Chester Morris

John Chester Brooks Morris (February 16, 1901 September 11, 1970) was an American stage, film, television, and radio actor. He had some prestigious film roles early in his career, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Chester Morris is best remembered today for portraying Boston Blackie, a criminal-turned-detective, in the modestly budgeted Boston Blackie film series of the 1940s.

Chester Morris
Morris in 1934
John Chester Brooks Morris

(1901-02-16)February 16, 1901
DiedSeptember 11, 1970(1970-09-11) (aged 69)
Cause of deathBarbiturate overdose
Years active19171970
  • Suzanne Kilbourne
    (married 1926–1940)
  • Lillian Kenton Barker
    (married 1940–1970)
Parent(s)William Morris
Etta Hawkins

Early years

Chester Morris was born John Chester Brooks Morris in New York City, one of four children of Broadway stage actor William Morris and stage comedian Etta Hawkins.[1] Morris dropped out of school and began his Broadway career at 15 years old opposite Lionel Barrymore in The Copperhead.[2] He made his film debut in the silent comedy-drama film An Amateur Orphan (1917).[3]

After appearing in several more Broadway productions in the early 1920s, Morris joined his parents, sister, and two brothers, Gordon and Adrian (who also became a film actor), on the vaudeville circuit.[4] The family's act consisted of a comedy sketch entitled "The Horrors of Home". Morris toured with his family for two years before returning to Broadway with roles in The Home Towners (1926) and Yellow (1927). While appearing in the 1927 play Crime, Morris was spotted by a talent agent and was signed to a film contract.[1]


Morris (second from right) received an Oscar nomination for his performance as a gangster in Alibi (1929)
Morris and Wallace Beery in The Big House (1930)

Morris made his sound film debut in the 1929 film Alibi, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.[5] He followed with roles in Woman Trap (1929), The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930) and The Divorcee, starring Norma Shearer in 1930. Later that year, Morris was cast as one of the leads (with Wallace Beery and Robert Montgomery) in the MGM prison drama The Big House. For the next two years, he worked steadily in films for United Artists and MGM and was cast opposite Jean Harlow in the 1932 comedy-drama Red-Headed Woman.[6]

By the mid- to late 1930s, Morris' popularity had begun to wane and he was cast as the lead actor such B-movies as Smashing the Rackets (1938) and Five Came Back (1939).[3] In 1941, Morris' career was revived when he was cast as criminal-turned-detective Boston Blackie. Morris appeared in a total of 14 Boston Blackie films for Columbia Pictures, beginning with Meet Boston Blackie. He reprised the role of Boston Blackie for the radio series in 1944.[7] During World War II, Morris performed magic tricks in over 350 USO shows. He had been practicing magic since the age of 12 and was considered a top amateur magician.[8]

While appearing in the Boston Blackie series, Morris continued to appear in roles in other films mostly for Pine-Thomas films for Paramount Pictures.[3] After appearing in 1949's Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture, the final Boston Blackie film, Morris largely retired from films.[2] During the 1950s, he focused mainly on television and theatre, returning to Broadway in 1954 in the comedy The Fifth Season.[9] During this time, Morris also appeared in guest spots for the anthology series Cameo Theatre, Lights Out, Tales of Tomorrow, Alcoa Premiere, Suspense, Danger, Robert Montgomery Presents, The Web, Phillip Morris Playhouse, Studio One, and Kraft Television Theatre. He briefly returned to films in 1955 with a role in the prison drama Unchained, followed by a role in the 1956 science-fiction horror film The She-Creature. In 1960, he had recurring role as Detective Lieutenant Max Ritter in the CBS summer replacement series, Diagnosis: Unknown. The series lasted a year, after which Morris appeared in the NBC television film A String of Beads. In November 1960, he returned to Broadway as Senator Bob Munson in the stage adaptation of the 1959 novel Advise and Consent. Morris remained with the production until it closed in May 1961. In October, he reprised his role for the touring production.[6]

In the early to mid-1960s, Morris appeared in guest spots for the dramas Route 66, The Defenders, and Dr. Kildare. In 1965, he replaced Jack Albertson in the Broadway production of The Subject Was Roses.[3] He reprised his role in the play for the touring production in 1966.[10]

Illness and death

In mid-1968, Morris starred opposite Barbara Britton in the touring production of Where Did We Go Wrong?.[11] After the production wrapped, he returned to his home in Manhattan, where his health began to decline. Morris was later diagnosed with stomach cancer.[12] Despite his declining health, Morris began work on what was his last film role, as Pop Weaver in the biographical drama The Great White Hope (1970). The film was released after his death.[13][14] After filming wrapped, Morris joined the stage production of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania.[8]

On September 11, 1970, Lee R. Yopp, the producer and director of Caine, was scheduled to have lunch with Morris. After Yopp could not reach Morris by phone at his motel room, he went to Morris' room, where he found the actor's body lying on the floor.[11] The county coroner attributed Morris' death to an overdose of barbiturates.[11][15] His remains were cremated and scattered over a German river.[16]

Personal life

Morris was married twice. He first married Suzanne Kilbourne on November 8, 1926. They had two children, John Brooks and Cynthia.[1] Kilbourne was granted an interlocutory divorce in November 1939 which was finalized on November 26, 1940.[17][18]

On November 30, 1940, Morris married socialite Lillian Kenton Barker at the home of actor Frank Morgan.[19] They had a son, Kenton, born in 1944. The couple remained married until Morris' death in 1970.[2]

Select theatre credits

Date Title Role Notes
February 18 – June 1918 The Copperhead Sam Carter Shubert Theatre, New York City[20]
September 22 – October 1918 Thunder Sam Disbrow Criterion Theatre, New York City[20]
December 12, 1921 – April 1922 The Mountain Man Carey Maxine Elliott Theatre, New York City[20]
September 22 – October 1922 The Exciters Lexington Dalrymple Times Square Theater, New York City[20]
January 23 – February 1923 Extra Wallace King Longacre Theatre, New York City[20]
August 23 – October 1926 The Home Towners Waly Calhoon Hudson Theatre, New York City[20]
September 21, 1926 – January 1927 Yellow Val Parker National Theatre, New York City[20]
February 22 – August 1927 Crime Rocky Morse Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre, New York City[20]
February 20 – May 1928 Whispering Friends Al Sheeler Hudson Theatre, New York City[20]
September 26 – October 1928 Fast Life Chester Palmer Ambassador Theatre, New York City[20]
September 5 – October 23, 1954 The Fifth Season Johnny Goodwin Cort Theatre, New York City
Touring to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago[9][21]
February 27 – July 19, 1958 Blue Denim Major Bartley Playhouse Theatre, New York City[20]
November 17, 1960 – May 20, 1961 Advise and Consent Bob Munson Cort Theatre, New York City[20]
September 7, 1965 – May 21, 1966 The Subject Was Roses John Cleary Helen Hayes Theatre, Henry Miller's Theatre and Belasco Theatre, New York City[20]

Select filmography

Poster for Alibi (1929)
Poster for Corsair (1931)
Poster for The Gay Bride (1934)
Poster for Public Hero No. 1 (1935)
Chester Morris, Lucille Ball, Casey Johnson and Kent Taylor in Five Came Back (1939)
Year Title Role Notes
1917 An Amateur Orphan Dick [22]
1918 The Beloved Traitor Dan [22]
1923 Loyal Lives Tom O'Hara [22]
1925 The Road to Yesterday Extra at party [22]
1929 Alibi Chick Williams Nominee, Academy Award for Best Actor[22][23]
1929 Fast Life Paul Palmer [22]
1929 Woman Trap Ray Malone [22]
1929 The Show of Shows Cast member [22]
1930 Second Choice Don Warren [22]
1930 Playing Around Nickey Solomon [22]
1930 She Couldn't Say No Jerry Casey [22]
1930 The Case of Sergeant Grischa Sgt. Grischa Paprotkin [22]
1930 The Divorcee Ted [22]
1930 The Big House John Morgan [22]
1930 The Bat Whispers Detective Anderson [22]
1931 Corsair John Hawkes [22]
1932 Cock of the Air Lieutenant Roger Craig [22]
1932 The Miracle Man John Madison, also known as Doc [22]
1932 Sinners in the Sun Jimmie Martin [22]
1932 Red-Headed Woman Bill Legendre, Jr. [22]
1933 Blondie Johnson Danny Jones [22]
1933 Infernal Machine Robert Holden [22]
1933 Tomorrow at Seven Neil Broderick [22]
1933 Golden Harvest Chris Martin [22]
1934 Gift of Gab Himself [22]
1934 The Gay Bride Office Boy, also known as Jimmie Burnham [22]
1934 Society Doctor Dr. Bill Morgan [22]
1935 Public Hero No. 1 Jeff Crane [22]
1935 Pursuit Mitchell [22]
1936 Three Godfathers Bob [22]
1936 Moonlight Murder Steve Farrell [22]
1936 Frankie and Johnnie Johnnie Drew [22]
1937 I Promise to Pay Eddie Lang [22]
1937 Flight From Glory Smith [22]
1937 Sunday Night at the Trocadero Himself Short subject
1938 Law of the Underworld Gene Fillmore [22]
1938 Sky Giant Ken Stockton [22]
1938 Smashing the Rackets Jim Conway [22]
1939 Pacific Liner Doc Craig [22]
1939 Blind Alley Hal Wilson [22]
1939 Five Came Back Bill Brooks [22]
1939 Thunder Afloat "Rocky" Blake [22]
1940 The Marines Fly High Lt. Malone [22]
1941 Meet Boston Blackie Boston Blackie [22]
1941 No Hands on the Clock Humphrey Campbell [22]
1941 Confessions of Boston Blackie Boston Blackie [22]
1942 Alias Boston Blackie Boston Blackie [22]
1942 I Live on Danger Jeff Morrell [22]
1942 Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood Boston Blackie [22]
1942 Wrecking Crew Duke Mason [22]
1943 Tornado Pete Ramsey [22]
1943 After Midnight with Boston Blackie Boston Blackie [22]
1943 Aerial Gunner Foxy Pattis [22]
1943 The Chance of a Lifetime Boston Blackie [22]
1944 Gambler's Choice Ross Hadley [22]
1944 Secret Command Jeff Gallagher [22]
1944 One Mysterious Night Boston Blackie [22]
1944 Double Exposure Larry Burke [22]
1945 Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion Boston Blackie [22]
1945 Boston Blackie's Rendezvous Boston Blackie [22]
1946 A Close Call for Boston Blackie Boston Blackie [22]
1946 The Phantom Thief Boston Blackie [22]
1946 Boston Blackie and the Law Boston Blackie [22]
1947 Blind Spot Jeffrey Andrews [22]
1948 Trapped by Boston Blackie Boston Blackie [22]
1949 Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture Boston Blackie [22]
1955 Unchained Warden Kenyon J. Scudder [22]
1956 The She-Creature Dr. Carlo Lombardi [22]
1970 The Great White Hope Pop Weaver [22]

Select television credits

Year Title Role Notes
1951 Starlight Theatre Ed Kennedy Episode: "Act of God Nonwithstanding"
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars The Dansker Episode: "Billy Budd"
1952 Lux Video Theatre Lefty Episode: "Welcome Home, Lefty"
1953 Omnibus The Battler Segment: "The Battler"
1955 Appointment with Adventure Lt. Kizer Episode: "Time Bomb"
1957 The Red Skelton Hour Tony Episode: "Clem's Fish Market"
1957 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre Frank Simmons Episode: "Black Is for Grief"
1957 Playhouse 90 Warden Episode: "Child of Trouble"
1958 Pursuit Mood Episode: "Tiger on a Bicycle"
1959 The United States Steel Hour Henry Vining Episode: "Whisper of Evil"
1960 The Play of the Week Swanson Episode: "Morni
1960 Diagnosis: Unknown Detective Lieutenant Ritter 3 episodes
1960 Rawhide Hugh Clements Episode: "Incident on the Road to Yesterday"
1961 Naked City Frank Manfred Episode: "Make-Believe Man"
1961 Checkmate Albert Dewitt Episode: " Portrait of a Man Running"
1961 Ben Casey Walter Tyson Episode: "An Expensive Glass of Water"
1962 Eleventh Hour Frankie Morrison Episode: "Along About Late in the Afternoon"
1964 Espionage Harry Kemp Episode: "Castles in Spain"
1964 East Side/West Side Walt McGill Episode: "The Name of the Game"
1964 Mr. Broadway Orin Kelsey Episode: "Don't Mention My Name in Sheboygan"
1965 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Major Whitman Episode: "The Fliers"
1967 Coronet Blue Dr. Michael Wilson Episode: "A Time to Be Born"
1968 Cimarron Strip George Deeker Episode: "Without Honor"
1969 Gentle Ben Elsmore Episode: "Busman's Holiday"

Select radio credits

1944Boston BlackieStar of NBC series broadcast June 23 – September 15[24]}}
1945Old Gold Comedy Theatre"Boy Meets Girl"[25]
1946Suspense"The Strange Death of Gordon Fitzroy"[26]
1952Philip Morris Playhouse"Each Dawn I Die"[27]


  1. "Veteran Actor Chester Morris, 69". The Palm Beach Post. Palm Beach, Florida. September 12, 1970. p. 6.
  2. "Movies' 'Boston Blackie,' Chester Morris, Dies". Reading Eagle. Reading, Pennsylvania. September 12, 1970. p. 13.
  3. (Blottner 2011, p. 51)
  4. (Parish, Leonard 1976, p. 410)
  5. (Morton, Adamson 2009, p. 86)
  6. (Parish, Leonard 1976, p. 413)
  7. (Young 2010, p. 241)
  8. "Veteran Actor Chester Morris Found Dead". The Times-News. Hendersonville, North Carolina. September 12, 1970. p. 9. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  9. Francis, Bob (August 21, 1954). "Speaking of Legit". Billboard. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  10. "No Book---Says Chester Morris". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Spokane, Washington. November 8, 1966. p. 17. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  11. (Parish, Leonard 1976, p. 414)
  12. (Frasier 2002, p. 233)
  13. "Chester Morris Back On Screen". The Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. October 1, 1969. p. 93. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  14. Canby, Vincent (June 20, 1971). "'Hope' Tackles Issues Of Today's World". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. Daytona Beach, Florida. p. 7B. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  15. "'Boston Blackie' Dies". St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, Florida. September 12, 1970. pp. 4–A. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  16. (Rosen 2004, p. 188)
  17. "Divorce Decree Given Wife Of Chester Morris". The Telegraph-Herald. November 12, 1939. p. 7.
  18. "Marriage Not To Be Blocked". Warsaw Union. November 26, 1940. p. 8.
  19. "Honeymoon Precedes Work of New Movie". The Miami News. December 1, 1940. p. 5-A.
  20. "Chester Morris". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  21. Calta, Louis (September 29, 1954). "Tour is Planned by 'Fifth Season'". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  22. "Chester Morris". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  23. "The Official Academy Awards Database". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on February 8, 2009. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  24. Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  25. "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 40 (1): 32–39. Winter 2014.
  27. Kirby, Walter (April 20, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved May 9, 2015 via


  • Blottner, Gene (2011). Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-48672-4.
  • Frasier, David K. (2002). Suicide in the Entertainment Industry: An Encyclopedia of 840 Twentieth Century Cases. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-41038-8.
  • Morton, Lisa; Adamson, Kent (2009). Savage Detours: The Life and Work of Ann Savage. McFarland. ISBN 0-786-45706-6.
  • Parish, James Robert; Leonard, William T. (1976). Hollywood Players: The Thirties. Arlington House. ISBN 0-870-00365-8.
  • Rosen, Fred (2004). Cremation in America. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-615-92756-5.
  • Young, William H.; Young, Nancy K. (2010). World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0-313-35652-1.
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