Robert Adolph Wilton Morley, CBE (26 May 1908 – 3 June 1992) was an English actor who was usually cast as a pompous English gentleman representing the Establishment, often in supporting roles. 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." More politely, 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.
Morley was born in Semley, Wiltshire, England, the son of Gertrude Emily (née Fass) and Robert Wilton Morley, a Major in the British Army. His mother came from a German family that had emigrated to South Africa. Morley attended Wellington College, Berkshire, which he hated, followed by RADA. 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".
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. 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.
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.
As a playwright he co-wrote several plays for the stage. His 1937 play Goodness, How Sad was turned into a Ealing Studios film Return to Yesterday (1940) directed by Robert Stevenson. 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. 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. His 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). Baby boomers will remember with macabre fondness, Morley's 1959 performance in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of a Stanley Ellin short story entitled, 'Specialty of the House'.
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. Later in his career, he received critical acclaim and numerous accolades for his performance in Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?. During the 1980s, Morley hosted a celebrity cooking show on Cable TV, Celebrity Chefs. He also hosted (providing explanatory introductions) the Granada Television series (1980–81) Ladykillers.
He was renowned as a witty raconteur and for being an eloquent conversationalist.
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. Morley was in Australia touring his one-man show, The Sound of Morley.
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."
He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1974 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews.
Personal life and honours
Robert Morley married Joan Buckmaster (1910–2005), a daughter of Dame Gladys Cooper. Their elder son, Sheridan Morley, became a writer and critic. They also had a daughter, Annabel, and another son, Wilton.
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.
Morley lived for decades at Wargrave, Berkshire.
Morley died in Reading, Berkshire, from a stroke, aged 84.
- First stage appearance in Dr Syn (Hippodrome, Margate, 28 May 1928)
- First London role, a pirate in Treasure Island (Strand Theatre, Christmas 1929)
- Touring, plus Playhouse Oxford and Festival Cambridge repertory, (1931–1933)
- Oakes in Up in the Air (Royalty Theatre, London 1933)
- Touring with Sir Frank Benson (1934–35)
- Ran a repertory company with Peter Bull (Perranporth, Cornwall, 1935)
- Title role in Oscar Wilde (Gate Theatre Studio, Villiers Street, London, 1936)
- Alexandre Dumas in The Great Romancer (Strand Theatre and New Theatre, 1937)
- Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (Old Vic Theatre, 1937)
- Title role in Oscar Wilde (Fulton Theatre, New York, October 1938)
- Title role in Springtime for Henry (Perranporth, 1939)
- Descius Heiss in Play with Fire (try-out version of The Shop at Sly Corner, Theatre Royal, Brighton, 1941)
- Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner (Savoy Theatre — and on tour — 1941–43)
- Charles in Staff Dance (also wrote, touring UK, 1944)
- Prince Regent in The First Gentleman (New Theatre and Savoy, 1945–46)
- Arnold Holt in Edward, My Son (also co-wrote, His Majesty's Theatre, 1947; also played this role at the Martin Beck Theatre New York 1948, and in Australia and New Zealand, 1949–50)
- Philip in The Little Hut (Lyric Theatre, 1950)
- Hippo in Hippo Dancing (also adapted, Lyric, 1954)
- Oswald Petersham in A Likely Tale (Globe Theatre, 1956)
- Panisse in the musical Fanny (Drury Lane, 1956)
- The Tunnel of Love (directed, Her Majesty's, 1957)
- Sebastian Le Boeuf in Hook, Line and Sinker (also adapted, Piccadilly Theatre, 1958)
- Once More, with Feeling (directed, New Theatre, 1959)
- Mr Asano in A Majority of One (Phoenix Theatre, 1960)
- Title role in Mr Rhodes (Theatre Royal Windsor, 1961)
- The Bishop in A Time to Laugh (Piccadilly, 1962)
- The Sound of Morley (One-man show, touring Australia 1966–67)
- Sir Mallalieu Fitzbuttress in Halfway Up the Tree (Queen's Theatre, 1967)
- Frank Foster in How the Other Half Loves (Lyric, 1970; also North America, 1972, and Australia, 1973)
- Barnstable in A Ghost on Tiptoe (also co-wrote, Savoy, 1974)
- Pound in Banana Ridge (Savoy, 1976)
- Toured Robert Morley Talks to Everyone (1978)
- Picture of Innocence (co-wrote and toured UK and Canada, 1978)
- Hilary in Alan Bennett's The Old Country (Theatre Royal, Sydney, 1980)
- ^ a b "Robert Morley".
- ^ Binder, Michael (1 July 2011). "Halliwell's Horizon". Lulu.com – via Google Books.
- ^ Larger than life: the biography of Robert Morley - Margaret Morley - Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
- ^ "PASSED/FAILED: Sheridan Morley". 22 May 1997.
- ^ a b c d e f "Robert Morley, Jowly Actor Of Jovial Roles, Dies at 84". The New York Times. 4 June 1992.
- ^ McLaren, Angus (15 September 2017). "Playboys and Mayfair Men: Crime, Class, Masculinity, and Fascism in 1930s London". JHU Press – via Google Books.
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- ^ "1938 Academy Awards® Winners and History". www.filmsite.org.
- ^ "Return to Yesterday (1940)".
- ^ "Edward, My Son (1949) - George Cukor - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- ^ "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Specialty of the House (1959) - Robert Stevens - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- ^ a b "Robert Morley - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie". AllMovie.
- ^ "Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe?". TVGuide.com.
- ^ marcus, laurence. "LADYKILLERS - A TELEVISION HEAVEN REVIEW". www.televisionheaven.co.uk.
- ^ Moomba – A festival for the people PDF pp 18 & 22 Craig Bellamy, Gordon Chisholm & Hilary Ericksen (2006)
- ^ photo of Robert Morley accepting King of Moomba crown Melbourne Herald newspaper
- ^ "Morley, Robert (-1992) - People and organisations". Trove.
- ^ Pettigrew, Terence (4 November 1982). "British Film Character Actors: Great Names and Memorable Moments". Rowman & Littlefield – via Google Books.
- ^ "Robert Morley". www.bigredbook.info.
- ^ "BFI Screenonline: Morley, Robert (1908-1992) Biography". www.screenonline.org.uk.
- ^ Hope, Christopher (25 January 2012) "JB Priestley, Roald Dahl, Lucian Freud and LS Lowry among 277 people who turned down honours", The Telegraph
- ^ Morley, Sheridan (27 February 2005). "The final curtain" – via www.telegraph.co.uk.