Frank Morgan (1890-1949)

Frank Morgan
Frank Morgan

Frank Morgan was one of the foremost character actors from the early days of movies. He appeared in over 100 films, starting in the Silent era and his best known performance was in 'The Wizard of Oz' in 1939 when he played five different roles including the eponymous Wizard.

Morgan received two Academy Award nominations, one for Best Actor for 'The Affairs of Cellini' in 1934 and one for Best Supporting Actor for 'Tortilla Flat' in 1942.


He was born Francis Phillip Wuppermann on June 1, 1890, in New York City. He was the youngest of six boys and five girls born into a comfortable, middle-class family. His Venezuelan-born father was the co-founder of the Angostura-Wuppermann Corporation and had made the family wealthy by shrewdly buying the American distribution rights for Angostura Bitters.

After attending Cornell University Frank had a variety of jobs without settling into a career. He was attracted into show business by the example of his brother, Ralph Morgan, seven years Frank's senior, who had.started an extremely successful stage career. Frank's acting career would eventually overshadow that of his brother.

Stage Career

Frank's acting career began on Broadway in the play 'A Woman Killed with Kindness / Granny Maumee' in 1914. Although it only ran for one performance, Morgan made an impression and he went on to make many appearances on the Broadway stage in such productions as 'Mr Wu' in 1914, 'Under Fire' the following year, 'Rock-a-Bye Baby in 1918, 'The Lullaby' in 1923 and 'The Firebrand' in 1924.

These successes led to his being cast in top quality productions which became smash hits, such as 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' in 1926, 'Topaze' in 1930 and 'The Band Wagon' in 1931. Morgan's star was in the ascendant, but he made the important decision to switch to movie acting.

Movie Career

Although stage work was his main focus from the outset, Morgan also appeared in many early movies, beginning in 1916 with 'The Suspect', billed as Frank Wupperman. He continued the following year with a leading role in 'A Modern Cinderella' and a strong role supporting his friend, John Barrymore, in 'Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman'.

Morgan's movie output at this time was not great as he preferred to concentrate his talents on the stage. After 'The Gray Towers Mystery' and 'The Golden Shower' in 1919, he did not make a movie for five years, His next venture on the large screen was with Gloria Swanson in 'Manhandled' in 1924. He followed it the following year with 'The Crowded Hour' and 'The Man Who Found Himself' and then in 1927 with 'Love's Greatest Mistake', opposite Evelyn Brent and William Powell.


For the next three years Morgan concentrated on the theater, until the advent of Sound movies changed his acting focus completely. His strong speaking voice made him a natural for the new medium. After a short subject called 'Belle of the Night' in 1930, Morgan made his feature film debut in Talkies in the same year with the comedy Western 'Dangerous Nan McGrew'

During the 1930's and 1940's Frank Morgan's film career came to successful fruition. His stock rose considerably when he was given a lifetime contract by top studio, MGM, and he found himself very much in demand. He appeared in numerous movies each year including memorable films such as 'Bombshell' with Jean Harlow in 1933 and the following year he received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for 'The Affairs of Cellini'.

He tended to play important supporting comedic roles as in 'The Good Fairy' in 1935, 'The Great Ziegfeld in 1936 and with Shirley Temple in 'Dimples', also in 1936. He showed his acting range by also successfully portraying villains as in 'The Crowd Roars' with Robert Taylor in 1938.

The Wizard of Oz 1939

Morgan will always be remembered for his portrayal of the Wizard in 'The Wizard of Oz'. He only got the role after it had been turned down by both W.C. Fields and Ed Wynn and he actually played five parts in the picture, including the Wizard himself, Professor Marvel, the stern Gatekeeper, the Carriage Driver, and the Guard. It was an acting tour-de-force by Morgan and very few actors could have managed to differentiate the five characters so well.

Morgan continued to be much in demand during the 1940's with impressive performances in more serious parts, including in 1940 the charming 'The Shop Around the Corner' and 'The Mortal Storm' one of the first Hollywood movies to uncompromisingly anti-Nazi. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his moving performance in 'Tortilla Flat' in 1942 and he gave another memorable performance in 'The Human Comedy' in 1943, which Louis B. Mayer claimed to be his favourite film.

Morgan continued to excel in character roles. He played a shepherd in 'Courage of Lassie' in 1946, the drunken Uncle Sid in 'Summer Holiday' in 1948, and King Louis XIII in 'The Three Musketeers' also in 1948.

Radio Career

Morgan had a successful career on radio parallel to his movie career. During the 1940's he co-starred with Fanny Brice in 'Maxwell House Coffee Time' which became simply ''The Frank Morgan Show' after Brice's departure. He appeared in numerous other popular radio shows including 'The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy' from 1946-47, 'The Don Ameche Show', 'Command Performance', 'The Bickersons' and 'Kraft Music Hall'.


Morgan married once, to Alma Muller, the daughter of a New York property magnate, in 1914. They had one son and the marriage ended with Morgan's death.

The couple were very comfortably off and owned a 550-acre ranch in Hemet Valley, California, where they raised cattle. Morgan was also a yacht owner.

Morgan was a popular member of the Hollywood fraternity and was well respected for his professional attitude on set and sociability off it. He was a heavy drinker and is thought to have been a functioning alcoholic. After completing the film 'Key to the City' in 1949, he began filming 'Annie Get Your Gun' in the role of Buffalo Bill when he died from a heart attack on September 18 1949.

Frank Morgan Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... The Affairs of Cellini (1934)
Best Supporting Actor ... Tortilla Flat (1942)

The Suspect(as Frank Wupperman)
The Daring of Diana(as Francis Morgan)
The Girl Philippa (as Francis Morgan)
A Modern Cinderella
A Child of the Wild
The Light in Darkness
Baby Mine
Who's Your Neighbor?
Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman
The Knife
At the Mercy of Men
The Gray Towers Mystery
The Golden Shower
Born Rich
The Crowded Hour
The Man Who Found Himself
Scarlet Saint
Love's Greatest Mistake
Belle of the Night (Short)
Dangerous Nan McGrew
Queen High
Fast and Loose
Secrets of the French Police
The Half Naked Truth
The Billion Dollar Scandal
Luxury Liner
Hallelujah I'm a Bum
Reunion in Vienna
The Kiss Before the Mirror
The Nuisance
When Ladies Meet
Best of Enemies
Broadway to Hollywood
The Mighty Barnum(uncredited)
By Your Leave
There's Always Tomorrow
A Lost Lady
The Affairs of Cellini
Sisters Under the Skin
Success at Any Price
The Cat and the Fiddle