American actor Robert Morse has died at the age of 90 at his home in Los Angeles. He is best known in this parish as the actor who played the role of Dennis Barlow in the 1960’s Hollywood adaptation of Waugh’s novella The Loved One (1948). It was one of his first starring film roles, but he made his name as an actor primarily on the stage and in TV drama. According to the New York Times, his:
gap-toothed grin and expert comic timing made him a Tony-winning Broadway star as a charming corporate schemer in the 1961 musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” who later won another Tony for his eerily lifelike portrait of the writer Truman Capote in “Tru,” and who capped his long career with a triumphant return to the corporate world on the television series “Mad Men.”
With respect to his performance in the film adaptation, the NY Times notes:
His success in “How to Succeed…” led to movie offers, but not to movie stardom; he rarely had a screen vehicle that fit him comfortably. “The parts I could play,” he observed to The Sunday News of New York in 1965, “they give to Jack Lemmon.”
When he co-starred with Robert Goulet in the 1964 sex farce “Honeymoon Hotel,” Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, “It is hard to imagine good actors being given worse material with which to work.”
Mr. Morse fared better, but only slightly, in “The Loved One” (1965), a freewheeling adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s scathing novel about America’s moneymaking funeral industry, in which he was improbably cast as a British poet who finds work at an animal cemetery. Then came “A Guide for the Married Man” (1967), in which Mr. Morse gives a fellow husband (Walter Matthau) advice on how to cheat on his wife.
The AP wire service obituary also mentions the Waugh adaptation:
Among his films was “The Loved One,” a 1965 black comedy about an Englishman’s encounter with Hollywood and the funeral industry, based on the satirical novel by Evelyn Waugh.
“I don’t think in terms of whether a picture will help or hinder my career,” Morse told the Los Angeles Times when the film was in production. “I think of who I’m working with.” Among his “Loved One” co-stars were Jonathan Winters, John Gielgud and Tab Hunter.
Morse (who was born 18 May 1931 in Newton, Massachusetts) must have been one of the oldest surviving members of the film cast and crew when he died. According to the internet, however, his co-star Anjanette Comer (b. 1939), who played Aimée Thanatogenos in the film, is still among the living. Both of them played their parts pretty much as Waugh himself had written the characters (as did British actors John Gielgud and Robert Morley who played Francis Hinsley and Ambrose Abercrombie) in parts probably written for the screen by Christopher Isherwood. It was the off the wall performances of Jonathan Winters and Rod Steiger as well as several cameo performances by the likes of Liberace and Milton Berle, probably written by co-screen writer Terry Southern, that doomed the film’s acceptance by Waugh and his readers.