Will Morrisey and Partners

Will Morrisey and Midge Miller in “Southern Exposure”, 1927

“I’ve stranded more stars than the Shuberts ever starred” — quoth writer/director/producer Will Morrisey (1887-1957) according to his obituary. He was a known figure in his day. Today, not so much. This is one of those posts where I really had to poke around to find any info, and frankly can’t recall where I heard of the man in the first place.

So we build from scraps. Morrisey was from New York and had studied at the Brooklyn School of Music. He sang and danced in vaudeville. And he wrote songs. Some of them were used in The Passing Show of 1915, his first Broadway credit. During World War One he toured with an entertainment unit led by Margaret Mayo, writer of Polly of the Circus. By 1919 he was partnered with (and married to) Elizabeth Brice (no relation to Fanny or Lew), who had previously teamed with Charles King in vaudeville and on Broadway. That year the Brice and Morrisey starred in a Broadway revue called Toot Sweet, which was co-written, directed and produced by Morrisey, that went on the road as The Overseas Revue. Harold Whalen was in this show for a time, following his teaming with Jack Pearl, but prior to Harry Jans. In 1920 Brice and Morrisey returned to Broadway in Buzzing Around, but they broke up not long after that. Next Morrisey co-wrote, directed and produced a show called The Newcomers (1923).

With his next wife and partner, Midge or Midgie Miller, he presented the Broadway production Polly in Hollywood and co-starred in the Vitaphone short The Morrisey and Miller Night Club Revue, both in 1927 (clips from the latter are available on Youtube as of this writing). The pair were also in Morrisey’s 1929 show Keep it Clean, although they parted ways after that. Miller formed an act called Midge Miller and her Boy Friends (one of whom was a young James Cagney) and later appeared in the 1935 Al Christie short Love in a Hurry starring Sylvia Froos.

Morrisey’s next two Broadway productions were Hot Rhythm (1930) and Saluta (1934), the first show to star Milton Berle. Throughout his career, Morrisey’s Broadway shows had short runs, but he then toured them regionally, usually including long runs in Chicago and Hollywood, which seems to have been what kept him going financially for so long. His last work for Broadway was a rewrite on The Time, The Place, and the Girl (1942) starring Joseph E. Howard. Some of his dialogue was used in the 1947 Harlem race picture Look Out Sister. And he played an announcer in the 1952 film The Story of Will Rogers.

Morrisey married no fewer than five times after Brice and Miller, for a total of seven. Billy Rose once pranked him by inviting all seven to the same event!

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,