More Morgan for Your Money

We were watching an old movie the other night. Y’know, like we do. And in a small role as a kindly judge was an actor who reminded us of Frank Morgan, he of The Wizard of Oz (and dozens of other 1930s movies) fame. Only this guy didn’t have the gregarious yet halting manner of speech that Morgan had (or that he affected, in any case). He was much lower key in his approach.

“He was probably up for many of the same roles as Morgan,” we found ourselves thinking as we continued watching. Finally, we turned to our research library (IMDb.com, don’t you know) and learned that the actor in question, whom we were sure we’d seen before but who wasn’t terribly familiar to us, was named Ralph Morgan and was, in fact, Frank Morgan’s older brother.

Boy, was our face red!

The pair were two of eleven siblings born to a well-to-do New York family; their father, George Diogracia Wuppermann, who was born in Venezuela of German and Spanish descent, made his fortune as the co-founder of the firm that distributed Angostura Aromatic Bitters in the United States.

Ralph launched his acting career first, having graduated from Columbia University with a law degree (Frank attended Cornell) before quickly abandoning the law for the theatre. With Ralph having found success in stock theatre and on Broadway, younger brother Frank was encouraged to follow the same path, and as we now know, his success would eventually overshadow Ralph’s.

Frank Morgan Ralph Morgan

Ralph made a few silent pictures in the 1910s, when the film industry was still active on the East Coast, but he eventually moved west, working in motion pictures, radio and television. He was one of the founders and charter members of the Screen Actor’s Guild, serving as the organization’s first president beginning in 1933. Even today, the Ralph Morgan Award is given annually to a SAG member who has provided distinguished service to his fellow actors.

Frank was more active in silent pictures than was Ralph, but it was in the 1930s that he really found his niche, playing blustery, often befuddled middle-aged characters. W. C. Fields was originally slated to play the wizard role for which Morgan is best remembered today, but contractual issues kept the deal from being finalized, so MGM instead turned to Morgan.

Frank was said to be something of a heavy tippler, which may have accounted for his relatively early passing in 1949 at 59. Ralph, born seven years before his younger sibling, also outlived him by nearly seven years, passing away in 1956 at the age of 72.

The Morgans were born with the family name Wupperman, and we wonder at Frank’s decision to also use Morgan as his stage name. It’s likely he did so in an attempt to ride Ralph’s professional coattails to a certain degree, and perhaps he did so with Ralph’s blessing, but we can’t help but wonder if Ralph ever resented Frank’s higher degree of success. We hope not.

A tip of the ol’ Cladrite fedora goes out to both these talented brothers, and while we’re a bit mortified that we weren’t previously aware Frank had an older sibling who was also an actor (we can’t really imagine how that info eluded us all these years), we’re glad to give Ralph his due credit now.

Flirting with the Past

Last night we watched The Lady Objects (1938), a strange and kind of silly drama/musical (drusical?) that finds Gloria Stuart, adorable as ever, playing a hotshot lawyer whose husband (Lanny Ross), a former All-American halfback, a world-class tenor and a hopeful young architect (quite the trifecta, that), resents her success and the demands it places on her time.

A movie poster of THE LADY OBJECTS, 1938

As we said, kind of silly, but entertaining enough, since we get a special kick out of watching any picture that features Ms. Stuart. We were pleased to do a telephone interview with her some years ago when her memoir was published, and we’ll admit to being not a little proud that when we got to meet her in person a few weeks later at her book party in NYC, she flirted with us just the slightest bit. Nothing overt, nothing untoward, but in a room filled almost entirely with the young women of the publishing industry, we stood out, it seems—a young(ish—we were 41 at the time) man who was thrilled to dote on Ms. Stuart, bringing her food and drink, asking her questions about her movie career back in the 1930s and generally behaving in starstruck fashion.

So whenever we see her looking so fetching on the screen, we can’t help but think, That gorgeous movie star once flirted with us, an actress who might have once flirted with Humphrey Bogart, The Marx Brothers, James Cagney, Lee Tracy, Melvyn Douglas, Boris Karloff, Ralph Bellamy, Pat O’Brien, Eddie Cantor, John Boles, Claude Rains, Lionel Atwell, Frank Morgan, Brian Donlevy, Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh, Don Ameche, Lyle Talbot, George Sanders, Walter Pidgeon, Jack Oakie, and Richard Dix. In any case, she appeared in pictures with each of them (except Bogart and the Marx Brothers, whom she knew socially).

Yes, our brief encounter with Ms. Stuart came more than a half-century after those hypothetical Hollywood flirtations—she was 89 at the time—but if she batted her eyelashes at even one-tenth of her aforementioned costars back in the day, we’d have to say we’re in pretty good company!

Celebrating a Century of Gloria Stuart

Gloria StuartWe don’t know how we let it sneak by us, but Monday, July 5, was the 100th birthday of the wonderful Gloria Stuart, best known now for her work in James Cameron‘s Titanic, but a woman who’s led a remarkable life and was a pretty big movie star in the 1930s, to boot.

In 1999, when she was just a kid of 89, we got to interview Gloria on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, I Just Kept Hoping. The interview was conducted over the telephone, though we did get the chance to meet Ms. Stuart when she came to NYC for her book party.

We considered it quite a thrill, we don’t mind telling you, to get to interact with Ms. Stuart. After all, this is the women who starred opposite Claude Rains in James Whale‘s The Invisible Man, who appeared with Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton in The Old Dark House, who worked with greats such as Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Pat O’Brien, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold, Eddie Cantor, Ruth Etting, and dozens more.

So, to mark her centennial (a few days late, alas), we thought we’d share with the Cladrite Radio Clan the interview we did with her in 1999. Enjoy!

It’s been a long, eventful life for former and current movie star Gloria Stuart. She had her first go-around at stardom in the Hollywood heyday of the 1930s and ’40s; then, after taking off 30 years or so to pursue painting, travel, and political activism, she again began to act in the 1970s, eventually garnering a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Titanic. Still going strong today at the age of 89, Stuart has now added authorship to her list of achievements. Her candid memoir, I Just Kept Hoping, is peppered with anecdotes about such memorable figures as Shirley Temple, Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. I spoke to Gloria about her life, her two careers in the movies, and her secrets for living so long and so well.

An Interview with Gloria Stuart

Gloria StuartYou made three films with director James Whale: The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House, and The Kiss Before the Mirror. What can you tell us about him?

I’m very happy I was in those films. You know, James is a cult figure in England. There are a lot of James Whale fan clubs. Actually, right after I had read for Jim Cameron for Titanic, I had booked a month in London. I went right away, and there were two wonderful James Whale organizations that I met with. He’s getting his due now, thanks to Gods and Monsters.

What did you think of Gods and Monsters? Was it, in your view, an accurate portrayal of Whale?

Oh, yes, it was. Ian McKellan captured James’s elegance, the beautiful manners, the beautiful tailoring, the precision, the whole thing. Of course, no one could be James, but he came awfully close.

The special effects in The Invisible Man hold up remarkably well today for a film that was made in 1933.

Yes, people who see it today—it runs every so often—they say, gee, it’s not an old hat movie at all.

I’m wondering—did the processes that went into creating those special effects slow down the pace of moviemaking at all?

It was never evident. Only James and the cameraman and I guess all the process people at Universal—the rest of us never had any inkling of what was going on. We did do a lot of shooting in front of black curtains. Now, I wasn’t on the set when the bandages came off or anything like that, so I have no idea about that. But it was very, very secret. I wasn’t on the set when they were finagling the bandages off, and so forth.

That would’ve been fun to see.

Humphrey Bogart and Mayo MethotYes, it would’ve! Claude [Rains] may have known [how it all worked] but he never said so.

You and your second husband, Arthur Sheekman, were good friends with Humphrey Bogart and Mayo Methot, his wife at the time. What can you tell us about Bogie that we might not know?
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