Now Playing • April 1999
THREE CHEERS FOR DENNIS MORGAN
TCM’s Robert Osborne on Dennis Morgan
Our star of the month, Dennis Morgan, is probably best known today because of a widely-circulated quip which was born when Ronald Reagan was campaigning to be the Governor of California back in 1966. At the time, someone asked Reagan’s old Warner Bros. boss Jack L. Warner what he thought of the idea of Reagan as governor. Jack L. retorted, “No, no. Dennis Morgan as governor. Ronald Reagan as best friend.” It’s a quote that’s both droll and understandable. In the days when Reagan and Morgan were both under contract to Warner, it was Dennis M. who would have been cast as the governor. For one thing, he was a bigger star than Reagan who, in the minds of most—including Warner’s—was a swell fellow, but the one you’d cast only if Morgan wasn’t available. (Similarly, at the same studio, Ida Lupino got the hand-me-downs of Bette Davis.) One of Morgan’s former leading ladies, Olivia de Havilland, recalls him as “very pleasant to work with, always well prepared and polite. And you remember things like that.” She also points out he was “an extremely valuable kind of person for a studio to have under contract because he could easily fit into any slot.” Script alterations may have been needed to fit a Cagney or Robinson but not Morgan. He eased into almost any role or genre and, for fourteen productive years at Warner, bounced between musicals, westerns, comedies, war stories, dramas, even once a horror flick with a zombie that looked exactly like Humphrey Bogart. (Check out The Return of Doctor X from 1939.) And unlike such Warner Bros. bad boys as Bogart and Errol Flynn, Morgan caused his bosses no grief whatsoever. He never refused a role, didn’t throw tantrums or get into brawls; he never once set foot inside a divorce court, except on film. In 1933, he married his high school sweetheart, and they were still Mr. and Mrs. When he died 61 years later. A good ol’ boy? You bet, and movie-goers loved him for being one. So did his bosses, at least until time marched on and newer fellows like Gordon MacRae and others came along and got the assignments that a decade earlier would have gone in Morgan’s (or Reagan’s) direction.
If you’re not aware of Dennis Morgan’s work, TCM is the place to be this month. We’re offering a recap of his career unlike any that’s ever been done before. We think you’ll like what you see, too, in both the man and his movies. –Robert O.