Gotta watch those characters…
Dorothy Morris‘s career was relatively short compared to other character actors of her day, but she always made a big impression in her own quiet, pretty way. The daughter of a Methodist stockbroker, Morris was born on February 23, 1922 in Hollywood and despite being a shy person, became interested in acting during her senior year of high school.
Things seemed to move very fast for Morris from then on. According to the Oakland Tribune, around the time of her graduation from Hollywood High in 1940, Morris went from appearing in community theater to studying acting at Madame Ouspenskya’s to signing a contract with MGM. Besides her obvious talent, Morris may have had a leg up as far as the movies were concerned, because Morris’s older sister, Caren Marsh Doll was already working for MGM as a dancer and as one of Judy Garland’s stand-ins.
Things kept moving at lightning speed. Like all contract players who came to MGM, Morris would have been taught to sing, act, dance, and model, and within a year of signing her contract, Morris appeared in her first movie, the appropriately-titled Her First Beau. Her first credited role, however, was in 1942’s Down In San Diego, and from that point on, while Morris still had some uncredited parts in her subsequent films now and then her roles kept improving.
Although Morris definitely had a girl-next-door persona, she was never really typecast as such. Well, not all the time, anyway. Here’s a very small sampling of some of her work from both her early and later career, credited and uncredited. Some of these have links to fuller reviews, so yeah, here we go:
Babes On Broadway (1941)
Morris is an uncredited chorus girl in Broadway, but we still get a good look at her towards the end of the film, when she stands in a pretty prime spot between several prominent cast members. She doesn’t have any lines, but she emotes and stays in character like the pro she was.
The War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942)
In Hadley, Morris plays a maid named Millie whose brother is at Pearl Harbor, and she’s so shocked at hearing about the attack that she accidentally breaks one of Mrs. Hadley’s prized teacups. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really, really wish this movie was on DVD.
The Human Comedy (1943)
The Human Comedy is a film about small-town America, in which the Macauley family waits patiently for man of the house, Marcus Macauley to come back from the war. Morris is next-door neighbor, Mary Arena, who’s in love with Marcus and can’t wait to see him again. It’s a very sensitive film with a great cast that I’m hoping to review more fully someday.
Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943)
Morris went British in Cry ‘Havoc’, when she played a college student named Sue, who, along with her sister, Andra, volunteer to nurse at an Army hospital after the Japanese attack Manila. Unfortunately, Sue gets trapped in a foxhole with several dead bodies during an air raid and isn’t found for four days, which makes her go insane. Morris doesn’t overplay or underplay her trauma; she mostly acts like she’s in a waking nightmare. The only place where the movie doesn’t serve her character very well is when (spoiler alert) the hospital is taken by the Japanese and Sue just kind of disappears.
Read my review here.
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
In Thirty Seconds Morris plays Jane White, wife of “Doc” White, and while there isn’t much to her role, it’s a sweet part. In one scene she sits on the beach with the other wives and they speculate about what they’re going to do while the men are gone on the mission and what life will be like after the war. “We’ll probably have exactly the same doubts we have right now,” Jane says. “For example, will he or will he not be home for dinner?”
Read my review here.
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
I guess people thought Morris did all right with the insanity thing, because in Vines she plays Ingeborg Jensen, a girl who’s not so much insane as abused and probably having mental issues of some kind, although the movie never gets too specific. Ingeborg’s story is explained after the character’s death to the very young main character, Selma, and therefore presented very innocently and on a child’s level. Selma comes away thinking Ingeborg was lucky to get married and have a baby, but then she got so lonesome for her dead mother that she died herself. From the adult point of view, however, Ingeborg is the poster child for lost opportunity and the failure of the status quo.
Read my review here.
The Donna Reed Show (Season 1, Episode 11, “The Baby Contest”)
Morris married a math teacher named Marvin Moffie in 1943 and took a break from acting between 1946 until 1957 while raising her two children. After that she worked mostly in television, including taking on the role of Women’s Club president Shirley Watson. Morris’s scenes are limited to calling for votes and otherwise overseeing club business, but it’s fun seeing her as a more mature woman in a new era of entertainment. I wonder if she chose television because it would have had a shorter time commitment and therefore have been easier for her to manage as a mother.
Dorothy Morris retired from acting for good after 1971. There isn’t much information out there about her later life but we do know she moved to Palm Springs, where she and Caren were neighbors from 1971 until Morris’s death in 2011, after which Morris’s body was donated to the University of California at Riverside. Meanwhile, as of this writing, Dorothy’s sister, Caren is still thriving in Palm Springs, where, as late as 2019, she was volunteering as a dance therapist at a stroke center.
I’ve always wished Dorothy Morris could have had bigger roles than she had, but she’s always a welcome sight and a gracious presence.
For more characters, please see Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club. Thanks for hosting, ladies–this blogathon is always fun! As always, everyone, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you Friday because a certain Shame will be returning…
Babes On Broadway (DVD), The Human Comedy (DVD), Cry ‘Havoc’ (DVD), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (DVD), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (DVD), and The Donna Reed Show (DVD and streaming) are available to own from Amazon.
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