09 February, 2009

Chester Morris

John Chester Brooks Morris was an American actor.

Chester Morris is most famous for his role in the Boston Blackie detective series of the 1940s. He was a dark, handsome, firm-jawed actor who appealed to both men and women for his confidence and good-natured humor.

Born in New York City, the son of actor William Morris. He made his Broadway debut at 15 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.

Throughout the 1930s, he effortlessly switched between tough guy and slick debonair love interest roles. Morris 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. The Bat Whispers was notable as one of the first films to use the "Magna Screen" 70mm process. Sound films were just taking hold at the time, however theatres were not willing to pay for the added expense of 70 mm projectors and larger, wider screens on top of the cost of sound equipment. The process was abandoned until the 1950s, when film studios used it to lure customers away from their TV sets.

Perhaps his finest role was in the early prison film The Big House (1930), which was a huge success and propelled his career. His career gradually declined in the late 1930s, with roles in B-movies such as Smashing the Rackets (1938) and Five Came Back (1939). His career was revived during the 1940s when from 1941 to 1949 he played the character Boston Blackie in 14 movies (all produced by Columbia Pictures) and one season of radio shows.

Through the 1950s and 1960s he worked mainly in TV with occasional forays into regional theatre. After his last Boston Blackie movie, he only performed in three more movies, including his final role in The Great White Hope (1970). He died September 11, 1970.

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