June 1, 1890 - September 18, 1949
Born Francis Philip Wuppermann in New York City in 1890 to Josephine Wright Hancox Wuppermann of New York and George Diogracia Wuppermann, Frank already had quite a family to look up to. His father, George, was born in Venezuela but grew up in Hamburg, Germany. He moved to Trinidad where he founded the banking firm of J.W. Harriman & Co. He met Josphine in Trinidad, and they were married. George, at the time of his marriage, was employed by the son of Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert (who developed Anostura Bitters). When George went to New York, he had secured the sole right to distribute the Bitters in the U.S. and adjacent countries. Frank's maternal grandfather, Commodore Joseph Wright Hancox, operated a famous fleet of Hudson River boats before the Civil War.
Like McHugh, Frank Morgan was the baby of a large family. Eliza Hancox (b. 1871) was born first and was Frank's favorite sister. Adolph Edward Wuppermann (b. 1872), "Edward," would go on to run the family business, the "Angostura-Wuppermann Corporation (the only North American distributor of Angostura Bitters). Although he did not act, he too delved into show business by writing at least four plays (co-written with brother Ralph). Next came George (died shortly after), Zoyla Dolores (b. 1874 - died shortly after), Marguerite Georgine (b. 1875), Josephine Wright (b. 1878), Zoyla Gomez (b. 1882), Raphael Kuhner, "Ralph" (b. 1883), George Herbert (died shortly after birth), Carlos Domaso Siegert "Carlyle" (b. 1887), and finally Frank.
Ralph, Carlos, and Frank would go on to change their last names to "Morgan" and go into show business (namely the stage). Ralph chose to change to Morgan first, Carlos followed in suit, and Frank followed only after first dropping one 'n' to become Wupperman, and then some time later changing to Morgan.
Frank began his career by singing as a choir boy at Holy Trinity and Saint Thomas' in New York. He would later attend a boarding school in New York City and then Cornell. The New York Times said "His soft, musical voice, so well adapted for the sage and screen in after years, had its first training in a choir. At the time, he was called the best boy soprano in New York and he was a solist at St. Thomas and All Angela Churches." In 1913 - 1914, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for the stage.
He worked in the advertising department of "The Boston Traveler," and then worked on a ranch near Las Vegas, New Mexico before his brother, Ralph, visited him on the ranch and persuaded him to try acting as a profession.
He would play four seasons in Jesse Boestelle's stock company, including leading man. Because he was a slender youth, he played mostly juvenile roles. He caught the attention of the New York & Chicago drama critics in 1923 in "Lullaby" with Florence Reed where he played the part of Count Carlo Beretti. The play ran 18 weeks on Broadway.
His first successful part was in a vaudeville skit. His first appearance on the legitimate stage occurred in 1914 at the Lyceum Theatre in a revival of "A Woman Killed With Kindness." He also played that year as the juvenile lead in "Mr. Wu" with Walker Whiteside, a family friend and distinguished actor.He also played in "Rock-a-Bye Baby" in 1918 and was received well. He would soon play as Anita Stewart's leading man. A year later, being bored with silent pictures, he returned to the stage. His early roles would culminate in a leading role as an officer on the stage in "Seventh Heaven." He then went on to star in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," and "Tenth Avenue." In the fall of 1924, he originated the role of the Duke of Florence in "The Firebrand," which was originally written as a romantic comedy; but it was transformed into a farce during rehearsals -- and it was received as "a hit" according to the New York Times.
Other New York plays in which he appeared were "Her Family Tree," "My Lady Friends," "Hey Nonny Nonny," and "The Band Wagon."
In 1930, he played in "Topaze" on the stage. He thought his role in it was his best role because, he said, it led him to Hollywood. While he was playing in "Topaz," he traveled to the Paramount Astorio (Queens) studio to appear in his first featured film. His first talking film there was "Queen High."
Carlos acted under the stage name "Carlyle Morgan." He replaced brother Ralph as "Monty Vaughn" in the NY stage hit "Under Cover" in 1915. Carlos toured with Walker Whiteside in a production of the play "The Typhoon." Tragically, Carlos was murdered in 1919 -- George Morgan, Frank's son, said that Carlos was "...the only *man* my father ever really loved." The incident might well have contributed to Frank's drinking problem.
Incidently, Ralph was the first president of the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) in 1933; and he served another term from 1938-1940.
The approximately 5'10 actor had the earliest film career of all the Irish Mafia boys, dating back to 1916 when he sometimes used the screen name Francis Wupperman.
His father died in 1915, when his eldest brother took over the family company. However, Frank was elected vice president of the Angostura-Wuppermann Corporation (his mother, at the time 82 years old, was president). Frank handled the company's affairs in the West while he was there playing in motion pictures.
Today, Frank is probably best known for his triple role (principally as the Wizard) in "The Wizard of Oz." Morgan was not the first choice for the role, following after both Ed Wynn and W.C. Fields turned it down. Fields turned it down for lack of money (and other complications). According to Noel Langley, screenwriter, Frank wasn't being considered for third choice -- but he had gotten ahold of the script and knew it backwards and forwards. Langley says "He 'begged for it. He said, 'Let me go onto a stage and do an ad-lib test.' He did all the scenes as they were in the script. He knew the script backward. He did it all by himself with nobody there but himself and an assistnat director. Harburg and Arlen and Freed and I watched the test afterward.l And it was marvelous, as funny as Buster Keaton."
Two of the writers for the project initially suggested it, "If we establish the character in the prologue (perhaps as a quaint old medicine man), then some way should be devised to introduce him in the later sequences. Perhaps he appears as the gateman who lets them into Oz (wearing green whiskers). As the man who drives the 'horse of a different color' (wearing purple whiskers). And again . . . as the guard at the door of the audience chamber (wearing red whiskers). . . . This would give us a chance to use a man like Frank Morgan without having the audience feel cheated because they didn't see enough of him . . . which would certainly happen if he is used only once . . . as in the present script."
Ray Bolger said Frank was, "a divine man."
Margaret Hamilton said, "He always knew his lines and he was always ready. But he did like his drink. The second or third picture I made with him was "By Your Leave" at RKO. And I said, 'I bet you can.' And he said, 'I understand you can't.' He looked so miserable. I said, 'Do you want me to go and ask somebody?' So I went to the assistant director and said, 'Frank's got a little problem out there. He'd liuke to have a drink, but he doesn't think it's permissible.' And the assistand director said, 'Oh, hell, what does he want?' And so he got his drink. It just tickled me to pieces because he was important and I was just starting out, and all he had to say was 'Let's have a snifter.' But he was so pleased and so appreciative. He was very lovable, very sweet, very considerate, one fo the nicest people I ever knew."
During this time, Morgan had a small black briefcase he would bring to work everyday fully equipped with a small mini bar. The suitcase would remain in his dressing room, however; and he never muffed his lines because of it or let it affect his work in any way. Author Aljean Harmetz said, "He was never less than a gentleman, although when he attempted to stop drinking, he was often short-tempered and irritable. Morgan's wardrobe man, John B. Scura, remembers Victor Fleming asking Morgan to 'get back on your champagne kick so we can live together.'"
Mary Mayer, a publicity department employee assigned to "The Wizard of Oz" was only aware of Morgan's drinking once -- and only because it was pointed out to her. Said Mayer, "He was standing in that guard box--it was when he was playing the soldier -- singing a rather risque song. And someone said it was lucky he had the guard box to stand in or he'd fall down."
Morgan made $2,500 a week for his work on the film (the second highest paid actor after Ray Bolger's $3,000 -- Judy Garland only made $500 a week for her work on the film).
Overall, Morgan spent just a few weeks making "The Wizard of Oz." He appeared in women's magazine jelly ads with Judy Gardland for Certo to publicize the Wizard. The captions read "Anybody can be a wizard at jelly-making."
Notably, Frank was involved in the most astonishing thing on the Wizard of Oz's set -- something so off the wall, it was dismissed as a publicity stunt. It was even published once with a comment about the lies that press agents are willing to tell in order to get a story into print. Hal Rosson, Helen Bowman, and Mary Mayer (all connected with the film) vouch for its authenticity. Mary Mayer said, "For Professor Marvel's coat, they wanted grandeur gone to seed. A nice-looking coat but very tattered. So the Wardrobe Department went down to an old second-hand store on Main Street and bought a whole rack of coats. And Frank Morgan and the wardrobe man and Victor Fleming got together and chose one. It was kind of a Prince Albert coat. It was black broadcloth and it had a velvet collar, but the nap was all worn off the velvet." Helen Bowman said the coat was "ratty with age, a Prince Albert jacket wtih a green look." Needless to say, the coat fitted Morgan and had just the right look. One afternoon, Morgan turned out the pocket -- inside was the name "Frank L. Baum." -- for those of you who don't know, that happens to be the original author's name of The Wizard of Oz. Mayer said "We wired the taylor in Chicago and sent pictures. And the tailor sent back a notarized letter saying that the coat had been made for Frank Baum. Baum's widow identified the coat, too, and after the picture was finished we presented it to her. But I could never get anyone to believe the story."
Boris Karloff related the following story, " [ Ralph and Frank Morgan were ] as unalike in appearance and temperment as any two human beings could possibly be, but united in one thing at least ... their devotion to the cause of thier fellow actors, great or small. I remember a special board meeting called by telegram for a Sunday afternoon for some reason or other. In the middle of the meeting the door was flung open and Frank Morgan, hot, breathless and dishevelled, burst into the room yelling 'What's the beef? When do we strike?' On being told that nothing like that was in the wind, he retired in a fury, muttering something about having been dragged away from his pool and a cold drink on a hot afternoon under false pretences. But when the real heat was on in the frantic week in 1937 leading up to the Sunday night deadline in the classic halls of the American Legion Stadium -- when we either had the producers' written agreement to a contract or we struck the next day -- I don't believe that either Frank or Ralph saw their beds, let alone their pools."
Ralph Bellamy decided to make the move from New York to Hollywood, but Frank confronted him. "My friend Frank Morgan, who was playing in 'Topaze' in Chicago, came to the Santa Fe station calling me a prostitute, selling out for money. Six months later, at the end of the road tour of 'Topaze,' Frank was in Hollywood, under contract to M-G-M."
One night with the IR boys, Frank sounded off. McHugh recounts, "Were you present the night Frank Morgan, after having partaken of a frew gills of the demon rum, sounded off vociferously about certain actos changing their family names to better than more pleasantly sounding names for the stage? Principally, Edward G. Robinson (Rabinowitch) and John Garfield (Garfinkel). He stressed that hteir family names were old, respectable and historical names that they should be pround of. "I paused long enough to let Frank be completely satisfied with his oration, then I leaned forward and said, very quietly, 'Frank, what's your real name?' His educated eyebrows shot up to his hair line, his eyes blaxed, he stammered, he stuttered and finally shouted, 'Goddamn you, Frankie, you're a-you're a--' Then he simmered down and came out with the old reliable stage alugh. But he never told me what he though I was. Frank Morgan's family name was Wuppermann."
Frank and his wife, Alma, had one son, George, who lives in California today.
Fun fact: Frank *loved* champagne. It was his favorite drink, and he often gave it as a gift.
Frank died in his sleep (at the age of 59) in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California in 1949, seven years before his elder brother Ralph (who died in New York City on June 11, 1956). His secretary, Marguerite Cherry, said the actor was apparently in good health the day before his death. He had just finished a film with Clark Gable and Loretta Young ("Keys to the City") less than a week before his death.
Frank is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York, USA, in section #168, plot #14447. Also in the family plot are the rest of the Wuppermanns with the exception of the four sisters.
Jim Cagney would later say in regards to Morgan, "What a wonderful man! What fun to be with!" Then, in anger, "Absolutely refused to take care of himself. Unbelieable. It upsets me to this day. Used to stash liquor all over his house so he could take quiet nips whenever he wanted to; then, feeling quite juiced, he'd go down to the local high school and play a vigorous game of basketball someone was promoting among his pals. He did his friends the outrage of dying at fifty-nine. Unforgivable."
On Morgan's passing, Bellamy says, "I'd known Frank for a long time, and very well. We'd been friends back in New York. I'd sailed with him on several of his boats. I'd spent much time with him over the years. He was always spirited, animated and spry -- very much alive. I was a pallbearer at his funeral in Brooklyn. I helped lower him into his fmily-plot grave. But for some time afterward I had an experience that I'm sure is not uncommon to those who've been close to someone who was always so alive but who has died. I'd find myself going to the phone to call Frank, momentarily forgetting he was no longer with us. He was a man to remember."
Much thanks to Valerie Yaros -- a fountain of information on the Morgan family. Also thanks to "The Making of THE WIZARD OF OZ" by Aljean Harmetz for quotations and much of the information about Morgan on the set.
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