Today there are many film and TV stars who are considered famous, but in 30 or 40 years they will be almost totally forgotten.
Then consider Dennis Morgan.
Never heard of him, right? A pity since he was once one of Hollywood’s leading romantic actors with an appealingly light touch in musicals and comedies with occasional western or drama appearances thrown in.
His many costars were some of the classic era’s most memorable figures including Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Eleanor Parker, Doris Day and Sydney Greenstreet.
His name was right up there, rivaling to some extent the star power of the likes of the ubiquitous Joan Crawford. His name above the title could certainly help carry a picture. In short, he was no lightweight.
But why does Morgan’s name fail to come tripping from the tongue when prominent classic performers are recalled? One of life’s many mysteries, we guess.
Born Earl Stanley Morner in Wisconsin in 1908, he made his first Hollywood movie in the mid-1930’s, and continued making films and tv productions (nearly 80 in total) until his retirement in 1980, 14 years before he died at 85.
A former singer, he fit right in with the kind of light musicals Warner Bros. churned out in the Forties including 1947’s My Wild Irish Rose, the biography of Irish singer Chauncey Olcott. He was directed by Raoul Walsh in the 1947 western, Cheyenne, playing (opposite Jane Wyman) a stage coach robber with a poetic bent.
1949’s It’s a Great Feeling teamed him with a young Doris Day and an actor who would become a frequent Morgan sidekick, Jack Carson, another unjustly overlooked actor.
Carson is spared Morgan’s contemporary obscurity if only for his amiably sleazy businessman turn as “Wally Fay” — his finest role — in the 1945 version of Mildred Pierce. That classic showcased him as a star going toe-to-toe with Joan Crawford with Carson holding his own impressively.
Morgan, by nature a “light” actor, had no such dramatic breakthrough. He came across as a handsome charmer with good humor and manners to match, a genuinely nice guy with a pleasant singing voice.
If you see only one Morgan film make it 1943’s The Hard Way, in which he costars with Ida Lupino, Joan Leslie and his pal, Jack Carson. Directed by Vincent Sherman, it’s a stage-mom-on-the-loose melodrama with music.
Offscreen, the actor was the model of domestic stability, married to his wife Lillian Vedder for 61 years. Should we be cynical enough to suggest that no temperament, no scandal, no angst equals no star-name longevity?