Robert Morse, two-time Tony-winning actor, dies at 90

Apr 21, 2022, 7:30 AM | Updated: Apr 22, 2022, 7:42 am
FILE - Robert Morse appears at the live read and series finale of "Mad Men" held in Los Angeles on ...

FILE - Robert Morse appears at the live read and series finale of "Mad Men" held in Los Angeles on May 17, 2015. Morse, who won a Tony Award as a hilariously brash corporate climber in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and a second one a generation later as the brilliant, troubled Truman Capote in "Tru," died peacefully at his home on Wednesday, April 20, at the age of 90. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Actor Robert Morse, who won a Tony Award as a hilariously brash corporate climber in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and a second one a generation later as the brilliant, troubled Truman Capote in “Tru,” has died. He was 90.

Morse died at his home Wednesday after a brief illness, said David Shaul of BRS/Gage Talent Agency.

The boyishly handsome Morse first made his name on Broadway in the 1950s, and landed some roles in Hollywood comedies in the 1960s. “I consider myself an actor — shyly,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1964. “I love acting. It’s a great use of body and mind… With all humility, you hope that you are doing something worthwhile.”

More recently, he played the autocratic and eccentric leader of an advertising agency in “Mad Men,” AMC’s hit drama that debuted in 2007. The role of Bert Cooper earned him five Emmy nominations as best guest actor in a drama series.

“He radiated a wicked joy; it was impossible to watch him without instantly sharing his giddy delight,” wrote playwright Paul Rudnick. Jason Alexander tweeted: “His work was infused with joy and it was joyous to be with him.”

Morse was already well-established on Broadway, with two Tony nominations to his credit, when he became nationally famous at age 30 as the star of Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser’s smash 1961 Broadway satire of corporate life, “How to Succeed…”. The show won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for best musical and ran for more than three years.

Morse’s bright-eyed J. Pierrepont Finch was a master of corporate backstabbing — with a toothy grin — as he went from Manhattan window washer to titan at the World Wide Wicket company with the help of a little “how-to” paperback on office politics.

The musical’s song titles suggest the button-down, pre-feminist business world: “The Company Way,” a theme song for yes-men; “A Secretary Is Not a Toy,” a song that winks at office dalliance; “Coffee Break,” a tribute to caffeine; and the hymn Finch sings to himself: “I Believe in You.” Finch toadies up to the aging boss, played by 1920s crooner Rudy Vallee, by joining in the old man’s college fight song, “Grand Old Ivy.”

“Imagine a collaboration between Horatio Alger and Machiavelli and you have Finch, the intrepid hero of this sortie into the canyons of commerce,” The New York Times wrote. “As played with unfaltering bravura and wit by Robert Morse, he is a rumpled, dimpled angel with a streak of Lucifer.”

The 1967 film version of “How To Succeed” dropped some songs but otherwise kept close to the stage original. Morse was back, as was Vallee.

But Morse’s film career largely failed to take off.

He was back on Broadway in 1972 — and picked up another Tony nomination — for “Sugar,” producer David Merrick’s musical version of “Some Like It Hot.” Morse starred as Jerry, the part played by Jack Lemmon in the Billy Wilder comedy about two male musicians who disguise themselves as women to get away from murderous gangsters.

“Tru,” a one-man show based on Capote’s writings, revived Morse’s stage career in 1989.

“His Capote is wickedly funny, a sly imp ready to deliver an off-color joke about the Queen Mum, zing Robert Goulet or rhapsodize about the time he tap-danced for Louis Armstrong. …,” Associated Press drama critic Michael Kuchwara wrote in his review. “But there’s a desperate side of Capote, too, and Morse rises to the pain.”

In 1993, the televised version of “Tru” (PBS) won Morse an Emmy for best actor in a miniseries or special. (Meanwhile, a 1995 Broadway revival of “How to Succeed…” brought another Tony for its Finch, Matthew Broderick.)

Television’s “Mad Men” returned Morse to the “How to Succeed” milieu of Manhattan office politics, 1960s-style.

When Morse landed in Hollywood after his “How to Succeed” triumph, columnist Hedda Hopper predicted in 1963: “If Robert Morse comes over on screen as he does on stage, he’ll have teenagers screaming and mothers wanting to adopt him. He has an innate sense of comedy and a funny face to go with it.”

Among his films was “The Loved One,” a 1965 black comedy about an Englishman’s encounter with Hollywood and the funeral industry, based on the satirical novel by Evelyn Waugh.

“I don’t think in terms of whether a picture will help or hinder my career,” Morse told the Los Angeles Times when the film was in production. “I think of who I’m working with.” Among his “Loved One” co-stars were Jonathan Winters, John Gielgud and Tab Hunter.

Morse was born May 18, 1931, in Newton, Massachusetts, and made his Broadway debut in 1955 in “The Matchmaker.”

He received back-to-back Tony nominations for his next two roles: in 1959 for best featured actor in a play for “Say, Darling,” and in 1960 for best actor in a musical for “Take Me Along,” which also starred Jackie Gleason.

“Say, Darling” was a comedy about a young writer’s experience as his novel is turned into a Broadway show. The play was based on the creation of “The Pajama Game,” and Morse’s character, a “boy producer” who hated being called that, was modeled on Harold Prince, a “Pajama Game” co-producer.

Reviewing his career, Morse told The New York Times in 1989: “Things change. I never got a chance to be in a play or picture where I played a father, or had a family, or where I could feel or show something. The wild child in me never had a chance to grow up.”

He said he had successfully battled alcohol and drug abuse, but added, “I don’t think drinking got in the way of my work. I did my job. It was the other 22 hours I had a problem with.”

Still, he said of his career, “I didn’t think it was going to end or not end. I just plowed on. One day you hear `We love you, Bobby.’ The next day you’re doing voiceovers.”

He is survived by five children, a son Charlie and four daughter, Robin, Andrea, Hilary and Allyn.

___

Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - in this Aug. 27, 2020, file photo, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks during a news co...
Associated Press

Wisconsin Democrats focus ire on Republican Sen. Johnson

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democrats looking to unseat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson focused their attacks on him Sunday, and not each other, as the eight candidates made their case to party activists at the state convention held six weeks before the primary. The Democratic Senate candidates blasted Johnson for his attempt to deliver fake […]
11 hours ago
FILE - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen arrives to meet with Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe ...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: What’s the impact of a Russian debt default?

Russia is poised to default on its foreign debt for the first time since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, further alienating the country from the global financial system following sanctions imposed over its war in Ukraine. The country faces a Sunday night deadline to meet a 30-day grace period on interest payments originally due May 27. […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

Detroit woman charged after body of son, 3, found in freezer

DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit woman has been charged in the death of her 3-year-old son after police found the boy’s decomposing body in a basement freezer. The 31-year-old woman is charged with first-degree murder, child abuse and torture and concealing the death of an individual, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Sunday. She was […]
11 hours ago
April Aamodt holds a Mormon cricket in her hand in Blalock Canyon near Arlington, Ore. on Friday, J...
Associated Press

‘Biblical’ insect swarms spur Oregon push to fight pests

ARLINGTON, Ore. (AP) — Driving down a windy canyon road in northern Oregon rangeland, Jordan Maley and April Aamodt are on the look out for Mormon crickets, giant insects that can ravage crops. “There’s one right there,” Aamodt says. They’re not hard to spot. The insects, which can grow larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters), […]
11 hours ago
Leili Ghazi, a 22-year-old immigrant from Iran, sits for a photo in Pasadena, Calif., Tuesday, June...
Associated Press

Former Iran conscripts say unfairly blocked from US travel

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two years ago, Leili Ghazi quit studying biomedical engineering in Iran and seized the chance to travel to the United States to build a new life for herself and her parents. Now, the 22-year-old is separated indefinitely from her family because her father performed required military service more than two decades […]
11 hours ago
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Road to Majority conference Friday, June 17, 2022, in N...
Associated Press

Trump’s lasting legacy grows as Supreme Court overturns Roe

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden rarely mentions his predecessor by name. But as he spoke to a nation processing a seismic shift in the rights of women, he couldn’t ignore Donald Trump’s legacy. “It was three justices named by one president — Donald Trump — who were the core of today’s decision to upend […]
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Robert Morse, two-time Tony-winning actor, dies at 90