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July 22, 2007

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Felix

Shit, that was the most interesting thing I've read all week. I'd never heard of Henry Morgan before (sorry, I'm only 33!), but I just read that post from beginning to end, and I'm off to listen to his old radio broadcasts on Archive.org now. Thanks for the well-researched, wonderfully written, and unsparing portrait of a fascinating personality.

Jeff

This is the best piece I've read all year about Mr. Morgan. (It was I, by the way, who posted all available Morgan radio shows I have onto archive.org.) It instructs, it delights, and it reminds one how precious to our patrimony are the gadflies in the oatmeal. (Quaker or otherwise.) Henry Morgan belongs with Fred Allen, Goodman Ace, Gertrude Berg, Bob & Ray, and Paul Rhymer (the genius behind Vic & Sade) as the giant minds and souls of classic radio.

Andrew

Another bit of trivia: Henry Morgan's mother's maiden name was Lerner -- she was related to the Lerner dress shop people, making Henry a cousin of MY FAIR LADY lyricist/neurotic extraordinaire Alan Jay Lerner.

Rev. Syung Myung Me

I just have to say, I look forward to these articles all week! Insanely interesting... thanks for writing them!

Dave the Spazz

Great piece on Henry Morgan!

Harry Morgan (Officer Bill Gannon) was tossed in jail for drunkenly beating up his wife back in '96. At the time I imagined him sitting in his cell--repentant, hungover, and being chastised by the ghost of Jack Webb.

dave from knoxville

Good Lord, Kliph, what a fascinating article. I live in mortal fear that the blog will shut down due to lack of traffic, but this article is a shining example of why it is essential. Beautiful work.

E Baxter Put

Thank you. Fascinating! I'm off to explore all of the references and to listen to some old shows.

This blog is essential.

phillyradiogeek

I've heard of Henry Morgan in passing in various broadcasting tomes, but this is the first comprehensive piece I've read about him. Great work!

As for Morgan himself, however, he seems to have been one of those types who, although his ability to see through the BS of the media is essential for any intelligent being, he perhaps let it get to him far too much than is healthy. That seems to be true of many of these curmudgeons to me; isn't there a limit to which a person should let life's ridiculousness gnaw at themselves? One shouldn't see things through rose-colored glasses, but you can go to far to the other direction as well.

Ken Burke

I was delighted to read this piece on Henry Morgan. Being a babyboomer, I saw Morgan on television game shows frequently during my childhood. During that time, Morgan's career always left me with the impression that - like Arlene Francis, Kitty Carlisle, Bill Cullen, Orson Bean, Peggy Cass and many other members of the Goodson-Todman stock company - he was merely famous for being famous and living in New York City. (Yes, I realize that all except Cullen had outside careers, but except for Francis's stage work, these were seldom mentioned.) Later, when I became interested in Old Time Radio, I learned that Morgan possessed a sharp, dry wit and a somewhat - for commercial radio - rebellious spirit. The radio shows seem to hold Morgan's true comedic legacy.

That said, I don't believe Morgan ever truly reached his potential as a leading comic voice. Like Fred Allen during his brief TV career, Morgan subsisted on game shows and talk show appearances while waiting in vain for something better to turn up. He just wasn't creative or energetic enough to create a commercially viable project that enabled his ironic vision to fly. As a result,he was never able to parlay his near constant exposure - he was one of Johnny Carson's most frequent guests early on - into a major, successful project of his own.

As evidenced by his autobiography, Morgan was at best an undisciplined writer with no gift for narrative to match his enviable talent for wordplay. (I find it remarkable that a man with so many well developed opinions and attitudes could express himself so poorly in print on his own behalf.) However, at his best, he could speak with stinging off-the-cuff wit and intelligence; commodities that are in short supply today.

Thanks.

Andrew

Another tidbit: Just as both Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died the same day as JFK (11/22/1963), Henry Morgan passed away the same day as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (5/19/1994). And in the very same Big Apple, too.

Steve Cummings

Thanks for the great article, very thorough. I
always loved watching Henry on Whats my line? reruns as a child. I was aware he did radio etc. but I was not aware of disdain he had for advertising. His rapier wit is always my fondest
memory. Thanks for reminding me of how wonderful
he was, cheers

Dale Hazelton

Another great post, other than the game show circuit, I never knew anything about Morgans' work. As a little kid in the 60's I went for the broader comedy, and somebody like "Lonesome" George Goebel with guitar, or Red Skelton as Gertrude and Heathcliff were as cerebral as I got. Keep 'em coming!

Call Screener Jeff

Jack Benny's radio show holds up quite well, thank you. As does anything Bob and Ray ever said or did.

rocketboy

My father was (and still is) a huge fan of vintage radio. Amassed a huge collection of reel-to-reel, vinyl, cassettes, blah blah blah......and somewhere along the way, introduced me to the comedy of Henry Morgan, forever twisting my brain.
It's a wonder that I ever started shaving with a Gillette injector razor. Maybe that's why I eventually grew a beard.

rocketboy

I didn't see Andrew's post until after blabbering away. Interesting. So, if his mother was related to Alan J. and the Lerner Dress Shops family....he was also related to me. There's some odd synergy waggling about in the universe. My short, unsuccessful radio career was also bedeviled by sponsors and various other fuckwits who hated my guts.
(I love how typepad just underlined "fuckwits" in red. A pity that it won't show up in anything but draft mode.)
I'm also a much less famous neurotic and even less famous lyricist. I doubt that A.J. would have approved of my parody "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Farts."
It's a weird world, isn't it folks?

Al

I run an Ernie Kovacs website and blog and found your article about Henry because you mention Ernie in it.

Henry was a genius and way ahead of his time. Since I collect OTR I'm grateful that you posted some links to his early shows. I'll be sure to listen.

I mentioned your article in my latest post because I think some of the Ernie fans should be turned on to Henry's work.

Thanks.

Al

You can always visit us at:
The Ernie Kovacs Blog
The Ernie Kovacs Tribute Site
and The Ernie Kovacs MySpace Page.

Ted Hering

I seem to remember Henry Morgan being given another network radio show, shortly before his death. Sears sponsored it, in rotation with "CBS Mystery Theatre."

Speaking of Spike Jones in connection with Morgan, Spike comissioned a local recording studio to make him a complete set of recordings of the "Here's Morgan" show in the late 1940s. (This was before home tape recorders were available.) I assume these discs were for merely for Spike's own enjoyment. (And surely a highpoint of the show for Spike was the whimsical musical segments, conducted by Bernie Green.)

Oddly, when Spike was a guest on "I've Got a Secret" in 1960, panelist Morgan acted obviously annoyed at being drawn into the comedy sketch with Spike. So much so that Spike pleaded, "Come on, Henry, play the game with me!"

will

After the Arnold Stang article I thought you'd need a break but you've outdone yourself with thi one. Thanks for a fascinating read.

Tom Keiser

I've been listening to OTR for a while, but overlooked Henry Morgan and Fred Allen in favor of radio personalities I knew more about (Bob and Ray, Freberg, Jean Shepherd). Thank you for correcting my error in judgement, and proving once again that sardonic humor thrived well before the 1960's.

Hal Evans

Additional Henry Morgan bio information. He worked as a DJ on a Duluth Minnesota radio station for a while. And I didn't think Henry Morgan was that funny. But his life story is interesting.

Michael Powers

I have to echo everyone else's applause at your deft description of Henry Morgan, Kliph. I remember him well from the game shows when I was a kid but I was too young to even begin to appreciate him. One thing that I think always really held Morgan back with television was the fact that he wasn't at all conventionally handsome like his contemporaries Jack Paar or Johnny Carson, or even the much older Red Skelton or Bob Hope, for that matter (it's interesting to realize that Bob Hope's odd visage was the product of 1920s plastic surgery after his face was destroyed in an accident, by the way). I've only read a little of Morgan's autobiography online but his writing in that struck me as pretty good.

Regarding the TV Guide snippet about Morgan’s opinion of women, I think it was misquoted because otherwise it doesn’t make any sense, and Morgan was anything but inarticulate or sloppy when it came to expressing himself. I think the line, “Since 90% of the women one meets seem to be constantly auditioning to become morons, and since half these people are women, it figures that 90% of them aren't too bright either” must have actually been something like, “Since 90% of the people one meets seem to be constantly auditioning to become morons, and since half these people are women, it figures that 90% of them aren’t too bright either.” Suddenly the line not only makes sense but is transformed from an excoriation of women into a curmudgeonly take on the whole human race, a very different thing indeed and more in the vein of Mark Twain. In any case, it’s refreshing to realize that Morgan wasn’t subscribing to some sort of forerunner to our current stern religion of political correctness; like all religions, its primary purpose is to manipulate people by forbidding them to think.

Jim Dunn

Am I the only one who thinks Morgan was a wee bit of a hypocrite? He disdained advertisers and big business, yet was happy to take their money. He "saw through all that was phoney and contrived in the world of American media and held it in contempt," yet he appeared on game shows for decades, suckling quite successfully at the insipid teat of television. (He appeared on "Match Game," for goodness' sake.) He postured himself as a forward-thinking individual, yet he was evidently a misogynist woman-beater.

I've seen some of Morgan's old tv appearances, and he does strike me as a funny, smart man. And I'll probably download some of his old radio shows to listen to later. But his hypocrisy is pretty jarring.

J.H. de Raat

I used to listen to Morgan's 15 minute radio show in the early 1940's, before he went into the Army. One of his sponsors was the maker of Life Saver candies, mints (and other flavors) in the shape of a donut, a little bit larger in diameter than a penny. Morgan suggested that the company was cheating its customers because of the hole in the center of each candy. He proposed to remedy this by marketing a product to fill the holes: Morgan's Mint Middles.

His closing line on the radio show was, "Morgan will be on this same corner in front of the cigar store tomorrow."

When Morgan was in the Army, he drilled troops, shouting commands in phoney German.

He was a one-off, a character who didn't appeal to everyone, mainly because he was so different, but for those of us who had (and still have) an odd turn of mind, he was fun.

ArtC

Tom Lehrer contributed many songs to That Was The Week That Was (although he himself did not appear on the show).

For the record, however, the American embassy song, on TW3's December 8, 1964, broadcast, was actually written by Norman Sachs and Mel Mandel. The title, from copyright records, is “Leave the Windows Open, Ralph.”

Marie Lamb

Regarding the comment from July 30th, it was *Harry* Morgan who was arrested for beating his wife, not Henry. Harry's arrest was mentioned in an earlier comment, and perhaps that contributed to the confusion. Harry was arrested in 1996, two years after Henry Morgan had died. Also, if I remember the case correctly, Harry Morgan was intoxicated and showing possible early signs of dementia when he was arrested. I did some searching in the Google News archives, and Harry Morgan's charges were dismissed in June of 1997 after he completed a six-month program for men who commit acts of domestic violence. He has remained out of trouble since then. Just wanted to make it clear that it was NOT Henry Morgan who was guilty of domestic violence. Terrific story and terrific blog, BTW!

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