Re-watching Bob Fosse’s Lenny Bruce bio-pic Lenny (1974) the other day reminded us of the existence of Gary Morton (Morton Goldaper, 1924-1999). Morton had a supporting role in the movie and I’d love to know how it came about. When I was a kid growing up in the ’70s, Morton was known almost entirely in the context of his famous wife, Lucille Ball. She was the sun, and he the satellite. But in his pre-Lucy years Morton had been a Borscht Belt comedian, had done a little television (The Arthur Murray Party) and one Broadway show, Mr. Wonderful (1956). He and Fosse may have known each other from those days. This is certainly how he came into Lucy’s orbit. Fresh off her 1960 divorce from the philandering Desi Arnaz, she met Morton (13 years her junior) and they tied the knot the following year.
At first the connection opened doors for Morton as a comedian. Around 1961 he made appearances on the Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar shows performing his stand-up. But he rapidly got sucked into helping to run the Lucy empire, first under the umbrella of the still extant Desilu (which was sold in 1967) and then through Lucille Ball Productions. He produced her sitcoms The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy and Life with Lucy, and several TV movies starring the red headed clown lady. He also made cameo appearances on these shows, and was often on talk shows (Merv, Dinah, Mike Douglas, David Frost) and game shows (Password), almost invariably as sidekick to his famous wife.
After Lucy passed away in 1989, Morton played a supporting role in Postcards from the Edge (1990) and made a 1991 appearance on The Joan Rivers Show. He married pro-golfer Susie McAllister in 1996 and passed away three years later.
For more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.