In a Gala to beat all that is gold, Broadway and Screen star Patricia Morison recently celebrated her 101st birthday in style, sentimentality and the spirit of celebrity! Hosted by director and best friend John Bowab, the revelry also included the likes of Charlotte Rae, Janis Paige, critic Sylvie Drake, Peter White, Ann Jefferys, and Marty Wiviott of the Pantages Theatre. Conversation centered around Hollywood in its heyday along with that of Broadway in all its purest glory when it was originally dubbed “The Great White Way”. And apparently somebody had a sudden childhood reminiscence circa World War I-style of traversing the ocean via ship only to assist in discovering a bomb meant to blow up the boat!
“I really had two careers, one in film and one in the theatre. I was lucky,” says Morison of her distinctive success.
And steadfast careers they were beginning at the ripe young age of 18 when, in 1933 Ms. Morison first hit the Broadway stage in grand sweeping introductory fashion in the comedy Growing Pains. (Yes, long before Kirk Cameron was a speck in any fool’s eye, Ms. Morison had it going on harder than he would for quite some time in this stage performance that…well…really has nothing to do with the sitcom!) The apex of her stage career would arrive when she established herself in the role of Lilli (and Katharine) in Cole Porter’s smash hit musical Kiss Me, Kate! Even in understudy appeal, she was high in stature as, in 1935, she found herself ready at a moment’s notice to replace Helen Hayes in Laurence Houseman’s stage play Victoria Regina but consummate professional that Hayes was, it was never meant to be; so even in thwarted substitution Morison learned from the best—by default!
But seriously, what is Broadway best known for…? Its musicals. And subsequent to the Helen Hayes shadow-gig her very first musical appearance was well underway as she took up with the original cast of The Two Bouquets by Eleanor Farjeon not the least of whom would include Alfred Drake (with whom she would join forces a second time in years to come) and Leo G. Carroll! It was during this run that her striking appearance and talent caught Hollywood’s eye prompting an unparalleled film career as she would go on to star in twenty five films alone in the 1940s! Most notable thrillers would include The Magnificent Fraud and Persons in Hiding along with the comedy I’m from Missouri along with other such timeless classics as The Song of Bernadette and one of the earliest Tracy/Hepburn collaborations Without Love. Starring roles encompassed that of Queen of the Amazons and Tarzan and the Huntress in which she played leading lady to Johnny Weissmuller’s most famous, non-feline King of the Jungle! Other noted partners in cinematic performance would include Ralph Bellamy, Myrna Loy, Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, William Powell, and Basil Rathbone.
But Broadway still beckoned and despite her busy Hollywood schedule she was met with an offer she couldn’t refuse: a starring role in the musical Allah be Praised!, after which she reunited with former Two Bouquets cohort Alfred Drake in the original presentation of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate—a musical within a play centering around a theatrical ensemble mounting Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Her chemistry with Drake was so superlative, the musical would go on to repeat 1,077 performances and win six Tony Awards ® including Best Musical, and Best Composer and Lyricist. Stand out signature solo selections from Kiss me Kate that would go down as historical classics would include Morison’s renditions of I Hate Men, So in Love and Wunderbar: her legendary duet with Drake! Even more intriguing, the last time Morison performed each was in 2015!
Following the Broadway reprisal with Drake, Morison would take on the role of Lilli yet again in the London presentation and television after which she returned to Broadway as Anna Leonowens in The King and I, and appear in several other notable shows not the least of which would include Milk and Honey, Kismet, The Merry Widow, Separate Tables, and Private Lives.
More recent film credits consist of Song without End, Won Ton Ton: The Dog who Saved Hollywood and Mirrors.
And Ms. Morison’s birthday celebration was surely just as varied and colorful as the tapestry woven betwixt each and every role and script of her most illustrious career!