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Frank Morgan

His film career spanned four decades, most of it as a contract player for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He is best known for playing the title character and several other smaller parts in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Image of Frank Morgan

Filmography

1916      

The Suspect 

The Daring of Diana

The Girl Philippa 

 

1917      

A Modern Cinderella 

A Child of the Wild

The Light in Darkness 

Baby Mine 

Who’s Your Neighbor? 

Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman 

 

1918      

The Knife 

At the Mercy of Men

 

1919      

The Gray Towers Mystery

The Golden Shower 

 

1924      

Manhandled 

Born Rich 

 

1925      

The Crowded Hour 

The Man Who Found Himself

Scarlet Saint 

 

1927      

Love’s Greatest Mistake

 

1930      

Belle of the Night

Dangerous Nan McGrew

Queen High

Laughter

Fast and Loose 

 

1932      

Secrets of the French Police 

The Half-Naked Truth

 

1933      

The Billion Dollar Scandal

Luxury Liner 

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum

Reunion in Vienna 

The Kiss Before the Mirror

The Nuisance 

Best of Enemies 

When Ladies Meet 

Broadway to Hollywood 

Bombshell 

 

1934      

The Cat and the Fiddle 

Success at Any Price

Sisters Under the Skin 

The Affairs of Cellini 

A Lost Lady 

There’s Always Tomorrow 

By Your Leave

The Mighty Barnum 

 

1935      

The Good Fairy 

Enchanted April 

Naughty Marietta  

Escapade

I Live My Life

The Perfect Gentleman 

 

1936      

The Great Ziegfeld

Dancing Pirate 

Trouble for Two 

Piccadilly Jim 

Dimples 

 

1937      

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney 

The Emperor’s Candlesticks

Saratoga 

Sunday Night at the Trocadero

Beg, Borrow or Steal 

Rosalie 

 

1938      

Paradise for Three 

Port of Seven Seas

The Crowd Roars 

Sweethearts 

 

1939      

Broadway Serenade 

The Wizard of Oz 

Henry Goes Arizona 

Balalaika 

 

1940      

The Shop Around the Corner 

Broadway Melody of 1940 

The Ghost Comes Home

The Mortal Storm 

Boom Town 

Hullabaloo 

Keeping Company 

 

1941      

The Wild Man of Borneo 

Washington Melodrama 

Honky Tonk 

 

1942      

The Vanishing Virginian 

Tortilla Flat 

White Cargo

 

1943      

The Human Comedy 

A Stranger in Town

Thousands Cheer 

 

1944      

The White Cliffs of Dover 

Kismet 

 

1944      

Casanova Brown 

 

1945      

Yolanda and the Thief

 

1946      

Courage of Lassie 

The Cockeyed Miracle

Lady Luck

The Great Morgan

 

1947      

Green Dolphin Street 

 

1948      

Summer Holiday 

The Three Musketeers

 

1949      

The Stratton Story 

The Great Sinner 

Any Number Can Play 

 

1950      

Key to the City 

Awards

Frank Morgan was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Actor for his role as the cuckolded Duke of Florence in The Affairs of Cellini (1934) and one for Best Supporting Actor for Tortilla Flat (1942), for his poignant performance as a simple Hispanic owner of the dogs.

Frank Morgan was born Francis Phillip Wuppermann on June 1, 1890 in New York City, to Josephine Wright (née Hancox) and George Diogracia Wupperman. He was the youngest of six boys and five girls. The elder Mr. Wuppermann was born in Venezuela, but was brought up in Hamburg, Germany and was of German and Spanish ancestry. His mother was born in the United States, of English ancestry. The family earned its wealth distributing Angostura bitters, allowing Wuppermann to attend Cornell University where he joined Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity and the Glee Club. He then followed his older brother Ralph Morgan into show business, first on the Broadway stage and then into motion pictures.

After his film debut The Suspect (1916), he provided support to his friend John Barrymore in Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917), an independent film produced in and about New York City. Morgan’s career expanded when talkies began, his most stereotypical role being that of a befuddled but good hearted middle-aged man.

By the mid-1930s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had been so impressed by Morgan that they signed him to a lifetime contract. Morgan’s best remembered film performances, playing six roles, are in The Wizard of Oz (1939): as the carnival huckster “Professor Marvel”, the gatekeeper at the Emerald City, the coachman of the carriage drawn by “The Horse of a Different Color”, the guard who initially refuses to let Dorothy and her friends in to see the Wizard, the Wizard’s scary face projection, and the Wizard himself. Morgan was cast in the role on September 22, 1938. W. C. Fields was originally chosen for the role of the Wizard, but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over his fee. An actor with a wide range, Morgan was equally effective playing comical, befuddled men such as Jesse Kiffmeyer in Saratoga (1937) and Mr. Ferris in Casanova Brown (1944), as he was with more serious, troubled characters like Hugo Matuschek in The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and Professor Roth in The Mortal Storm (1940). MGM’s 1946 film The Great Morgan was written with the story centering on Frank Morgan.

In the 1940s, Morgan co-starred with Fanny Brice in one version (of several different series) of the radio program Maxwell House Coffee Time, aka The Frank Morgan-Fanny Brice Show. During the first half of the show Morgan would tell increasingly outlandish tall tales about his life adventures, much to the dismay of his fellow cast members. After the Morgan segment there was a song, followed by Brice as ‘Baby Snooks’ for the last half of the show. When Brice left in 1944 to have her own program, Morgan continued in a similar vein for a year with The Frank Morgan Show.

In 1947, Morgan starred as the title character in the radio series The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy. He also recorded a number of children’s records, including the popular Gossamer Wump, released in 1949 by Capitol Records.

Like most character actors of the studio era, Morgan was sought out for numerous motion picture roles. One of his last roles was as Barney Wile in The Stratton Story (1949), a true story about a baseball player (played by James Stewart) who makes a comeback after having his leg amputated due to a hunting accident.

His final film Key to the City (1950) was released posthumously, in which he played Fire Chief Duggan. He was the third lead, after Clark Gable and Loretta Young.

Morgan married Alma Muller (1895–1949) in 1914; they had one son. Their marriage ended with his death in 1949. He was widely known to have had a drinking problem, according to several who worked with him, including actress Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz) and Oz historian Aljean Harmetz. Morgan sometimes carried a black briefcase to work fully equipped with a small mini-bar. Morgan’s niece Claudia Morgan (née Wuppermann) was a stage and film actress, most notable for playing the role of Vera Claythorne in the first Broadway production of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Morgan died of a heart attack on September 18, 1949, while filming Annie Get Your Gun. He was replaced in the film by Louis Calhern. His death came before the 1956 premiere televised broadcast on CBS of The Wizard of Oz, which would make him the only major cast member from the film who would not live to see the film’s revived popularity and become an annual American television institution. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His tombstone carries his real name, Wuppermann, as well as his stage name.

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