The House of Morgan

Screenland • November 1945
by S.R. Mook

Looking at Dennis Morgan on the screen, he would be about the last person on earth you’d peg as a home-loving type.  Mr. Morgan looks like the kind of chap to whom the breath of life would be night clubs and parties.  Actually, few people in the film colony go out less than he and Lillian, his wife.  Few fathers see as much of their children as Dennis.  And few actors take the pride in their homes that Dennis does.

Sitting far back from the road, almost hidden from sight by the vines and roses that riot over an eight-foot wire fence, is the house of English type architecture.

“We had no intention of buying a home just yet,” he explained as we turned in the driveway, “but we were out riding one day about a year and a half ago and passed this place.  It was for sale.  We like the looks of it and, more from curiosity than anything else, we priced it and found it was a steal.  The house and grounds could be had for less than a similar undeveloped acreage in this locality would ordinarily cost.  So we bought it.  We already had most of the furniture and the whole thing stands us less than we would have paid in rent in three years.  We were pretty lucky.  Come on in, and I’ll show you around.”

The front door is a beautiful thing, with a hand-carved beam about it.  The small reception hall is almost barren of furniture but the gay wallpaper with its hunting scenes and the hand-hooked rug on the floor give it a cheerful appearance.  Turning to the left, one enters the living room.  It is a large room—about eighteen by twenty-three.  The thing I like best about it is that it isn’t cluttered up with a lot of useless furniture and a hundred knick-knacks to act as dust-catchers.  The rug is a sand-colored frieze on which the children can play to their hearts’ content without the maid having to come right after them with a vacuum cleaner.  The fireplace is unusual with the pickeled pine paneling above it and the rough brick facing.  There are a few built-in book shelves on either side, with wood boxes below.  To the right of the door from the hall, as you enter the room, are two samplers.  One reads, “Home is where the heart is” and the other, “If music be the food of love, play on.”  “You’ve stolen Garfield’s thunder,” I exclaimed, pointing to the first sampler.  “He has the same thing in his house, although the picture is different.”  “Well, it’s a good thing for everyone to remember,” Denny brushed me off.

“You see this green chair?” he went on, indicating a chair on one side of the room.  “Well, when we started buying the few pieces we needed to finish furnishing the place, Lillian got the idea of saving money by going to auctions.  So she went to one, saw this chair and fell in love with it.  She thought she was being pretty cagey in her bidding but after she’d bought the char and sent it to the upholsterer’s she found she could have bought two chairs for what she’d paid for this one and then, to add insult to injury, this one had already been upholstered and re-upholstered so many times the poor devil could hardly find a piece of solid wood to drive a tack into.  Was her face red!  However,” he went on, “this oil painting of Jenny Lind was really a buy.  She got that at an auction, too, and only paid $12.50 for it.  That rosewood frame is hand-carved, too,” he finished modestly.  The drapes are of burgundy chintz with a flowered design.

“We went hog-wild on the upholstering for the divan,” Mr. Morgan broke in again.  “It’s some sort of material I can never remember the name of—kinkeroo cloth or something like that.  Anyhow, it’s the only expensive material we bought and we only splurged then because it’s durable as well as attractive and we didn’t want anything we’d have to be constantly telling the kids to get off.”

The divan sits between the two front windows with two small Chippendale mahogany tables at either end.  On each table is a china lamp with a chintz design and shades of a dull salmon-colored silk that matches the pink in the hollyhocks of the drapes.  In front of the fireplace are two matching love seats facing each other, upholstered in a burgundy damask.

At the far end of the living room is a double door leading to the den—or music room.  This room is almost monastic in its severity, although not, I might add, in its contents.  At one end is a tiny but well-stocked bar.  Although Mrs. Morgan is a teetotaler and Denny practically one, nothing delights him as much as to get in back of the thing and brew concoctions only an iron man could imbibe and stay on his feet.

This room is paneled throughout in California redwood.  The floor is covered with an inexpensive grass rug and the furnishings consist of a piano, a floor lamp, built-in divan upholstered in a rough textured material of rust and white (something like a matting weave) and a smoking stand.  The base of the latter is made of a cam shaft of an airplane engine and the top part is half of a piston.  It is engraved, “Presented to Dennis Morgan by the R.C.A.F. Officers’ Mess July 24, 1941.”  That happened when he was in Canada making “Captains of the Clouds.”  On top of the piano are a stuffed Mongolian pheasant he shot in Oregon last fall and a loving cup Lillian won at a costume party.  The dog, Bruce (a Labrador retriever), has never quite got used to the idea that the pheasant is dead and, unless closely watched when he is in the house, is likely to attack it.  “Someday,” said Dennis, “when the war is over and priorities are removed we’re going to enlarge this room to make the acoustics better so I can cut loose when I practice my singing.”

A small hallway leads from the living room to the dining room.  The rug in here, too, is a frieze—rust-colored this time.  The table and chairs are of cherry, authentic antiques, the latter upholstered in a Colonial striped satin.  There are six chairs but the table will accommodate ten.  The chest is solid walnut and has been in Mrs. Morgan’s family for over a hundred years.  When her grandmother sent it to her as a present for the new house it was caked with white enamel.  It took Mrs. Morgan and Dennis weeks to scrape it off.

The kitchen would be any chef’s delight, it is so huge.  There is a tremendous icebox and more cupboard space than the most exacting housewife could ask for.  The tiled sink has two trays—one for washing dishes and one for rinsing.  There is a breakfast nook in one corner.  The floor is covered with slate-blue linoleum.

“This kitchen is a sight,” Denny volunteered, pointing to the carefully washed dishes on the sink.  “You see, we are expecting a baby and Lillian has to stay in bed.  We haven’t been able to get decent help for love or money.  My mother would love to come help us out but she gets hay-fever and asthma if she stays out here for as long as two days at a time, so that’s out.  The result is, Lillian’s nurse fixes her meals and I do the cooking for the kids and myself and clean up when I get a chance.  Working on a picture with all this going on doesn’t help things, either, I can tell you.”

My hair—both of them—curled at Dennis’ simple recital of his domestic woes but I’ll say their troubles certainly have not impaired either his or Lillian’s dispositions.  They’re as cheerful as though they had a million in the bank, a seven-year contract with no options and the most competent help obtainable.

At the head of the stairs leading to the upper floor, you turn left and enter the master bedroom.  “I used to think this was the cheeriest room and wall-paper a person could find in a day’s search,” Lillian laughed as I entered, indicating the view of the grounds and Victory Garden at the back and the white wall-paper with its bright green ivy pattern.  “Now, I’m so sick of it, all I can think of is poison ivy!”

“Look at that desk,” she changed the subject abruptly.  “It’s been in my family for over a hundred and fifty years.  I vaguely remember my mother saying something about my great-great uncle bringing it from Jerusalem.  When we got it, it was all chipped and scratched but we sent that to an antique restorer who brought out that lovely finish of the cherry wood.  “The dresser has been in my family for a long time, too,” she continued, “over a hundred years.”  I examined it closely.  It is of solid walnut with black walnut knobs dangling from the drawers.  The panels on the drawers are of crotch walnut, waxed until you can see your face in them almost as plainly as in the mirror.

“This bed ought to look familiar to you,” Denny grinned.  “The face is familiar but I don’t place the body,” was my snappy comeback.

“Bing and Dixie Crosby were refurnishing their bedroom,” he explained, “so we bought the bed.”  “Yes,” Lillian put in, “and when all this happened to me I sent him word we’d sell it back to him cheap.  I’d rather get a new one and start from scratch if the outcome of sleeping in Bing’s bed is this.”  “Well,” I hedged, “I’ve only slept in their guest room and my body has never rested on Mr. Crosby’s personal mattress so I’m not in a position to argue with you about what happens when you do.”

“This is Kristin’s room,” Denny switched the conversation and led the way across the hall.  “We don’t know exactly what this wall-paper is supposed to represent but she picked it out herself.”  I took a gander.  It shows a palm tree, a little girl in a sort of hoop skirt with an apron and a large hat, holding a butterfly net in her hand, and a little boy in a huge sombrero driving a donkey cart.  The walls are covered with drawings of Disney characters by Ray Huffine.  The furniture if of rock maple.

Down the hall is Stanley, Jr’s room.  The wall-paper here depicts boats and zeppelins, the furniture is of walnut and the bedspread is chenille.  The drapes are of monk’s cloth with a moss edging.  “Lillian made these herself, even the edging,” Denny informed me proudly. 

“Look, Dick,” Stan, Jr. invited me, pulling open the bottom drawer of his chest, “This is my treasure drawer.”  He pulled out the works and face of a clock that had no frame and that had apparently quit running before Stan was born.  “He still thinks he can fix it,” Denny laughed.  There was also a box of different kinds of stone, numerous tops and marbles.  “We could play a game of marbles,” Stan, Jr., suggested wistfully.  “That’s a bet,” I agreed, “only you’ll have to lend me some.”  “I guess we better not play,” he announced.  “I’d probably win, then you’d have to buy marbles to pay me and lose all your money.”  “I guess you’re right,” I assented with alacrity.

“You know,” Dennis interrupted, leading me back to the living room, “it’s a funny thing about his house.  As crazy as I am about it, it seems I never have a chance to enjoy it.  Do you realize I’ve made six pictures this year?  ‘Affectionately Yours,’ ‘Bad Men of Missouri,’ ‘Captains of the Clouds,’ ‘Wings for the Eagle,’ ‘In This Our Life,’ and ‘The Hard Way’?  Now I start immediately on ‘The Desert Song’ and I’ll be on location for six weeks.  Sometimes I wonder what good it does me to have a home!  Then I get to thinking about Lillian and the kids and it seems it’s pretty nice to have a family and home to come back to at the end of the day—especially when it’s a family and a home like this.”

Editor’s Note: As we go to press, the Dennis Morgans have become the proud parents of another baby—a boy.  This is their third child.