Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Born Today February 16: Chester Morris


Born John Chester Brooks Morris to acting parents:  his father a Broadway actor and his mother a successful comedian, in New York City.  As a child, he became very interested in magic tricks, and was a self-taught top amateur magician by adulthood.  He began his acting career at the age of 15. After dropping out of school; he went straight to Broadway; acting opposite of Lionel Barrymore in The Copperhead.  He made his film debut the following year in An Amateur Orphan, which starred Gladys Leslie (the film is now considered lost). Though he appeared in 3 more films between the years 1919 and 1925; his film acting career did not actually take off until the year 1929--having spent his time in the 1920's on the stage.  When he did return to films, his acting was immediately noticed.  His performance in the early all talking Alibi (1929) earned him a nomination for an Academy Award in the the Best Actor category.  His next film, Fast Life, also an all talking film, is also, unfortunately lost.  In all, the four films that he made in in 1929 was early talkies, though Woman Trap, had a silent version.  He had become so popular in film as such a fast pace, he even appeared in the Hollywood extravaganza The Show of Shows; representing both Broadway and Hollywood at the same time. Because of this, he appears in not one, but two skits in the musical.  By the mid 1930's, his Hollywood star began to fade and he found himself accepting lead roles in B-pictures.  He wound up in the serial part of "Boston Blackie" and made several films in that role; even playing the role on the radio in the 1940's.  During World War II, he performed numerous magical skits to entertain troops at USO shows.  The 1950's found him making television appearances on a steady and regular basis, with his first appearance coming as a magician in 1950 on a show called Cameo.  He even made it into one 1950's cult horror film, playing a mad doctor who had magical powers of transformative hypnosis.  He went on acting in television right up until the time of his death.  His last role was "Pop Weaver" in The Great White Hope in 1970, starring James Earl Jones (the film was released after his death).  Before filming began, he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.  After filming wrapped, he joined a stage production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial in New Hope, Penn.  On the 11th of September, when he didn't show up for a luncheon date with the producer of the play, Lee R. Yopp; Yopp went to his hotel room, only to find the actor dead on of the floor from a overdose of barbiturates.  His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over a river in Germany.

As Dr. Carlo Lombardi in The She-Creature (1956)

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