - source. Similar to Meet Me in St. Louis (which I'm not overly fond of even though I've watched it twice - please don't hate me -I think it's Margaret O'Brien, certainly not Judy's fault). However, if you like turn-of-the-century films, this is for you.


The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949) - Jane Wyman, playing a consumer-protection expert, is enjoying a restful day on her boat, when it is capsized by Dennis Morgan's submarine, which is part of a secret scientific mission for the government. Morgan gives her some sleeping pills and deposits her safely on the shore. When she tells her story, no one believes her and her reputation quickly starts going down the drain. The Liar's Club, headed by William Frawley, even wants to give her an award. The one thing that will prove her story is some photos she took, but the film has been taken from her camera. She launches a mission to steal the film. What follows is thoroughly enjoyable as Wyman chases after Morgan trying to steal her camera back. Watch the trailer here. Also starring Eve Arden.




♣ My favorites: Two Guys From Milwaukee (1946), The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949).


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One cannot talk about Dennis Morgan without mentioning Jack Carson. The two co-starred in 15 films together. "During the 1940s and '50s, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson were Warner Bros.' answer to Paramount's Bing Crosby and Bob Hope; a crooner and comic who traded wisecracks while sharing unlikely adventures and an easygoing rapport" - TCM.  If you're a Jack Carson fan don't watch The Hard Way (1943) starring Dennis Morgan, Joan Leslie, and Ida Lupino. It's seriously depressing and upsetting.

 
People will always laugh at somebody else's discomfort. But they only laugh because they have suffered the same indignity themselves or known darn well how it feels. Being a comedian is almost like being a doctor--the more troubles you discover and understand, the more gladness you can bring to an audience.


♣ This post is part of The Luck O' the Irish Blogothon hosted by Silver Scenes. Be sure and check out the other participator's posts!


♣ All images found via Pinterest. Other sources include Dennis Morgan: Warner's Regular Guy, Find-A-Grave, IMDb, and TCM.

8 comments:

  1. Wow. That was quite a stroll down Memory Lane with Dennis Morgan. He's a very appealing actor whom I enjoy very much, especially watching the progression of his career from those early programmers to the A list films.

    "One Sunday Afternoon", which you mentioned, is a musical update of "The Strawberry Blonde" that starred James Cagney. It's a terrific film you should check out. There is an earlier version under the original title of "One Sunday Afternoon", but it doesn't have the heart of the Cagney picture, nor the light-hearted fun of the Morgan movie.

    Happy St. Paddy's Day!

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    1. I remember it came on a while back on TCM and I wanted to record it but my dvr was full :( I've been working my way through several of Cagney's films, especially his comedies. Thanks for looking!

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  2. This was such a fun read! My sister and I adore Dennis Morgan and reading that he was a really good family man just makes him all the more special. I hadn't realized that he and Jack Carson made 15 films together, wow. Thanks for contributing this great post to the Scottish ( I mean, Irish ) blog o'thon, and for providing a thorough list of Morgan films. You've given us a lot of great titles to hunt down now!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I know, I am always happy when one of my favorite actors or actresses had a good, happy life. I was really excited to find all those great family photos! Hope it's not too hard to find the films! :)

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  3. Great retrospective of Dennis Morgan's career - I haven't seen all that many of his films but really liked him in those I've seen - I remember he is good with Bette Davis in 'In This Our Life', though I agree that it is a sad story. I love 'The Strawberry Blonde', so would be very interested to see the musical remake - would also love a chance to see the earlier version which starred Gary Cooper.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, I'm more of a fan of his romantic comedies. He did give a good performance though (I updated my description of the movie to include that). I really want to see "The Strawberry Blonde".

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  4. Wow, wonderful post! I knew Dennis Morgan only for Kitty Foyle, so it was great to learn more about his life and career.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Cheers!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2015/03/condenado-odd-man-out-1947.html

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! You should definitely watch "Christmas in Connecticut"! Going to check it out right now! :)

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