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TomJH

Wayne Morris - There's More There Than I Realized

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Wayne Morris.

It's a name that should ring a bell for film buffs, particularly those who have had TCM for some time where many of the early films in his career at Warner Brothers get fairly abundant play.

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Remember him in 1937's KID GALAHAD, playing the good natured, forever smiling Ward Guisenberry, a towering bellboy promoted by Edward G. Robinson into becoming a boxer? He was performing with the Warners big boys on that occasion, not only with Robinson but Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart (before Bogie hit it big time), as well.

Morris started off his film career in sunny faced, boy-next-door roles but, after an extended service during the war, returned to find that the momentum of his career from a lengthy absence had lessened. He was heavier and soon taking supporting roles. His film career would wind down some unspectacular paths during the '50s and towards the end he was doing a lot of television work.

Probably the performance in his career for which he will be best remembered is that of Lt. Roget, the weakling officer in Stanley Kubrick's masterful PATHS OF GLORY. There are a lot of impressive performances in this film but Morris holds his own. Do you remember the squeamishness he conveys when Kirk Douglas asks him to be the officer in charge of the executions?

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The thing is the real Wayne Morris was anything but a coward. In fact he was a genuine hero during WW2.

From Wiki:

While filming Flight Angels (1940), Morris became interested in flying and became a pilot. With war in the wind, he joined the Naval Reserve and became a Navy flier in 1942, leaving his film career behind for the duration of the war. He flew the F6F Hellcat off the aircraft carrier USS Essex.

A December 15, 1944 Associated Press news story reported that Morris was "credited with 57 aerial sorties, shooting down seven Japanese Zeros, sinking an escort vessel and a flak gunboat and helping sink a submarine and damage a heavy cruiser and a mine layer."[5] He was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.

Morris was considered by the Navy as physically 'too big' to fly fighters. After being turned down several times as a fighter pilot, he went to his uncle-in-law, Cdr. David McCampbell, imploring him for the chance to fly fighters. Cdr. McCampbell said "Give me a letter." He flew with the VF-15 (Fighter Squadron 15), the famed "McCampbell Heroes."

That's damn impressive stuff, making it impossible not to respect the man, and appreciate all the more that the craven creature he so skillfully portrayed in the Kubrick film had nothing in common with the real him.

Wayne Morris died of a massive heart attack in 1959 while visiting the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard in San Francisco Bay. He was only 45.

The truth is Morris never made that much of an impression upon me as an actor (outside of Paths of Glory) but when I read about his war service I felt compelled to do a writeup on him, if only to bring his courageous performance during the war to the attention of fellow movie buffs who, like myself, might have been a bit inclined to dismiss him.

The real Wayne Morris, I now feel, deserves better than that.

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I think you have made a great choice here in honoring Wayne Morris, Spence. So often actors in films who seemed to only get the chance for minor or subsidiary roles are forgotten, yet you have chosen to give a fine delineation of the many facets of his career. Often just not getting the breaks at crucial times can end a career.

Another fascinating aspect of your post, is to spotlight how ironic it is that often the people who are the real heroes in life, would never be chosen to play the self same type of hero in a movie. And the person chosen to play the movie, might be the one who would be running away and crying like a baby if they were really faced with real life tragedies or danger. Irony of irony, but art doesn't imitate life and movies are the proof of that.

Fine exegesis and I enjoyed reading all your research about Morris, though I did know a teensy weensy bit of it beforehand from reading way too many books on character actors in films. Thanks, Spence for sharing!

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15 minutes ago, CaveGirl said:

I think you have made a great choice here in honoring Wayne Morris, Spence. So often actors in films who seemed to only get the chance for minor or subsidiary roles are forgotten, yet you have chosen to give a fine delineation of the many facets of his career. Often just not getting the breaks at crucial times can end a career.

Another fascinating aspect of your post, is to spotlight how ironic it is that often the people who are the real heroes in life, would never be chosen to play the self same type of hero in a movie. And the person chosen to play the movie, might be the one who would be running away and crying like a baby if they were really faced with real life tragedies or danger. Irony of irony, but art doesn't imitate life and movies are the proof of that.

Fine exegesis and I enjoyed reading all your research about Morris, though I did know a teensy weensy bit of it beforehand from reading way too many books on character actors in films. Thanks, Spence for sharing!

Speaking on behalf of spence, thanks for appreciating the writeup.

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Thanks for the info on Wayne. He certainly was a sharp contrast to the character he portrayed in PATHS OF GLORY (great performance and film).

It's a pity he died so young. But he truly was a man who believed in doing so much for his country. What a truly brave and heroic man. 

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Wayne Morris had a good supporting role in Deep Valley (1947) as the lawman in love with Ida Lupino. Ida, of course, is in love with the convict played by Dane Clark.

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I read that three of Wayne Morris's planes during the war were so badly shot up by the enemy that they were dumped in the sea since they were "unfit for duty."

As properly befits a war hero, Wayne Morris was buried with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery.

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