Frank Morgan

  1. John Barrymore, Night Flight, 1932.       Anotherstar-studded MGM enterprise (a la Dinner at Eight, Grand Hotel) except  the stars rarely shared scenes, as they turned upnon days off from other gigs. “I didn’t  work with Gable,” said Myrna Loy, “didn’t see Jack [Barrymore] or Helen [Hayes] or anybody but Bill Gargan.” Story obviously came from a pilot in love with flying (and  the moon) – The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint Exupéry – based on his life with the pioneering French Aeropostale. Result: Gable’s biggest flop since… Polly of the Circus, 1931.
  2. John Barrymore, Topaze, 1932.     Although Morgan had played Marcel Pagnol’s naive schoolteacher  on Broadway and was under contract to RKO, the studio rejected him for the movie. Big mistake! Pagnol directed his own version with Fernandel in 1950. I watched Peter Sellers directing himself as Mr Topaze in 1961 when  his  Goons-cum-Clouseau antics (and noises) when trying to unlock his  safe with a key on a very short chain almost had me ruining the take by laughing out loud. In the actual film, the  scene had been curiously re-shot – no longer for laughs.
  3. Otto Kreuger, Vanessa:  Her Love Story, 1934.     Poor Helen Hayes’ insane husband went from Morgan, two Barrymores (John and Lionel) and Charles Laughton to Kreuger.
  4. Edmund Gwenn, The Bishop Misbehaves, 1934.     Morgan and Charles Laughton were mulled over for  Broadway’s bishop-cum-detectiveBut Gwenn nailed bis audition for his Hollywood debut. UK censors ordered a new title, The Bishop’s Misadventures  “because bishops do not misbehave.” Of course not!
  5. Hugh Herbert, We Went To College, 1935.    All change for the little MGM comedy programmer with everyone letting their hair down at a college reunion.   For Morgan and Herbert Lowe, read Walter Abel and Hugh Herbert. Co-scenarist Richard Maibaum went on to write James Bond films for Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby and Roger Moore.  
  6. Lionel Barrymore, On Borrowed Time, 1938.       In.  Out. Back in again…  Barrymore was in poor health and MGM called up his usual substitute to take over.  No, no, no, Barrymore insisted, he could play Gramps. No problem. The title was not about him. He made  another 35 screen roles (for a career total of 219) before his death  at 76.
  7. Lionel Barrymore, On Borrowed Time, 1938.     In a tale that appeared to be likewise borrowed – from Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale –  Barrymore passed due to his “disabling illness.” (He broke the same hip twice in 1936-1937).  As per usual, Morgan was sent for – then sent home when Lionel proved he could still function.  And even “walk”  due to special effects.
  8. Edward Everett Horton, Ziegfeld Girl, 1940.      Not about one girl but three: Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and stealing the show: Lana Turner.  Oddly, no one  played Broadway icon  Florenz Ziegfeld. (William Powell was busy?).   Morgan and Walter Pidgeon were in the mix for his  right-hand man.
  9. Guy Kibbee, This Time for Keeps (aka Over Ther Waves), 1941.   Citizen Kanescenarist Herman J Mankiewicz wrote the Company,1940, and earfned a credit for his characters in this follow up (although thjeir family name was changed, from  Thomas to Bryant). Only star not in both films was the busy Morgan – subbed by Kibbee. Plans for more Bryants mo vies were axeed. The next Time for Keepswas an Esther Williams swim-in.  Hence the alternate TV title. 
  10. SZ Sakall, Seven Sweethearts, 1942.  Last minute change of Mr Van Maaster from the Oz wizard, Morgan, to ‘Cuddles’ Sakall as the  father of seven daughters with boys’ names – Albert, Billie, Cornelius, George, Peter, Reggie, Victor. – because he wanted sons!   They fascinate Van Heflin’s journalist covering the Tulip Festival  in Little Delft, Michigan. He falls for Kathryn Grayson’s Billie but the Dutch  family rule is that the eldest girl must wed first.  Oh, calamity!

  11. Walter Huston, Dragon Seed, 1943.      Insulting! Pearl Buck’s book had a point – exposing Japanese atrocities in China.  MGM made it a farce, with the unlikeliest-looking Chinese ever spawned by Hollywood… and  could only think of their usual paterfamilias for Ling Tan. Except  Morgan, Edward Arnold, Donald Crisp and Walter Pidgeon  failed their  Eurasian tests. Huston looked  about as Chinese as his daughter –  Katharine  Hepburn!!
  12. Hugh Herbert, Music for Millions, 1944. Nearly all the main roles were changed – such as Herbert in for the usual MGMainstay, Morgan. And Donna Reed, Susan Peter and, finall,y June Alyson, substituted  Lana Turner. Nobody cared. They came to see kiddy star Margaret O’Brien  at seven, and discovered Jimmy Durante.  He stopped the show. Twice. In new songs  for him  due to his breakthrough,  eight months earlier in Two Girls and a Sailor.
  13. Lionel Barrymore, Three Wise Fools, 1945.   At MGM, the stars were always so busy. If you could not obtain Barrymore for your curmudgeon with a heart of gold (or no heart at all) , you went after Morgan. Or, vice-versa.  Or, as in this case, vice-versa
  14. Cecil Kellaway,  Easy To Wed, 1945.  The veteran Morgan was in, then out of the 40s’ take on the the huge 30s’ comedy success, Libeled Lady, with directed by Jack Conway and starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy.  Rather more memorable than Van Johnson, Esther Williams, Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn.
  15. Thomas Mitchell, It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946. 
  16. Louis Calhern,  Annie Get Your  Gun,  1949.      Morgan was MGM’s tireless work-horse, in everything from Jean Harlow’s Blonde Bombshell to being the  Wizard of Oz. He was playing Buffao Bill when he died during filming.  Ironically, so did Calhern while making Teahouse  of the August Moon, 1956.
  17. Adolphe Menjou, Dancing in the Dark, 1949.     In a November 1948 memo to producer Gerorge Jessel, head Fox Darryl F Zanuck suggested that Menjou or  Morgan would be fine  for the film tycoon – somewhat based on Zanuck, himself.  (Certainly, his office was an exact copy of DFZ’s). Terrible film proving that only MGM could make musicals, not  Fox.
  18. Dean Jagger, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, 1962.    MGM paid $100,00 for the rights to the Broadway show.  Arthur Freed was set to producer in 1943 with The Old Firm of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney – backed up by Morgan and Wallace Beery. By 1947 it was for  Frank Sinatra-Judy Garland  – or Gene Kelly-Kathryn Grayson.  1949:  Frank Sinatra-Esther Williams. 1952:  Donald O’Connor-Debbie Reynolds. 1962: Dean Martin-Doris  Day. Finally: Stephen Boyd was Day’s (weak) partner in her last musical.  And after all that, it flopped. 


 Birth year: 1890Death year: 1949Other name: Casting Calls:  18