Morgan was born Francis Phillip Wuppermann in New York City, the youngest of eleven children (six boys and five girls) born to Josephine Wright (née Hancox) and George Diogracia Wuppermann. His father was born in Venezuela, of German and Spanish descent, and was raised in Hamburg, Germany. His mother was born in the U.S. of English descent. The family earned its wealth distributing Angostura bitters, permitting Frank to attend Cornell University where he joined Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. He then followed his older brother Ralph Morgan into show business, first on the Broadway stage and then into motion pictures.
Career and The Wizard of Oz
His first film was The Suspect in 1916. In 1917 he provided support to his friend John Barrymore in Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, an independent film produced in and about New York City. Morgan's career expanded when talkies began, his most stereotypical role being that of a befuddled but good hearted middle-aged man.
He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1934's The Affairs of Cellini, where he played the cuckolded Duke of Florence and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1942's Tortilla Flat, where he played a simple Hispanic man. By the mid-1930s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had been so impressed by Frank Morgan that they signed him to a lifetime contract. Other movies of note include Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, The Great Ziegfeld, The Shop Around the Corner, The Human Comedy,The Mortal Storm (in which he gives the best performance of his career as a well-regarded university professor who sees both his personal and professional lives destroyed by the Nazis), The White Cliffs of Dover, Green Dolphin Street and many more.
During WWII Frank costarred with Fanny Brice on radio in one version (of several different series) titled Maxwell House Coffee Time, aka The Frank Morgan-Fanny Brice Show. During the first half of the show Frank would tell increasingly outlandish tall tales about his life adventures much to the dismay of fellow cast members. After the Morgan segment there was a song followed by Fanny Brice as 'Baby Snooks' for the last half of the show. In 1947, Morgan starred as the title character in the radio series, The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy. He also recorded a number of children's records, including the popular Gossamer Wump, released in 1949 by Capitol Records.
Like most character actors of the studio era, Frank Morgan was sought out for numerous roles in many motion pictures. One of his last roles was as Barney Wile in The Stratton Story, a true story about a ballplayer (played by James Stewart) who makes a comeback after having his leg amputed due to a hunting accident.
Morgan's most famous performance was in The Wizard of Oz (1939), in which he played the carnival huckster "Professor Marvel" with a horse named Sylvester, the Gatekeeper of the Emerald City, the coachman of the carriage drawn by "The Horse of a Different Color", theDoorman leading to the Wizard's hall, the apparition of the Wizard as a monstrous disembodied Head, and the Wizard himself. Morgan was cast for the role on September 22, 1938. W. C. Fields was originally chosen for the role of the Wizard, but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over his fee.
His last film Key to the City was released posthumously in 1950. In it Morgan played Fire Chief Duggan. His character was the third lead, after Gable's and Young's characters.
Personal life and death
Morgan married Alma Muller (1895-1970) in 1914; they had one son. Their marriage ended with his death in 1949. He was widely known to have had a drinking problem, according to several who worked with him, including actress Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, 1939) and "Oz"historian Aljean Harmetz. Morgan sometimes carried a black briefcase to work fully equipped with a small mini bar.
Frank Morgan's niece, Claudia Morgan (née Wuppermann) was a stage and film actress, most notable for playing the role of Vera Claythorne in the first Broadway production ofAgatha Christie's And Then There Were None.
Morgan was also a brother of playwright Carlos Wupperman, who was killed in the Rhineland in 1919 while on duty there with the Army of Occupation. Wupperman had only one play produced on Broadway. The Triumph of X opened at the Comedy Theater in New York City on August 24, 1921, but ran only 30 performances.
The production is notable for several reasons; besides starring Frank Morgan, the play's female lead was Helen Menken (who would marry Humphrey Bogart in 1926), and in his first Broadway outing, character actor Robert Keith, father of actor Brian Keith and one-time husband of Theater Guild actress Peg Entwistle, who committed suicide by jumping from the Hollywood Sign in 1932. Frank Morgan entered show business on the coattails of his older brother, Ralph Morgan (July 6, 1883 – June 11, 1956), who was a Hollywood film, stage and character actor.
Morgan died of a heart attack on September 18, 1949, while filming Annie Get Your Gun (replaced by Louis Calhern). He was the one major player from The Wizard of Oz who did not live to see the film become both a television fixture and an American institution. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His tombstone carries his real name, Wuppermann, as well as his stage name, Frank Morgan. He has 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures at 1708 Vine Street and for radio at 6700 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.