A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... FRANK MORGAN (June 1, 1890 – September 18, 1949)

FRANK MORGAN Collage.jpg

Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a weekly, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think???.... while you’re reflecting, I’m inviting into our hallowed hall one of my very favorite people in show biz!!! Mr. Frank Morgan (June 1, 1890 – September 18, 1949).

Morgan was born Francis Phillip Wuppermann in New York City, the youngest of eleven children (six boys and five girls) born to Josephine Wright (née Hancox) and George Diogracia Wuppermann. His father was born in Venezuela, of German and Spanish descent, and was raised in Hamburg, Germany. His mother was born in the U.S. of English descent. The family earned its wealth distributing the famous Angostura bitters, permitting Frank to attend Cornell University. He then followed his older brother Ralph Morgan into show business, first on the Broadway stage and then into motion pictures. Of all his siblings, Frank was closest to brother Carlos Domaso Siegert Wuppermann (aka Carlyle Morgan) (1887-1919) whose death while serving in the U.S. Army's Corps of Intelligence Police in Germany was initially deemed a suicide. It was later learned he was murdered by a fellow soldier. Carlyle was a writer, poet, playwright and actor. Frank appeared in his deceased brother's play THE TRIUMPH OF X in 1921 on Broadway. Frank’s first film was a silent, THE SUSPECT in 1916. In 1917 he provided support to his friend John Barrymore in RAFFLES, THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN, an independent film produced in and about New York City. Morgan continued making silent films, but because of his distinctive voice and line deliveries, his career expanded when talkies began and he moved to Hollywood, where his most stereotypical role would be that of a befuddled but good hearted middle-aged man. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1934's THE AFFAIRS OF CELLINI where he played the cuckolded Duke of Florence and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1942's TORTILLA FLAT, where he played a simple Hispanic man. Other movies of note include HALLELUJAH, I’M A BUM (1933), THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936), SARATOGA (1937), THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), THE MORTAL STORM (1940), and THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER (1944).

So memorable in comedies, folks often forgot that Morgan was extremely good in dramatic roles and even as unsympathetic ones as well. He also recorded a number of children's records, including the popular Gossamer Wump, released in 1949 by Capitol Records. Appearing in over a hundred films, Morgan's most famous performance was in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), in which he played the carnival huckster "Professor Marvel", the gatekeeper of the Emerald City, the driver of the carriage drawn by "The Horse of a Different Color", the armed guard leading to the Wizard's hall, the apparition of the Wizard as a monstrous disembodied Head, and the Wizard himself. Like Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West, his six characters appear on screen for only a few minutes in total, but they are iconically memorable. He was so popular in everything he did that MGM gave him a lifetime contract. Morgan was cast for the role on September 22, 1938. W. C. Fields was originally chosen for the role of the Wizard, but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over his fee. 

In the 1940s, Morgan co-starred with Fanny Brice in one version (of several different series) of the radio program Maxwell House Coffee Time, aka The Frank Morgan-Fanny Brice Show. During the first half of the show Morgan would tell increasingly outlandish tall tales about his life adventures, much to the dismay of his fellow cast members. After the Morgan segment there was a song, followed by Brice as 'Baby Snooks' for the last half of the show. When Brice left in 1944 to have her own program, Morgan continued in a similar vein for a year with The Frank Morgan Show. One of his last film roles was as Barney Wile in THE STRATTON STORY (1949), a true story about a baseball player (played by James Stewart) who makes a comeback after having his leg amputated due to a hunting accident.

Morgan died suddenly of a heart attack on September 18, 1949, while filming ANNIE GET YOUR GUN! (replaced by Louis Calhern). His last completed film, KEY TO THE CITY (1950) was released posthumously, in which he starred with Clark Gable and Loretta Young. His death came before the 1956 premiere televised broadcast on CBS of THE WIZARD OF OZ which would make him the only major cast member from the film who would not live to see the film's revived popularity and become an annual American television institution. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn; his tombstone carried his real name on the front, while noting his appearance as the Wizard on the back. Morgan has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for film and for radio. Margaret Hamilton said that whenever she saw the scene in the film where Frank Morgan as the Wizard is giving Dorothy's friends gifts from his "black bag" (a diploma for the Scarecrow, a ticking heart for the Tin Man, and a medal for the Cowardly Lion), she got teary eyed, because "Frank Morgan was just like that in real life - very generous". Morgan was a member of Hollywood’s famous hard-drinking "Irish mafia"--even though he wasn't Irish--which also included fellow film actors James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Frank McHugh, and Pat O'Brien. He was widely known to have had a drinking problem, according to several who worked with him, and he sometimes carried a black briefcase to work fully equipped with a small mini-bar. Honorary pallbearers at his funeral included Clark Gable and Pat O'Brien. Irish tenor Dennis Day sang. He was survived by his wife Alma of 35 years and his only son, George. Morgan has two stars dedicated to him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures at 1708 Vine Street and one for his work in radio at 6700 Hollywood Blvd. Both were dedicated on February 8, 1960.

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