JOIN RUSC   |   MEMBER LOGIN   |   HELP
Helen Morgan

Helen Morgan

Show Count: 22
Series Count: 1
Role: Old Time Radio Star
Born: August 2, 1900
Old Time Radio, Danville, Illinois, USA
Died: October 9, 1941, Chicago, Illinois, USA
An American singer and actress who worked in films and on the stage. A quintessential torch singer, she made a big splash in the Chicago club scene in the 1920s. She starred as Julie LaVerne in the original Broadway production of Hammerstein and Kern's musical Show Boat in 1927 as well as in the 1932 Broadway revival of the musical, and appeared in two film adaptations.
She was born as Helen Riggins in 1900 in rural Danville, Illinois. Her father Frank Riggins, was a farmer in Davis Township of Fountain County, just outside Attica, Indiana. After her mother, Lulu Lang Riggins, divorced and remarried, she changed the last name to 'Morgan'. Her mother's second marriage ended in divorce, and she moved to Chicago with her daughter. Helen never finished school beyond the eighth grade, and worked a variety of jobs just to get by. In 1923 she entered the Miss Montreal contest, even going to New York to meet Miss America Katherine Campbell, but when she returned, her American citizenship was discovered and she was disqualified. She also worked as an extra in films. By the age of twenty Morgan had taken voice lessons and started singing in speakeasies in Chicago.

Helen Morgan's high, thin, and somewhat wobbly voice was not fashionable during the 1920s for the kind of songs that she specialized in, but nevertheless she became a wildly popular torch singer. A draped-over-the-piano look became her signature while performing at Billy Rose's Backstage Club in 1925. In spite of the National Prohibition Act of 1919 outlawing alcohol in the United States, Morgan became a heavy drinker and was often reportedly drunk during these performances. It is even remarked that her trademark of performing while perched on top of a piano was because she was often too drunk to stand up. During this period several Chicago gangsters tried to help fund her various attempts to open her own nightclub. During the run of "Show Boat", however, Morgan's stardom led to difficulties. Her prominence in the world of New York nightclubs (actually, illegal speakeasies in the era of Prohibition) led to her fronting a club called Chez Morgan, at which she entertained. On December 30, 1927, only days after the opening of Show Boat, she was arrested at Chez Morgan for violation of liquor laws. Charges were dropped in February 1928, and the club reopened as Helen Morgan's Summer Home, but she was arrested again on June 29 and this time indicted. A jury acquitted her at a trial held in April 1929; in the meantime, however, she had temporarily given up performing in nightclubs, not returning to such work until after the repeal of Prohibition.

In 1927 Helen Morgan appeared as Julie LaVerne in the original cast of Show Boat, her best-known role. She sang "Bill" (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, music by Jerome Kern) and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in two stage runs and two film productions of Show Boat over a span of 11 years. (In the first film version, a part-talkie made in 1929, Morgan appeared only in the song prologue; Alma Rubens played Julie in the film proper, which was mostly silent. However, Morgan did play the role in the 1936 film version of the musical.)

Morgan took the main role of burlesque star Kitty Darling in Rouben Mamoulian's 1929 classic feature film Applause, with fine acting that included stage act portrayals as well as a cappella singing in private scenes.

After appearing in the 1929 film version of Show Boat, Morgan went on to star in Kern and Hammerstein's Broadway musical, Sweet Adeline. The title was a pun on the famousbarbershop quartet song. In the musical, Morgan introduced the songs "Why Was I Born" and "Don't Ever Leave Me". Oddly enough, when Sweet Adeline was filmed in 1934, Morgan's role went to her future Show Boat co-star, Irene Dunne, who possessed a lovely soprano, but was certainly not a torch singer.

Morgan was noticed by Florenz Ziegfeld while dancing in the chorus of his production of Sally in 1923 and she went on to perform with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1931, the Follies' last active year. During this period she studied music at the Metropolitan Opera in her free time.

Her last motion picture appearance was in the 1936 film version of Show Boat, often considered to be the better of the two film versions of the stage musical (it was remade in Technicolor in 1951, but the 1929 film version was based on Edna Ferber's novel of the same name, from which the musical was adapted, rather than on the show).

In the late 1930s Morgan was signed up for a show at Chicago's Loop Theater. She also spent time at her farm in High Falls, New York. Alcoholism plagued her and she was hospitalized in late 1940, after playing Julie La Verne one last time in a 1940 Los Angeles stage revival of Show Boat

Morgan was married three times, first, to a fan (Lowell Army) whom she met at a stage door while she was performing in Sally, then to Maurice "Buddy" Maschke (they married on May 15, 1933 and divorced several years later), and finally to Lloyd Johnson, whom she married on July 27, 1941. 

On June 25, 1926, in Springfield, IL Morgan had a baby girl (Elaine Danglo) whom she gave up for adoption.

Her career underwent something of a comeback in 1941, thanks to the help of manager Lloyd Johnson. However, the years of alcohol abuse had taken their toll. She collapsed onstage during a performance of George White's Scandals of 1942 and died in Chicago of cirrhosis of the liver on October 9, 1941. 

Source: Wikipedia

Fred Allen Show, TheFred Allen Show, The
Show Count: 89
Broadcast History: 23 October 1932 to 16 April 1933, 4 August 1933 to 1 December 1933, 3 January 1934 to 26 June 1940, 2 October 1940 to 25 June 1944, 7 October 1945 to 28 December 1947, and 4 january 1948 to 26 June 1949
Cast: Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Helen Morgan, Sheila berrtt, Roy Atwell, Charlie Carlisle, Jack Smart, Minerva Pious, Lionel Stander, Eileen Douglas, Town Hall Quartet, Merry Macs, Alan Reed, John Brown, Charlie Cantor, Peter Donald, Parker Fennelly, Kenny Delmar
Producer: Roger White, Sylvester Weaver, Vick Knight, Howard Reilly
Broadcast: 5th October 1953
Added: Oct 08 2009
Broadcast: 10th August 1958
Added: Aug 16 2011
Broadcast: 14th July 1957
Added: Oct 22 2010
Broadcast: 1st December 1957
Added: Dec 02 2010
Broadcast: 29th March 1959
Added: Aug 04 2011
Broadcast: 17th February 1957
Added: Mar 27 2010
Broadcast: 10th November 1957
Added: Nov 04 2011
Broadcast: 3rd March 1957
Added: Mar 04 2010
Broadcast: 24th March 1957
Added: May 17 2012
Broadcast: 8th December 1957
Added: Dec 10 2010
Broadcast: 13th April 1958
Added: Apr 16 2011