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Morley, Robert (1908-1992)

Actor, Writer

Main image of Morley, Robert (1908-1992)

Robert Morley's portly frame, double chin and perpetual look of pop-eyed surprise made him one of the screen's most recognisable performers and one of its most endearing personalities. There was often a touch of the great overgrown schoolboy about him, and his published interviews encouraged the perception that to him acting was no more than a delightful game for which one was paid.

RADA-trained and on stage from 1929, he received an Oscar nomination for his film debut as the weakly foolish Louis XVI who grows in stature with adversity in Marie Antoinette (US, d. W.S.Van Dyke, 1938), made in the US where he had gone to star in Oscar Wilde, a role he would repeat in a dull film (d. Gregory Ratoff, 1960).

Enjoyable rather than profound, he was sought for showy character roles over five decades, but the best came early: Undershaft in Major Barbara (d. Gabriel Pascal, 1941), almost arguing the last act into cinematic life; Katharine Hepburn's missionary brother in The African Queen (d. John Huston, 1951), and the craven Almayer in Outcast of the Islands (d. Carol Reed, 1951); and the cricket-mad poet in The Final Test (d. Anthony Asquith, 1953); but he was good company until the end.

He also co-wrote and performed in several plays, including Edward, My Son (1947; filmed 1949 by George Cukor, but with Spencer Tracy in Morley's stage role), and appeared in and/or directed many more. He was awarded a CBE in 1957, and married Joan Buckmaster, Gladys Cooper's daughter. Sheridan Morley, critic and showbiz biographer, is their son.

Autobiography: Robert Morley, Responsible Gentleman, 1966;
Sheridan Morley, Robert, My Father, 1993.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Curtain Up (1952)Curtain Up (1952)

Margaret Rutherford and Robert Morley star in a provincial theatre comedy

Thumbnail image of Foreman Went to France, The (1942)Foreman Went to France, The (1942)

Ealing propaganda film about a factory foreman's rescue of vital machinery

Thumbnail image of Good Die Young, The (1954)Good Die Young, The (1954)

Cynical heist thriller that was unusually bleak for the cosy mid-50s

Thumbnail image of Great Expectations (1975)Great Expectations (1975)

Michael York stars as Pip in the first colour version of Dickens' classic novel

Thumbnail image of I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945)I Live in Grosvenor Square (1945)

Wartime love triangle with Anna Neagle and Rex Harrison

Thumbnail image of Little Dorrit (1987)Little Dorrit (1987)

Ambitious two-film adaptation of one of Dickens' greatest works

Thumbnail image of Outcast of the Islands (1951)Outcast of the Islands (1951)

Underrated Joseph Conrad adaptation directed by Carol Reed

Thumbnail image of Small Back Room, The (1949)Small Back Room, The (1949)

Tense drama about an alcoholic bomb disposal expert

Thumbnail image of Story of Gilbert and Sullivan, The (1953)Story of Gilbert and Sullivan, The (1953)

Technicolor biopic of the masters of the Victorian operetta

Thumbnail image of Young Ones, The (1961)Young Ones, The (1961)

Exuberant musical in which Cliff Richard and pals fight to save their youth club

Thumbnail image of Old Men at the Zoo, The (1983)Old Men at the Zoo, The (1983)

Dark drama in which London Zoo stands for Britain's dystopian future

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