Robert Adolph Wilton Morley CBE (26 May 1908 – 3 June 1992) was an English actor who enjoyed a lengthy career in both Britain and the United States. He was frequently cast as a pompous English gentleman representing the Establishment, often in supporting roles.[1] In 1939 he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of King Louis XVI in Marie Antoinette.

Robert Morley
Morley in 1975
Robert Adolph Wilton Morley

(1908-05-26)26 May 1908
Semley, Wiltshire, England
Died3 June 1992(1992-06-03) (aged 84)
  • Actor
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
Years active1928–1989
Joan Buckmaster
(m. 1940)

In Movie Encyclopedia, film critic Leonard Maltin describes Morley as "recognisable by his ungainly bulk, bushy eyebrows, thick lips and double chin, ... particularly effective when cast as a pompous windbag." Ephraim Katz in his International Film Encyclopaedia describes Morley as "a rotund, triple-chinned, delightful character player of the British and American stage and screen." In his autobiography, Responsible Gentleman, Morley said his stage career started with managements valuing his appearance for playing "substantial gentleman" roles – as a doctor, lawyer, accountant or other professional member of society.

Early life edit

Morley was born in Semley, Wiltshire, England, the son of Gertrude Emily (née Fass) and Robert Wilton Morley, a major in the British Army.[2] His mother came from a German family that had emigrated to South Africa. Morley attended Wellington College, Berkshire, which he hated, followed by RADA.[3][4] As he was a famous "Old Wellingtonian", generations of headmasters tried to contact him, without success, with Morley stating "the only reason for me visiting Wellington would be to burn it down".[5]

Career edit

Morley made his West End stage debut in 1929 in Treasure Island at the Strand Theatre and his Broadway debut in 1938 in the title role of Oscar Wilde at the Fulton Theatre.[4][6] Although soon won over to the big screen, Morley remained both a busy West End star and successful author, as well as appearing in touring productions.[4]

Still from the trailer for Marie Antoinette (1938)

A versatile actor, especially in his younger years, he played Louis XVI in Marie Antoinette (1938), for which he received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor.[7]

He co-wrote several plays for the stage. His 1937 play Goodness, How Sad was turned into an Ealing Studios film, Return to Yesterday (1940), directed by Robert Stevenson.[8] Later, he had outstanding success in London and New York with Edward, My Son, a gripping family drama written in 1947 in collaboration with Noel Langley.[4] Morley played the central role of Arnold Holt, but in the disappointing film version Spencer Tracy was miscast, turning Holt, an unscrupulous English businessman, into a blustering Canadian expatriate. Edward, My Son (1949) was directed by George Cukor for MGM-British.[9] Morley's acting career continued with roles as a missionary in The African Queen (1951), The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (1953), as W. S. Gilbert, and in Oscar Wilde (1960).[1] In 1959 he appeared in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of a Stanley Ellin short story entitled, 'Specialty of the House'.[10]

Ken Annakin's Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines was released 16 June 1965. In the British period comedy film, Morley is featured among an international ensemble cast including Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, Terry-Thomas, James Fox, Red Skelton, Benny Hill, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Gert Fröbe and Alberto Sordi. The film, revolving around the craze of early aviation circa 1910, is about a pompous newspaper magnate (Morley) who is convinced, by his daughter (Miles) and her fiancé (Fox), to organize an air race from London to Paris. A large sum of money is offered to the winner, hence it attracts a variety of characters who participate. The film received positive reviews, describing it as funny, colourful, clever and having captured the early enthusiasm for aviation.[11][12][13] It was treated as a major production, one of only three full-length 70 mm Todd-AO Fox releases in 1965 with an intermission and musical interlude part of the original screenings.[14] Because of the Todd-AO process, the film was an exclusive roadshow feature initially shown in deluxe Cinerama venues, where customers needed reserved seats purchased ahead of time.[15] The film grossed $31,111,111 theatrically and on home video $29,950,000.[16][17] Audience reaction both in first release and even today, is nearly universal in assessing the film as one of the "classic" aviation films.[18]

Morley also personified the conservative Englishman in many comedy and caper films. He was the face of BOAC (later British Airways) as the merry television commercial spokesman of the 1970s with "We'll take good care of you" for British Airways.[19] Later in his career, he received critical acclaim and numerous accolades for his performance in Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?[20] During the 1980s, Morley hosted a celebrity cooking show on Cable TV, Celebrity Chefs. In 1980, Morley hosted (providing explanatory introductions) the 14-episode Granada Television anthology series Ladykillers.[21]

He was renowned as a witty raconteur and for being an eloquent conversationalist,[19] as well as a noted and enthusiastic gourmet, in real life and in various roles in film and TV.[22]

Morley was honoured by being the first King of Moomba appointed by the Melbourne Moomba festival committee and, in typical humility, he accepted the crown in bare feet.[23][24] Morley was in Australia touring his one-man show, The Sound of Morley.[25]

In his book British Film Character Actors, Terence Pettigrew wrote: "Morley, who has more wobbly chins than a Shanghai drinking club, enjoys poking fun at life's absurdities, among whom he generously includes himself."[26]

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1974 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.[citation needed]

Personal life and honours edit

Robert Morley married Joan Buckmaster (1910–2005), a daughter of Dame Gladys Cooper.[27] Their elder son, Sheridan Morley, became a writer and critic. They also had a daughter, Annabel, and another son, Wilton.[4]

He was godfather to the eldest son of fellow actor Tom Chatto.[28]

Morley was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1957 and was also offered a knighthood in 1975 but declined.[29]

Morley lived for decades in Wargrave, Berkshire.[30]

Death edit

Morley died in Reading, England, from a stroke aged 84 on 3 June 1992.[4]

Theatre career edit

Complete filmography edit

Publications edit

  • A Musing Morley: The Selected Writings of Robert Morley. Robson Books. 1974. ISBN 978-0-3401-9997-8.
  • Morley, Robert (1976). Morley Marvels: Memoirs, Notes, and Essays of the Famed Actor, Raconteur, Collector, Hotel Guest, and Man of Leisure. Robson Books. ISBN 978-0-9038-9581-1.
  • More Morley (1978, ISBN 0 340 24763 0)
  • Robert Morley's Book of Bricks (1978, ISBN 0 330 25881 8)
  • Worry! (with Margaret Morley, 1979, ISBN 0 399 12596 5)
  • Robert Morley's Book of Worries (U.K. Version of Worry!) (with Margaret Morley, 1979, ISBN 0 297 77698 3)
  • The Pleasures of Age (Hodder and Stoughton) (1988 ISBN 0 340 50606 7) (re-published in a 'Coronet' imprint 1989)

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Robert Morley". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 21 March 2016.
  2. ^ Morley, Margaret (1979). Larger than life: the biography of Robert Morley. Robson. ISBN 978-0-8605-1064-2. Retrieved 12 June 2012 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "PASSED/FAILED: Sheridan Morley". The Independent. London. 22 May 1997.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Robert Morley, Jowly Actor of Jovial Roles, Dies at 84". The New York Times. 4 June 1992.
  5. ^ McLaren, Angus (15 September 2017). Playboys and Mayfair Men: Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London. JHU Press. ISBN 978-1-4214-2347-0.
  6. ^ "Oscar Wilde – Broadway Play – Original". Internet Broadway Database.
  7. ^ "1938 Academy Awards® Winners and History". Filmsite.
  8. ^ "Return to Yesterday (1940)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 10 March 2017.
  9. ^ Butler, Craig. "Edward, My Son (1949)". AllMovie.
  10. ^ "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Specialty of the House (1959)". AllMovie.
  11. ^ Crowther, Bosley (17 June 1965). "Movie Review: Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines (1965)". The New York Times.
  12. ^ "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines – Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes". Variety. 1 January 1965. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  13. ^ "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines – Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes". TV Guide. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  14. ^ "Director's Voice-over Commentary". Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines DVD, 2004.
  15. ^ Munn (1983), p. 161.
  16. ^ "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  17. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (1988). The Fox that got away: the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-8184-0485-6.
  18. ^ Hardwick & Schnepf (1989), p. 58.
  19. ^ a b "Robert Morley - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos". AllMovie.
  20. ^ "Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe?". TV Guide.
  21. ^ marcus, laurence. "Ladykillers". Television Heaven.
  22. ^ McCann, Graham (28 June 2020). "The many meals of Robert Morley". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  23. ^ Bellamy, Craig; Gordon Chisholm & Hilary Ericksen (2006). Moomba – A festival for the people. Archived 25 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine PDF pp 18 & 22.
  24. ^ "Photo of Robert Morley accepting King of Moomba crown". Melbourne Herald.[dead link]
  25. ^ "Morley, Robert (-1992) - People and organisations". Trove.
  26. ^ Pettigrew, Terence (4 November 1982). British Film Character Actors: Great Names and Memorable Moments. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7153-8270-7.
  27. ^ "Morley, Robert (1908-1992) Biography". BFI Screenonline.
  28. ^ Halushak, Maureen (16 June 2002). "Reviewer du Jour | [ ] Review of Journalism : The School of Journalism". Retrieved 2 April 2023.
  29. ^ Hope, Christopher (25 January 2012). "JB Priestley, Roald Dahl, Lucian Freud and LS Lowry among 277 people who turned down honours". The Daily Telegraph.
  30. ^ Morley, Sheridan (27 February 2005). "The Final Curtain". The Daily Telegraph.

External links edit