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HELEN MORGAN

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BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS
Full Name: Helen Riggins

 

Description: Vocalist, USA
Known For: Scandals, 1925 – Frankie and Johnnie, 1934

Instruments: Voice
Music Styles: Jazz

Location: United States of America

Date Born: 2nd August 1900
Location Born: Chicago, Illinois, United States of America

Date Died: 9th October 1941
Location Died: Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
Cause Of Death: Cirrhosis of the liver

Memorial: Burial: Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Alsip, Cook County. USA Illinois, USA
Photo Comments: The image above is intended for those who wish to reuse material (text and/or graphics) from the Wikimedia projects — on their own website, in print, or otherwise. It focuses on Commons as this is explicitly a collection of reusable media.

CONTACT DETAILS
Web Site: Review of The Helen Morgan Story

Other Links: For other links about this entertainer click on the Links button above

YOUTUBE VIDEO

BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Helen Morgan.

Helen Morgan (August 2, 1900 – October 9, 1941) was an American singer and actress who worked in films and on the stage. A quintessential torch singer, she made a big splash in the Chicago club scene in the 1920s. She starred as Julie LaVerne in the original Broadway production of Hammerstein and Kern’s musical Show Boat in 1927 as well as in the 1932 Broadway revival of the musical, and appeared in two film adaptations, a part-talkie made in 1929 (prologue only) and a full-sound version made in 1936, becoming firmly associated with the role. She suffered from bouts of alcoholism, and despite her notable success in the title role of another Hammerstein and Kern’s Broadway musical, Sweet Adeline (1929), her stage career was relatively short. Helen Morgan died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 41. She was portrayed by Polly Bergen in the Playhouse 90 drama The Helen Morgan Story and by Ann Blyth in the 1957 biopic based on the television drama.

She was born Helen Riggins in 1900 in Danville, Illinois. Her father Frank Riggins, was a farmer in Davis Township, Fountain County, Indiana. After her mother, Lulu Lang Riggins, divorced and remarried, she changed the last name to “Morgan”. Her mother’s second marriage ended in divorce, and she moved to Chicago with her daughter. Helen never finished school beyond the eighth grade, and worked a variety of jobs just to get by. She worked as an extra in films. By the age of twenty, Morgan had taken voice lessons and started singing in speakeasies in Chicago. Her voice was not fashionable during the 1920s for the kind of songs that she specialized in, but nevertheless she became a wildly popular torch singer. A draped-over-the-piano look became her signature while performing at Billy Rose’s Backstage Club in 1925. In spite of the National Prohibition Act of 1919 outlawing alcohol in the United States, Morgan became a heavy drinker and was often reportedly drunk during these performances.

Morgan was noticed by Florenz Ziegfeld while dancing in the chorus of his production of Sally in 1923 and she went on to perform with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1931, the Follies’ last active year. During this period, she studied music at the Metropolitan Opera in her free time. During the run of Show Boat, however, Morgan’s stardom led to difficulties. Her prominence in the world of New York nightclubs (actually illegal speakeasies in the era of Prohibition) led to her fronting a club called Chez Morgan, at which she entertained. On December 30, 1927, only days after the opening of Show Boat, she was arrested at Chez Morgan for violation of liquor laws. Charges were dropped in February 1928, and the club reopened as Helen Morgan’s Summer Home, but she was arrested again on June 29 and this time indicted.

A jury acquitted her at a trial held in April 1929. In 1927, Morgan appeared as Julie LaVerne in the original cast of Show Boat, her best-known role. She sang “Bill” (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, music by Jerome Kern) and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” in two stage runs and two film productions of Show Boat over a span of 11 years. She took the role of burlesque star Kitty Darling in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1929 classic feature film Applause, with fine acting that included stage act portrayals as well as a cappella singing in private scenes.

After appearing in the 1929 film version of Show Boat, she went on to star in Kern and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical Sweet Adeline. The title was a pun on the famous barbershop quartet song.

Morgan starred in a radio program, Broadway Varieties, on CBS. The show, which featured light, popular and semi-classical music, ran from September 24, 1933, to April 22, 1934. A later version, without Morgan, ran from May 2, 1934, to July 30, 1937.

Her last motion picture appearance was in the 1936 film version of Show Boat, often considered to be the better of the two film versions of the stage musical (it was remade in Technicolor in 1951, but the 1929 film version was based on Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name, from which the musical was adapted, rather than on the show).

In the late 1930s, Morgan was signed up for a show at Chicago’s Loop Theater. She also spent time at her farm in High Falls, New York. Alcoholism plagued her, and she was hospitalized in late 1940, after playing Julie La Verne one last time in a 1940 Los Angeles stage revival of Show Boat. She made something of a comeback in 1941, thanks to her manager, Lloyd Johnson. However, the years of alcohol abuse had taken their toll. She collapsed onstage during a performance of George White’s Scandals of 1942 and died in Chicago of cirrhosis of the liver on October 9, 1941.

Morgan was married three times, first to a fan (Lowell Army) she had met at a stage door while she was performing in Sally, then to Maurice “Buddy” Maschke (they married on May 15, 1933 and divorced several years later), and finally to Lloyd Johnson, whom she married on July 27, 1941. On June 25, 1926, in Springfield, Illinois, Morgan had a baby girl (Elaine Danglo) whom she gave up for adoption.

Morgan was portrayed by Polly Bergen in a 1957 Playhouse 90 drama, The Helen Morgan Story, directed by George Roy Hill. Bergen won an Emmy Award for her performance. That same year, the feature film The Helen Morgan Story starred Ann Blyth as Morgan.

Filmography

Six Cylinder Love, 1923
The Heart Raider, 1923
Show Boat, 1929 (in the prologue only, she appeared as Julie La Verne and sang “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill”)
Applause, 1929 (sang “What Wouldn’t I Do For that Man” and “Give Your Little Baby Lots of Lovin'”)
Glorifying the American Girl, 1930 (sang “What Wouldn’t I Do For that Man”)
Roadhouse Nights, 1930 (sang “It Can’t Go On Like This”)
The Gigolo Racket, 1931 short subject (sang “Nobody Breaks My Heart” and “I Know He’s Mine”)
Manhattan Lullaby, 1933 short subject (sang “The Stork Song”)
The Doctor, 1934 short subject (sang “One Little Smile”)
Frankie and Johnnie, 1936 (sang “Give Me a Heart to Sing To” and “If You Want My Heart”)
You Belong to Me, 1934 (sang “When He Comes Home to Me”)
Marie Galante, 1934 (sang “Song of a Dreamer” and “Serves Me Right for Treating You Wrong”)
Sweet Music, 1935 (sang “I See Two Lovers”)
Go Into Your Dance, 1935 (sang “The Little Things You Used to Do”)
Show Boat, 1936 (as Julie La Verne, she sang “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill”)

Stage

Sally, 1923 (chorus)
Scandals,1925-1926 (first principal role)
Americana, 1926
American Grand Guignol, 1927 (sang “Nobody Wants Me”)
Show Boat, 1927-1929 (as Julie La Verne she sang “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill”)
Sweet Adeline, 1929-1931 (starring role singing “T’was Not So Long Ago”, “Here am I”, “Why Was I Born?”, “The Sun About to Rise” and “Don’t Ever Leave Me!”)
Ziegfeld Follies, 1931 (sang “Half-Caste Woman”, lyrics by Noël Coward)
Show Boat, 1932–1933
Memory, 1934 (starring role singing “A Fool There Was”)
A Night at the Moulin Rouge, 1939
Show Boat, 1940 (as Julie La Verne she sang Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man and Bill)

LINKS:

 

Helen worked on stage as a singer, actress and appeared in movies.

Born in Danville, Illinois. By the age of twenty she had taken voice lessons and singing in speakeasies in Chicago.

Her voice was not a fashionable one during the twenties with songs that Morgan specialized in and became a popular torch singer.

Morgan was was often drunk during her performances even though prohibition act had passed.

Her career began in when she was noticed by Florenz Ziegfeld while when dancing in a chorus of one of his productions titled “Sally”.

Morgan appeared in the first version in the original cast of “Show Boat” as Julie LaVerne in 1927.

Morgan was portrayed by Polly Bergen in a 1957 Playhouse 90 drama, directed by George Roy Hill, and won an Emmy Award for her performance. That same year, the feature film The Helen Morgan Story starred Ann Blyth as Morgan.

Morgan died from of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 41. She was portrayed in the 1957 biopic The Helen Morgan Story.

The web address at the above contains a well documented page on
the life of Helen Morgan.

She collapsed onstage during a performance of George White’s Scandals of 1942 and died in Chicago of cirrhosis of the liver on October 8, 1941.

Films include.

Six-Cylinder Love, 1923
The Heart Raider, 1923
Scandals, 1925
Show Boat, 1929
Applause, 1929
Glorifying the American Girl, 1930
Roadhouse Nights, 1930
The Gigolo Racket, 1931
Manhattan Lullaby, 1933
The Doctor, 1934
Frankie and Johnnie, 1934
You Belong to Me, 1934
Marie Galante, 1934
Sweet Music, 1935
Go Into Your Dance, 1935
Show Boat, 1936
The Coo Coo Nut Grove, 1936