Amongst the famous people born one hundred years ago in 1915 are Frank Sinatra, actress Ingrid Bergman and actor/director Orson Welles. None of them lived long enough to see their 100th birthday. If they had, they might be having big birthday celebrations like the two being held for Broadway legend Patricia Morison. This past Monday a private party was held in her honor in the lobby of the Pantages Theatre. On Sunday, the Pasadena Playhouse is hosting A Conversation with Patricia Morison at the University Club of Pasadena to acknowledge her milestone birthday.
“I never thought about being 100,” she says by phone from her Park La Brea home. “Nobody does. I thought of what was going to happen the next day. I think I enjoy life and I enjoy my friends and people and that’s what I think about the most. I don’t think about how long I’ll go.”
Morison is best known for originating the role of Kate/Lilli in Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me, Kate in 1948. She introduced such songs as “So In Love,” and “I Hate Men.” “When I first heard ‘So In Love,’ when Cole Porter played it for me, it just knocked me out. It was a beautiful gift.” As for “I Hate Men” she says, “I could do a lot of things in character that I would never do in real life. I would never throw plates around and bang tankards.”
Morison says that Porter had a hard time getting Kiss Me, Kate produced. “Nobody wanted to back him. They’d say ‘who wants a musical based on Shakespeare?’ He’d throw parties for famous wealthy friends and they’d say ‘I don’t think this would work.’ Eventually he got them. He was staking his whole career on it. It’s lucky that we had Alfred Drake. He was a great singer. The combination of the two of us and Cole Porter was magical.” The show, based on The Taming of the Shrew, ran for two-and-a-half years with 1,077 performances and has been revived twice.
When Hollywood came calling, Drake advised her not to go because he didn’t think Hollywood would know what to do with Morison’s talent. “In some ways he was right,” she says. “When I got the contract at Paramount, they weren’t interested in my singing. ‘We’re not MGM’ they would say. I got to play evil ladies.” Amongst her film credits are Lady on a Train (1945), Queen of the Amazons (1947), Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) and Song Without End in 1960.
Kiss Me, Kate was filmed for television’s Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1958, but Morison’s heart remains forever on the stage. “It was a lovely experience and I’m glad it came on television. Any stage actor will tell you there is nothing like the live feeling of performance and walking on stage and feeling that draft when they lift the curtain and all those people are sitting there right at that moment. That’s much more exciting than making film.”
When asked what she knows now that she wished she’d learn earlier in life she says, “That would take a couple of hours.” She lets go a wonderfully big laugh. “Honey, I’ve survived and I’m fortunate. Achievements are wonderful at the moment and as a creative person I’m glad I was able to create some interesting things in theatre. But what is most important are the people I love and the people near me. That gives me the greatest joys.”