Stage & Screen Legend Patricia Morison Dies at 103

Stage and screen star, Patricia Morison died today at the age of 103 at home in Los Angeles of natural causes. A stage icon and legend best known for her starring roles in Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate and The King & I opposite Yul Brynner, she established an indelible mark in films with a reputation as a the villainous femme fatale with large blue eyes and extremely long, dark hair that made her a favorite of studios and fans alike.

She was the daughter of playwright and actor, William Morison (aka Norman Rainey) and Selena Fraser, a British Intelligence agent during World War I. After graduating from High School in New York, Morison declined a scholarship to study painting in Paris and later studied at the Arts Students League while taking acting classes at The Neighborhood Playhouse and studied dance under the world famous Martha Graham. She made her stage debut at the Provincetown Playhouse in the musical revue Don't Mind the Rain, followed by her Broadway debut in November 1933 in Growing Pains. She often shared the story about how she was fired during the rehearsals of the show, but "I cried so much, they gave me a walk on." Although she never appeared on stage in the production, Patricia said she learned a lot as the stand-by for the legendary Helen Hayes in the lead role of Victoria Regina.

While appearing in The Two Bouquets in 1938, opposite Alfred Drake (who would later star opposite Morison in the Broadway hit Kiss Me, Kate.), Morison was noticed by talent scouts from Paramount Pictures, who were looking to recreate their success in Dorothy Lamour. Despite advise from her co-star, Alfred Drake, who warned her not to go to Californian, stating "They won't know what to do with you," Morison signed to a contract and made her feature film debut in the film Persons in Hiding (1939). The following year she appeared opposite Ray Milland in the Technicolor romance Untamed. After that success, she was cast in pictures such as Rangers of Fortune (1940) and One Night in Lisbon (1941), both with Fred MacMurray, and The Round Up (1941) with Richard Dix and Preston Foster. On a loan-out to 20th Century-Fox she made what would be her first in many villainous roles in Romance of the Rio Grande (1941), opposite Cesar Romero as the Cisco Kid. She continued her Paramount contract in films such as Night in New Orleans, Beyond the Blue Horizon, and Are Husbands Necessary? (all in 1942).

By 1942, the United States had become involved in World War II and, as a result, Morison became one of many celebrities who entertained American troops and their allies. In November of that year she joined Al Jolson, Merle Oberon, Allen Jenkins, and Frank McHugh on a USO Tour in Great Britain, returning to cinema as a freelance performer. One of her most celebrated roles was that of Empress Eugénie in The Song of Bernadette starring Jennifer Jones, the same year that she appeared in Hitler's Madman and The Fallen Sparrow (1943) with John Garfield and Maureen O'Hara, followed by cult favorite, Calling Dr. Death, and one of the "Inner Sanctum" films, starring Lon Chaney Jr. Morison continued to be cast in supporting roles, including the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn's Without Love, and Lady on a Train (1945) with Deanna Durbin.

Cementing her fame as formidable and villainous roles in Universal's Sherlock Holmes and MGM's The Thin Man series - respectively, before creating her defining roles in Dressed to Kill (1946) and Song of the Thin Man (1947). She continued to portray the female antagonist opposite Johnny Weissmuller as Edgar Rice Burroughs' title character in Tarzan and the Huntress (1947).

That same year. she made a few noted film appearances as Maid Marian opposite Jon Hall's Robin Hood in the celebrated Cine color production The Prince of Thieves , in the action film Queen of the Amazons (1947) and played the role of Victor Mature's despairing, suicide-driven wife in Kiss of Death (1947), a controversial role that was cut from the final print, over censorship concerns and the producers' reputed belief that audiences at that time were not ready for a scene depicting suicide.

Finally, having become frustrated with the roles the studios were offering her and just before returning to her origins on the Great White Way, she appeared with Richard Arlen in the western The Return of Wildfire and starred in the espionage story, Sofia (both in 1948), returning to the screen in the 1960 Franz Liszt biopic, Song Without End.

In 1948, Morison returned to the stage, and achieved her greatest success when Cole Porter, having heard her sing while in Hollywood, decided that she had the vocal expertise and fierce presence to play the female lead in his new show, Kiss Me, Kate. Now, a bonafide Broadway star, in the role she created as the imperious diva, Lilli Vanessi. In Kiss Me, Kate Morison immortalized such songs as "I Hate Men," "Wunderbar", and "So in Love", while reuniting with her former Broadway co-star Alfred Drake. The play ran on Broadway for a record breaking total of 1,077 performances, before Morison took it to London for another 400 performances. Lightning struck twice when Morison took over the role of Anna Leonowens in the Rodgers and Hammerstein production of The King and I, co-starring Yul Brynner in his star-making role as the King of Siam. Morison appeared in The King and I until its Broadway closing on March 20, 1954, and then continued with the production on the national tour through 1959.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Morison made several appearances on television, including several variety shows. Among these were a production of Rio Rita on Robert Montgomery Presents (1950) and a segment from The King and I on a 1955 broadcast of The Toast of the Town starring Ed Sullivan. In addition, Morison appeared in the ground-breaking General Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1954 which had an unprecedented run on all four American TV networks of the time.

Morison and Alfred Drake recreated their Kiss Me, Kate roles in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of the play broadcast in the the landmark "color" production on November 20, 1958. Later, she would appear opposite Howard Keel in a production of Kate on British television in 1964. In 1971, she and Yul Brynner performed "Shall We Dance" from The King and I together on a special anniversary broadcast of the Tony Awards.

Among her non-musical television performances were a recurring role on the detective series The Cases of Eddie Drake (1952) and a guest appearance with Vincent Price on Have Gun - Will Travel (1958) starring Richard Boone.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Morison had an unparalleled career on stage in numerous productions, both musical and dramatic plays, including Milk and Honey, Kismet, The Merry Widow, Song of Norway, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Bell, Book and Candle, The Fourposter, Separate Tables, Private Lives and Pal Joey (with Dean Jones and directed by John Bowab), as well as additional productions of Kiss, Me Kate from the Seattle Opera House to the New York City Center and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in England. In August 1972, she appeared in a production of The Sound of Music at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Noted cameo appearances were made in Song Without End (1960), the comedy film Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), and as herself in the documentary Broadway - The Golden Years (2003). Years later she appeared in the made-for-TV movie Mirrors (1985) and a guest appearance in 1989 on the popular sitcom Cheers. She was featured in the documentary If You're Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast, a television film by Carl Reiner which premiered in 2017.

Among the many personal and cabaret performances included multiple appearances at The Hollywood Bowl and Coconut Grove. In December 2012, at age 97, she appeared on stage in an evening entitled Ladies of an Indeterminate Age at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, with friends and co-stars Charlotte Rae and Anne Jeffreys. In 2014, at age 99, she appeared on stage for Broadway Backwards, a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at the in the Al Hirschfeld Theater where she performed Brush Up Your Shakespeare, receiving a 6 minute standing ovation. In conjunction with her 100th birthday, The Pasadena Playhouse sponsored an evening with Patricia Morison which included an audience Q&A session conducted by friend, colleague and director, John Bowab, with selections from Kiss Me, Kate performed by the guest of honor.

In recent years, Morison devoted herself to painting - one of her early passions - and has had several showings in and around Los Angeles, New York and Japan. Never married, she lived in Los Angeles the remainder of her life continuing to support theater and organizations such as The Actors Fund, The LGBT Community Center, The Thaiians, and The Hollywood Museum. Private and public services to be announced. In lue of flowers, donations can be made to The Actors Fund or Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

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