Patricia Morison – Popular Broadway and Motion Picture Actress
Patricia Morison is an American stage and motion picture actress and mezzo-soprano singer. During her time as a screen actress she was lauded for her patrician beauty, with her large eyes and extremely long, dark hair among her most notable physical attributes. As a film actress, Morison was often cast as the femme fatale or ‘other woman’ and was never truly given a chance at screen stardom. It was when she returned to the Broadway stage that she achieved her greatest success as the lead in the original production of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate”.
Patricia Morison was born Eileen Patricia Augusta Fraser Morison on March 19, 1914 in New York City, New York. Her father, William Morison, was a playwright and occasional actor who billed himself under the name Norman Rainey. Her mother, Selena Morison worked for British Intelligence during World War I. After graduating from Washington Irving High School in New York, Morison studied at the Arts Students League while taking acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse. She also studied dance under Martha Graham. During this time she was employed as a dress shop designer at Russeks Department Store. In November 1933, at the age of nineteen, Morison made her Broadway debut in the short-lived play “Growing Pains” and proceeded to understudy the legendary Helen Hayes in her classic role of “Victoria Regina”. Hayes never missed a performance and alas, Morison never had the opportunity to play her role. In 1935, four years before her official film debut, Morison made her first appearance on film in an automobile propaganda short called Wreckless. In 1938, Morison appeared in the musical “The Two Bouquets”, which ran for only fifty-five performances. Among the other cast members was Alfred Drake, who, years later, would co-star with Morison in “Kiss Me, Kate”. While appearing in “The Two Bouquets”, Morison was noticed by talent scouts from Paramount Pictures, who at the time were looking for exotic, dark-haired glamorous types similar to Dorothy Lamour. The blue-eyed beauty, who did resemble Lamour, was signed and made her film debut the following year showing bright promise in the “B” film Persons in “Hiding” (1939). The following year Morison appeared opposite Ray Milland in the Technicolor romance “Untamed”, a re-make of the Clara Bow vehicle, “Man Trap” (1926).
Despite garnering good reviews and the promising beginnings, Morison was assigned to several second-tier pictures such as “Rangers of Fortune” (1940) and “One Night in Lisbon” (1941), both with Fred MacMurray, and “The Roundup” (1941) with Richard Dix and Preston Foster. On a loan-out to 20th Century-Fox Morison played one of her first villainess roles in “Romance of the Rio Grande” (1941), which starred Cesar Romero as the Cisco Kid. In 1942 came more unrewarding roles with Paramount in the films “Night in New Orleans” (1942) with Preston Foster, the Technicolor “Beyond the Blue Horizon” (1942) with the sarong-clad Dorothy Lamour, and “Are Husbands Necessary?” (1942), which re-teamed her with Ray Milland. After being considered for, but not given, the lead role opposite Alan Ladd in “The Glass Key” (1942) Morison left Paramount. Said Morison of the experience, “I was fitted for costumes in ‘The Glass Key’ with Alan Ladd when I was told by the studio boss, Buddy De Sylva, that Veronica Lake would do the part. He said I could stick around and play heavies. I said no! I over-ate my way out of the Paramount contract.”
After leaving Paramount, Morison became one of many celebrities who entertained American troops and their allies during WWII. In November of 1942 she joined Al Jolson, Merle Oberon, Allen Jenkins, and Frank McHugh on a USO Tour in Great Britain. After several months of touring with the USO, Morison returned to the states to continue her film career as a freelance performer. One of her better roles, albeit a small supporting one, was that of Empress Eugénie in “The Song of Bernadette” (1943) starring Jennifer Jones. Morison also appeared in “The Fallen Sparrow” (1943) with John Garfield and Maureen O’Hara, and “Calling Dr. Death” (1945), one of the “Inner Sanctum” films starring Lon Chaney, Jr. In 1944, Morison briefly abandoned her film work and returned to the Broadway stage. In April of that year, she opened at the Adelphi Theatre in a musical comedy, “Allah Be Praised!”. The play, however, was unsuccessful and closed after a very brief run of only 20 performances.
Returning to films once again, Morison continued to be cast in supporting roles, all too often as a femme fatale or an unsympathetic ‘other woman’. These included the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn vehicle “Without Love” (1945) and the Deanna Durbin comedy-mystery “Lady on a Train” (1945). She also played the villainess in the final installments of Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series “Dressed to Kill” (1946), starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, and MGM’s Thin Man series “Song of the Thin Man” (1947), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Morison also appeared as a villainess in “Tarzan and the Huntress” (1947) with Johnny Weissmuller. Her few leading roles during this time were in “B” pictures, most notably as Maid Marian to Jon Hall’s Robin Hood in “The Prince of Thieves” (1947), in the action film “Queen of the Amazons” (1947) and with Richard Arlen in the western “The Return of Wildfire” (1948). In one of her choice roles, Morison played Victor Mature’s despairing, suicide-driven wife in “Kiss of Death” (1947), but her role was cut from the final print, as the producers supposedly felt audiences of the time were not ready for a scene that depicted suicide.
In 1948, Morison once more returned to the stage and achieved her greatest success as an actress. Cole Porter had heard her sing while in Hollywood and decided that she had the vocal expertise and feistiness to play the female lead in his new show, “Kiss Me, Kate”. Morison went on to major Broadway stardom when she created the role of Lilli Vanessi, the imperious stage diva whose own volatile personality coincided with that of her onstage role (Kate from The Taming of the Shrew). “Kiss Me, Kate” featured the songs “I Hate Men,” “Wunderbar” and “So in Love”, and also reunited Morison with her former Broadway co-star Alfred Drake. The play ran on Broadway from December 30, 1948 until July 28, 1951, for a total of 1,077 performances. Morison also played in the London production of “Kiss Me, Kate”, which ran for 400 performances.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Morison made several appearances on television, including several variety shows. Among these were a production of “Rio Rita” on “Robert Montgomery Presents” (1950) and a segment from “The King and I” on a 1955 broadcast of “The Toast of the Town” starring Ed Sullivan. Morison and Alfred Drake recreated their “Kiss Me, Kate” roles in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of the play broadcast in color on November 20, 1958. She also appeared with Howard Keel in a production of Kate on British television in 1964. In 1971 Morison and Yul Brynner performed “Shall We Dance” from The King and I on a broadcast of the Tony Awards. Among her non-musical television performances were a recurring role on the detective series “The Cases of Eddie Drake” (1952) co-starring Don Haggerty, and a guest appearance with Vincent Price on “Have Gun — Will Travel” (1958) starring Richard Boone. Years later Morison appeared in the made-for-TV movie “Mirrors” (1985) and a guest role in 1989 on the popular sitcom “Cheers”.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Morison performed on stage numerous times, largely in stock and touring productions. These included both musical and dramatic plays, among them “Kismet”, “The Merry Widow”, “Song of Norway”, “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, “Bell, Book and Candle”, “The Fourposter”, “Separate Tables”, and “Private Lives”. Morison also performed in still more productions of “Kiss, Me Kate” at the Seattle Opera House (opening in April 1965) and the New York City Center (opening May 12, 1965). In August 1972, she appeared in a production of “The Sound of Music” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. In November 1978 she again played the leading role in “Kiss Me, Kate” at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in England.
In recent years Patricia Morison has devoted herself to painting, one of her early passions, and has had several showings in and around Los Angeles.
Patricia Morison has never married and has lived in the Park La Brea apartment complex in Los Angeles since 1961.