Chester Morris was the son of actors William Morris and comedienne Etta Hawkins; Morris' siblings, Adrian and Wilhelmina, later became performers as well. Reportedly in silent films at the age of nine, Morris' certified Broadway debut, at 15, was in Lionel Barrymore's The Copperhead; that same year (1917), Morris graduated from the New York School of Fine Arts. He billed himself as "the youngest leading man in the country" -- which, at 17, he may very well have been. He was Oscar-nominated for his first talking-picture role in Alibi (1929). Morris spent the 1930s alternating between tough-guy stuff like The Big House (1930) and tux-and-tails assignments in films like The Divorcee (1930). From 1940 through 1949, Morris starred as Boston Blackie in a lively series of Columbia B-pictures, a role which gave him opportunities to indulge his fondness for elaborate makeups and sleight-of-hand. During the 1950s, Morris headlined the touring companies of several Broadway plays, including Detective Story and Advise and Consent; he also hosted the syndicated TV anthology Captured. Chester Morris died of a barbiturate overdose while he was starring in a Bucks County Playhouse production of Caine Mutiny Court Martial; his last film, The Great White Hope, was released shortly after his death.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- At age 12, began practicing magic and was considered a top amateur magician.
- At age 15, dropped out of school to begin his Broadway career.
- Toured with his family for two years performing a comedy sketch entitled "The Horrors of Home" on the vaudeville circuit.
- Worked in silent films and sound films.
- The Boston haircut, popular in the 1940s, was made famous by Boston Blackie, a character played by him in 14 films.
- During World War II, toured with the USO performing magic tricks.