Oscar Actors: Morris, Chester–Background, Career, Awards

Born John Chester Brooks Morris on February 16, 1901 in New York City, Chester was 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, billing himself as “the youngest leading man in the country.”

Morris’ film career began in 1917 in An Amateur Orphan. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for Alibi (1929), directed by Roland West.

He also starred in The Bat Whispers (1930) and Corsair (1931), both directed by West.

Morris then starred in the early, influential prison drama, The Big House (1930), which was Oscar-nominated.

His career declined in the late 1930s, with roles in such B-movies as Smashing the Rackets (1938) and Five Came Back (1939).

Boston Blackie

His career took a right turn, however, when from 1941 to 1949 he played the character Boston Blackie in 14 low-budget movies produced by Columbia, starting with Meet Boston Blackie, and one season of radio shows.

Through the 1950s and 1960s, Morris worked mainly in TV, with a recurring role as detective Lieutenant Max Ritter in the CBS summer series, Diagnosis: Unknown, which aired from July to September 1960.

He also made occasional forays into regional theatre, and a few films, like the sci-fi The She Creature, playing Dr. Carlo Lombardi.

Variety reported that Morris’ Brylcreem expenses exceeded any other item in the film’s budget.

Morris’ carrer was viable until the late 1940s; he did not make any movie between 1947 and 1955.  In fact, 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 twice. He first married to Suzanne Kilbourne on November 8, 1926. They had two children, John Brooks (1928-2011) and Cynthia (born 1930), but finally divorced on November 26, 1940. He married socialite Lillian Kenton Barker on November 30, 1940 at the home of actor Frank Morgan; they had one son.

Cancer and Suicide

Morris was dying of cancer, when he committed suicide in room 202 at the former Holiday Inn of New Hope (where he was performing in “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial”) by taking overdose of barbiturates on September 11, 1970.

Selected Filmography

Alibi (1929)

Woman Trap (1929)

She Couldn’t Say No (1930)

The Divorcee (1930)

The Big House (1930)

The Bat Whispers (1930)

The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930)

Corsair (1931)

The Miracle Man (1932)

Red-Headed Woman (1932)

Blondie Johnson (1933)

Infernal Machine (1933)

Tomorrow at Seven (1933)

The Gay Bride (1934)

Public Hero No. 1 (1935)

Three Godfathers (1936)

Flight From Glory (1937)

Blind Alley (1939)

Five Came Back (1939)

Thunder Afloat (1939)

Pacific Liner (1939)

Meet Boston Blackie (1941)

Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941)

No Hands on the Clock (1941)

Alias Boston Blackie (1942)

Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942)

After Midnight with Boston Blackie (1943)

Aerial Gunner (1943)

Tornado (1943)

The Chance of a Lifetime (1943), a Boston Blackie film

Gambler’s Choice (1944)

Double Exposure (1944)

Secret Command (1944 Film)

One Mysterious Night (1944), a Boston Blackie film

Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945)

A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946)

Boston Blackie and the Law (1946)

Blind Spot (1947)

Unchained (1955)

The She Creature (1957)

The Great White Hope (1970)