Actor Frank Morgan was a white-haired veteran of stage, screen and radio, whose many films included the iconic "The Wizard of Oz."
Born Frank Wuppermann in New York City, he was the scion of the wealthy family controlling Angostura-Wuppermann Co. of bitters fame. As a child, he was a boy soprano and in his later life he liked to tell of singing at St. Thomas and All Angels in New York.
An attendee of public and private schools, Morgan abandoned further studies at Cornell to try his luck in business as a door-to-door brush salesman. He later dabbled in advertising and real estate.
Finally, he decided to become a cowboy.
"Yes," chuckled Morgan when he recounted his ranch days to an interviewer, "as a boy I had rugged-individualist ideas. I went cow punching on a ranch near Las Vegas, But I had to work on my way home. That's when Frank Wuppermann, hobo, became Frank Morgan, thespian, overnight."
Back in New York from his western adventure, the young man turned to a theatrical career. A friend, Edgar Allan Woolf, wrote a vaudeville sketch to introduce him over the footlights.
The aspiring vaudevillian followed the pattern set by his brother Ralph and dropped the Wuppermann name for Morgan after A.E. Morgan, a leading actor of that time.
Morgan transitioned to the stage with a role in the cast of "Mr. Wu" with Walker Whiteside. He later appeared in such Broadway productions as "The Man Who Came Back," "Seventh Heaven," "My Lady Friends," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "Band Wagon," "Rosalie" and "Rockabye."
As Morgan grew older, he liked to recall events of his early stage career. He was full of laugh-provoking tales such as the account of being stranded in a hick town along with Edward Arnold and their leaving their wardrobes with the sheriff to pay a $10.90 advertising bill.
Morgan's move to film began at Vitagraph in the silent days in such films as "The Girl Philippa," with Anita Stewart. Later he supported Nancy Carroll in "Laughter."
He first came to Hollywood to appear in "Secrets of the French Police" (1932). It was "The Half Naked Truth" (also 1932) that won him recognition from fans and producers, however.
After a few films, he was placed under long-term contract by MGM, the same studio for which he completed his last film "Keys to the City," just three days before his death. His first talking picture was "Belle of the Night" for Paramount.
His film credits are myriad. He played in such pictures as "Reunion in Vienna," "When Ladies Meet," "The Cat and the Fiddle," "Naughty Marietta," "The Great Ziegfeld," "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney," "The Emperor's Candlesticks," "Saratoga" and "Escapade." His later pictures included "White Cliffs of Dover," "Cassanova Brown," and "Green Dolphin Street."
It was in "The Affairs of Cellini" that Morgan developed the rascally, intriguing hesitancy of speech that endeared him to film and radio audiences. He was known as one of the entertainment world's most delightful prevaricators.
Hedda Hopper once wrote of him: "Like wine he improves with age."
But his multiple roles in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" may have achieved his lasting fame to generations of Americans born after his death. Morgan played Professor Marvel, the gatekeeper, a carriage driver, the doorman and the Wizard of Oz.
|1934||Best Actor||The Affairs of Cellini||Nomination|
|1942||Best Supporting Actor||Tortilla Flat||Nomination|