Chester Morris (February 16, 1901 – September 11, 1970) was an American actor, who starred in the Boston Blackie detective series of the 1940s.
He was born John Chester Brooks Morris in New York City, the son of Broadway stage actor William Morris and the performer Etta Hawkins. He made his Broadway debut at 17 in Lionel Barrymore's The Copperhead. At 17, he billed himself as "the youngest leading man in the country". His film career began in 1917 in An Amateur Orphan. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for Alibi (1929) directed by Roland West. He also starred in The Bat Whispers (1930) and Corsair (1931), both directed by West.
He starred in the early prison film The Big House (1930). His career gradually declined in the late 1930s, with roles in B-movies such as Smashing the Rackets with Edward J. Pawley (1938) and Five Came Back (1939). His career revived when from 1941 to 1949 he played the character Boston Blackie in 14 low-budget movies produced by Columbia Pictures, starting with Meet Boston Blackie, and one season of radio shows.
Morris was also well known as a stage magic enthusiast. He often performed as a magician during the personal appearance tours in theaters promoting his latest films. Unlike many stars who simply greeted audiences with a few words before the screening of their film, Morris was comfortable on stage and presented an entire vaudeville magic act, featuring live animals and larger stage feats such as nearly severing an audience volunteer's head in a prop guillotine. During World War II he performed hundreds of free magic shows for the U.S.O. at army and navy camps, war bond drives and hospitals. In 1944, a B-24 "Liberator" airplane was christened "The Chester and Lili Morris" in honor of him and his wife, and their contributions to the United States war effort. Morris also contributed original tricks to magician's journals and often incorporated magic into his film performances, including "Boston Blackie and The Law" (1946.)
Through the 1950s and 1960s, Morris worked mainly in television, with a recurring role as detective Lieutenant Max Ritter in the CBS summer replacement series, Diagnosis: Unknown, which aired from July to September 1960. He also made occasional forays into regional theatre, and a few films, notably a role in the science-fiction film The She Creature, where he played Dr. Carlo Lombardi. It was reported in Variety that Morris's Brylcreem expenses exceeded any other item in the film's budget. After his last Boston Blackie movie, he performed in only three more films, including his final role in The Great White Hope (1970) which was released after his death.
Morris was married to Suzanne Kilborn from September 30, 1927 to their divorce in November 1939. They had two children, Brooks and Cynthia. He married Lillian Kenton Barker on November 30, 1940. They had a son, Kenton.
Morris was dying of cancer when he committed suicide in room 202 at the former Holiday Inn of New Hope by taking an overdose of barbiturates in 1970. At the time of his death, he was appearing in a stage production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania.