Obituary: Gary Morton

Tom Vallance
Tuesday 06 April 1999 00:02

GARY MORTON was married to Lucille Ball for 28 years until her death, and became executive producer of her television programmes. He was a moderately successful stand-up comic who had graduated from the summer camp circuit to night- clubs when he met Ball on a blind date.

Born Morton Goldapper in New York in 1917, he learned the rudiments of the comedian's art entertaining troops during the Second World War while serving in the Army Special Services. Afterwards he became a regular entertainer on the "Borscht Belt", the string of summer camps in the Catskills, and by 1961 had graduated to night-club work, including sets at the Copacabana in New York.

One of his friends was a fellow-comic Jack Carter, whose wife Paula Wayne was appearing on Broadway in a musical starring Lucille Ball. Ball had divorced Desi Arnaz in May 1960, and with her marriage and hit television series I Love Lucy both over, she had decided to try conquering Broadway.

The vehicle she chose, Wildcat, underwent drastic changes during its tryout tour, received lukewarm reviews on its Broadway opening, and the energetic singing-dancing role proved an arduous chore for the 49-year old actress. To help her relax, Wayne and Carter suggested that she accompany them on a blind date with Morton.

"I put it off two or three times," said Ball later, "I was too tired. Finally one night I was hungry and said `Well, I'll go for something to eat' and I met Gary. We had fun, and started seeing each other after the theatre. I found out that he was uncomplicated, good, sweet, hip, funny, and he appreciated a home, not just the trappings."

In November 1961, Ball and Morton were married. (Wildcat's run had been terminated in June when Ball collapsed on stage.) "I didn't want to get married again," stated Ball. "I didn't think I would find a mature, adult person like Gary, a really understanding guy who is wonderful to be around and uncomplicated. He has none of the worrisome characteristics I had lived with. I learned from experience. I wasn't going to walk into the same trap." Instead of a honeymoon, Morton completed a pre-arranged night-club tour while Ball returned to California to fill her post as chairman of Desilu Productions.

The following year, when Ball returned to the television screen in a new hit series, The Lucy Show, Morton had his first involvement with her career when he acted as warm-up comedian, telling jokes to the audience prior to transmission. Later he would occasionally appear in a small acting role. For a time Ball's ex-husband Desi Arnaz was the show's executive producer but he was ultimately replaced by Morton.

In 1967, when Ball sold Desilu to Paramount, she formed a new company, Lucille Ball Productions, and named Morton vice-president. In 1968 The Lucy Show underwent some cast and plot changes and, with the title Here's Lucy, became a production of the new company, with Morton still sometimes warming up the audience.

Those who knew the couple had conflicting opinions of Morton. One friend described him as "a horse's neck", a nuisance with little ability of his own, while others claimed that he worked extremely hard to become a good executive.

Ball herself when interviewed would stress the warmth and joy he brought into her life and would staunchly defend her hiring him (along with other relatives) to work with her. "Gary studied five years before he took over," she declared, adding, "I've been very lucky with the use of nepotism. Why not? If you have a nepot around that's worthy, use him or her . . . by the way, what the hell exactly is a nepot?"

Here's Lucy's run finally ended in 1974 - it had peaked in 1970 when an episode on which Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were guest stars achieved one of the highest ratings in television history. Both during its run and afterwards, Morton produced several specials starring Ball, including Lucy in London (1966), but an attempt to resurrect the sitcom formula for Ball in 1986, titled Life with Lucy and produced by Morton and Aaron Spelling, was cancelled after only two months.

Morton played occasional film roles, including that of a comedian in Lenny (1974) and a famous star's husband in Postcards From The Edge (1990), and he was an executive producer of the early Tom Cruise film All The Right Moves (1983). After Ball's death in 1989, Morton retired to their home in Palm Springs, where he enjoyed playing golf, and three years ago he married again.

Morton Goldapper (Gary Morton), comedian and television producer: born New York 1917; married first Jacqueline Inmoor (marriage dissolved), second 1961 Lucille Ball (died 1989); third 1996 Susie McAllister; died Palm Springs, Florida 30 March 1999.

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