Lewis Morrison: A Fascinating Devil

On September 4 was born the 19th century actor Lewis Morrison (Morris W. Morris, 1844-1906). Morrison is interesting for all sorts of reasons but three especially:

  • He begat a theatrical and show biz dynasty. His many famous descendants include the obnoxious talk show host Morton Downey Jr; and movie actresses Joan, Constance and Barbara Bennett (Downey’s mother) and their stage acting mother Adrienne Morrison, wife of Richard Bennett. Morrison’s split with his first wife actress Rose Wood in 1886 was an early divorce scandal. His second wife was the actress Florence Roberts. 
  •  For most of his career Morrison was famously associated with a single role, Mephistopheles in Faust, which he toured with extensively, much as Joseph Jefferson had with Rip Van Winkle and James O’Neill had with The Count of Monte Cristo. Originally from New Orleans, he had performed with the likes of Edwin Booth and Charlotte Cushman prior to making a hit as the horned one, which became his meal ticket ever after.
  • Morrison was a mixed-race gentleman, of English, African, Spanish and Jewish blood. Born in Jamaica, he moved to New Orleans in his youth. At the beginning of the Civil War he served in the Louisiana Native Guards, a unit of Free People of Color intended to serve the Confederate Army. (They were disbanded in 1862; African Americans were rejected for service by the Confederacy. New Orleans was captured by the Union shortly after that). Racist rabble-rouser Morton Downey Jr. must have known of these roots during the heyday of his tv talk show in the 1980s. He clearly chose another path.
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