Patricia Morison (born March 19, 1915) is a retired American stage and film actress and mezzo-soprano singer. She made her feature film debut in 1939 after several years on the stage. She was lauded as a beauty with large eyes and extremely long, dark hair. During this period of her career, she was often cast as the femme fatale or "other woman". It was only 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.
She lives in Los Angeles, California, where she celebrated her 100th birthday on March 19, 2015.
Patricia Morison was born Eileen Patricia Augusta Fraser Morison in New York City on March 19, 1915, although some sources have erroneously given her year of birth as 1914.
Her father, William Morison, was a playwright and occasional actor who billed himself under the name Norman Rainey. Her mother, Selena Morison (née Fraser) 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.
First stage appearances
Morison made her stage debut at the Provincetown Playhouse in the musical revue Don't Mind the Rain, in which she sang a song "Simple Silly I." Her Broadway debut came in November 1933, with a short-lived play, Growing Pains. After that, she proceeded to understudy Helen Hayes in the role of Victoria Regina. She understudied all the other women in the cast. Hayes, however, never missed a performance and Morison never had the opportunity to play the lead role.
In 1935, four years before her official film debut, Morison made her first appearance on film in an automobile propaganda short, Wreckless. In 1938, Morison appeared in the musical The Two Bouquets, which ran for only 55 performances. Among the other cast members was Alfred Drake, who, years later, would star opposite Morison in the Broadway hit Kiss Me, Kate.
Paramount contract player
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, one of their star commodities. Morison was subsequently signed to a contract with Paramount. She made her feature film debut in the "B" film Persons in Hiding (1939). Also in 1939, Paramount considered her for the role of Isobel in their adventure film Beau Geste, starring Gary Cooper and Ray Milland, but she was replaced by Susan Hayward. The following year she appeared opposite Milland in the Technicolor romance Untamed, a remake of the Clara Bow vehicle, Man Trap (1926).
Despite the promising beginnings, she 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 Round Up (1941) with Richard Dix and Preston Foster. On a loan-out to 20th Century-Fox she played one of her first villainess roles in Romance of the Rio Grande (1941), which starred Cesar Romero as the Cisco Kid. She left Paramount after a series of unrewarding roles, such as Night in New Orleans (1942), Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942), and Are Husbands Necessary? (1942).
By 1942, the United States had become involved in World War II and, as a result, Morison became one of many celebrities who entertained American troops and their allies. In November of that year she joined Al Jolson, Merle Oberon, Allen Jenkins, and Frank McHugh on a USO Tour in Great Britain.
Return to film
Morison returned to acting in the cinema 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. She 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.
Allah Be Praised!
In 1944, Morison briefly abandoned her film work and returned to the Broadway stage. In April, she opened at the Adelphi Theatre in the musical comedy, Allah Be Praised! The play, however, was unsuccessful and closed after a very brief run of only 20 performances.
More cinematic roles
Returning to films once again, Morison continued to be cast in supporting roles, all too often as femme fatales or unsympathetic "other women", including the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn vehicle, Without Love (1945), and the Deanna Durbin comedy-mystery Lady on a Train (1945).
She played formidably villainous roles in the final installments of Universal's Sherlock Holmes series and MGM's The Thin Man series — respectively, Dressed to Kill (1946), and Song of the Thin Man (1947). She played the female antagonist in Tarzan and the Huntress (1947), the penultimate film starring Johnny Weissmuller as Edgar Rice Burroughs' title character.
Her few leading roles during this time were in "B" pictures, notably as Maid Marian opposite Jon Hall's Robin Hood in the Cinecolor production The Prince of Thieves (1947), in the action film Queen of the Amazons (1947) and with Richard Arlen in the sepia-toned western The Return of Wildfire (1948). She played the role of Victor Mature's despairing, suicide-driven wife in Kiss of Death (1947). Her role was cut from the final print, over censorship concerns and the producers' reputed belief that audiences at that time were not ready for a scene depicting suicide. Morison also starred in a 1948 espionage story, Sofia. After a long absence from the screen, Morris portrayed George Sand in the 1960 Franz Liszt biopic, Song Without End.
Kiss Me, Kate
In 1948, Morison again abandoned her film career and returned to the stage, and achieved her greatest success. 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 such songs as "I Hate Men," "Wunderbar", and "So in Love", reuniting 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 played in the London production of Kiss Me, Kate, which ran for 400 performances.
The King and I
In February 1954, Morison took over the role of Anna Leonowens in the Rodgers and Hammerstein production of The King and I, which co-starred Yul Brynner in his star-making role as the King of Siam. The play premiered in 1951, originally with Gertrude Lawrence as Leonowens. Lawrence was subsequently replaced by Celeste Holm, Constance Carpenter, Annamary Dickey, and finally Morison, who appeared in The King and I until its Broadway closing on March 20, 1954, and then continued with the production on the national tour, which included a stop at the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera (from May 5, 1954). She played the role at the Municipal Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri; the production opened on June 11, 1959.
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 also appeared in General Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein broadcast March 28, 1954 on all four American TV networks of the time.
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 she 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 on the DuMont Television Network and a guest appearance with Vincent Price on Have Gun — Will Travel (1958) starring Richard Boone. Years later she appeared in the made-for-TV movie Mirrors (1985) and a guest role in 1989 on the popular sitcom Cheers.
Last film and stage appearances
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 Milk and Honey, Kismet, The Merry Widow, Song of Norway, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Bell, Book and Candle, The Fourposter, Separate Tables, and Private Lives.
She 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. Morison made only three film appearances after her stage triumph in Kiss Me, Kate. These were a cameo part as writer George Sand in the biopic Song Without End (1960), co-starring Dirk Bogarde as composer Franz Liszt, another cameo in the comedy film Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), and as herself in the documentary Broadway — The Golden Years (2003).
On November 18, 1999, Morison attended the opening night performance of the successful Kiss Me, Kate Broadway revival, the first such revival in New York, starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie (in the role Morison originated in 1948). Morison is one of the only known surviving cast members, and the only surviving featured player, from that original production.
In recent years Morison has devoted herself to painting — one of her early passions — and has had several showings in and around Los Angeles. Never married and childless, she has lived in the Park La Brea, Los Angeles apartment complex since 1961.
In December 2012, at age 97, she appeared on stage in an evening entitled Ladies of an Indeterminate Age at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. Her co-stars included Charlotte Rae and Anne Jeffreys.
In March 2014, at age 99, she appeared onstage for Broadway Backwards 9, a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. She sang "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from Kiss Me, Kate.
In conjunction with her 100th birthday, the Pasadena Playhouse sponsored an evening with Patricia Morison on March 15, 2015, including an audience Q & A session and selections from Kiss Me, Kate performed by the guest of honor. Morison was also interviewed in the Los Angeles Times on March 7, 2015 and by namesake Patt Morrison on KPCC radio in Los Angeles.
See: Patricia Morison performances