Obituary: Dennis Morgan

Stanley Morner (Dennis Morgan), actor and singer: born Prentice, Wisconsin 30 December 1910; married 1933 Lillian Vedder (two sons, one daughter); died Fresno, California 7 September 1994.

DENNIS MORGAN is as inextricably linked to Warner Bros as James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart. He reigned at the studio for just over a decade, the 1940s. He was comfortable, good-looking, well-mannered: the antithesis of the gritty Bogart, and it is a telling comment on the Hollywood of that era that he replaced him in two movies that he turned down, Bad Men of Missouri (1941) and God is My Co-Pilot (1945).

And what of Morgan in Casablanca? It has long been a bad joke but true, that the unprepossessing Ronald Reagan was the original choice for Rick; and the very first press release listed his co-stars as Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan, both of whom would have brought to the roles - presumably those played by Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henried - an individuality which is the prerequisite of true stars. It was apparent before Hollywood and he himself realised it, since he spent a couple of years at MGM as Stanley Morner (his real name) and another at Paramount as Richard Stanley. But catch him singing 'A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody' on the fantastic wedding-cake set of The Great Ziegfeld (1936) or as the First Mate in King of Alcatraz (1938) or any of the other dozen films he made: he had star potential.

Warners recognised this, rechristened him Dennis Morgan and put him on the assembly-line with Wayne Morris, Arthur Kennedy, Jeffrey Lynn, Eddie Albert and Ronald Reagan - likeable young lugs squiring the heroine till Bogart, Cagney or Flynn came crashing down to sweep her up.

It was the perceptive Sam Wood - always careful in his casting - who saw something more in Morgan, taking him to RKO to be the shallow Philadelphia playboy who marries and deserts Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle (1940). Warners then took a second look and cast him as Olivia de Havilland's fiance in In This Our Life (1942) - snitched away by her sister, Bette Davis, and driven by her to drink and then suicide. He was up against another of the studio's bitches in The Hard Way (1942), Ida Lupino - 'the John Dillinger of the one- night stands' as he put it.

The film was notable in as much as he and Jack Carson played a vaudeville team, and over the years Warners were to pair them in another half-dozen movies, Morgan as the easy-going singer who always got the girl and Carson as the loud-mouthed but cowardly braggard-comic who was given the air. No one thought they were Hope and Crosby, least of all themselves. They actually played themselves with identical screen personas in It's a Great Feeling (1949), trying to persuade Warners that Doris Day - not playing herself - had screen potential; and she, starting her movie career, was to achieve a stardom greater than all of their other musical leading ladies put together.

Morgan twinned with the equally pleasing Jane Wyman in Cheyenne (1947) and The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949). He was also a match for such formidable co-stars as Sheridan in Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944) and One More Tomorrow (1946), Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut (1946) and Ginger Rogers in Perfect Strangers (1950). He wasn't swamped by Joan Crawford in This Woman is Dangerous (1952), as a nice doctor who rescues her from a gangster, saving her form a life of crime.

That was his penultimate film for Warners; after a western, Cattle Town (1952), they let him go, adrift in a Hollywood where more dynamic stars were in demand - Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster. Morgan made only a few more movies and then, in 1959, appeared in a television series, 21 Beacon Street. Thereafter he raised cattle on a ranch near Fresno, California.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all