Lee Morse: Pyrotechnic Showmanship

Lee Morse (born Lena Corinne Taylor on this day in 1897) was a big time vaudeville singer and star of Broadway revues in the 1920s. She was the daughter of a preacher; her four older brothers formed a professional quartet; her younger brother Glen was Senator from Idaho for a time (known as “The Singing Senator” for his earlier career as a singer). She was married and pregnant by age 16 but still strove to enter show business. She began working local small time in the Pacific Northwest, accompanying herself on guitar. The tide changed when she was booked for a Kolb and Dill revue in 1920. Many such engagements followed, such as Raymond Hitchcock’s Hitchykoo series, and Artists and Models with Frank Fay. The peak of her career was 1924-30, where her pyrotechnic if gimmicky showmanship made her a star of vaudeville, numerous recordings, and some Vitaphone shorts. After this, vaudeville declined, and drinking got in the way of her career. For a time, her husband and accompanist was Bob Downey, a cousin of Morton Downey Sr (a popular singer and father of the briefly notorious tv talk show host). Morse and Downey tried to start a nightclub in Texas in the 30s but it burned down. They moved to Rochester, where the marriage broke up. Morse remained in the area and continued to perform locally until her death in 1954.

To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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