Robert Morse, who began and ended his career with lovable spoofs of corporate America, first winning a Tony Award for his star-making turn in the 1961 Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and later overseeing the offices of Mad Men as the shoe-free sage Bertram Cooper, has died at the age of 90.
His passing was announced on Twitter by screenwriter Larry Karaszewski, who worked with Morse on The People v. O.J. Simpson. “My good pal Bobby Morse has passed away at age 90,” he wrote. “A huge talent and a beautiful spirit.” Neither the cause of death nor the date of passing has been made public.
Morse was born May 18th, 1931, in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of Charles, who managed a movie theater chain, and Mary, a pianist. After a stint in the navy, he had a one-episode run on TV drama The Secret Storm in 1954 and Goodyear Playhouse in 1955 before making his uncredited film debut in 1956’s The Proud and Profane, as a bandage-wrapped casualty of war.
After a frustratingly unproductive time in Hollywood, Morse moved to New York, where he quickly became a Broadway star. His breakthrough came as one of the comical clerks in Thornton Wilder’s classic play The Matchmaker. Just a few years later, How to Succeed in Business ran for over 1,400 performances, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and seven Tony Awards, including a Best Actor trophy for Morse.
He became one of the most in-demand stage actors of his generation, though Hollywood success remained elusive. “The parts I could play they give to Jack Lemmon,” he told The Sunday News of New York in 1965.
Morse found a second act as a television day player, regularly popping up on shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, All My Children, The Night Gallery, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Murder, She Wrote. He also became a steady presence in animated series, finding recurring work in Pound Puppies while lending his voice to Rugrats, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, The Wild Thornberries, and The Legend of Korra.
For many years, meatier dramatic roles kept just out of reach. “I’m the short, funny guy,” he said in a 1972 interview with The New York Times. “It’s very difficult to get out of that.” But get out of it he did in 1990, winning his second Tony Award in Tru, a one-man show in which he played Truman Capote.
While his stature and comic timing remained unaltered, he found a place on one of the most beloved dramas of the last two decades when he joined the cast of Mad Men. “I was quite elated when [creator] Matt [Weiner] called me and said, ‘We’d love you to do this show,’” he told The Times in 2014. “I said I’d be happy to be Bertram Cooper, chairman of the board, and sit behind a desk. It looked like the road company of ‘How to Succeed.’”
Morse played Cooper for seven seasons, all the way through the character’s death while watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. As a callback to his Broadway roots, he returned in a dream sequence to sing “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”
“What a send-off!” Morse said. “The opportunity to shine in the spotlight that Matt Weiner gave me — it was an absolute love letter. Christmas and New Year’s, all rolled into one.”
Since then, Morse has stayed busy with meaty parts on The People v. O.J. Simpson and Teen Titans Go!, where he voiced Santa Claus as recently as last year.
My good pal Bobby Morse has passed away at age 90. A huge talent and a beautiful spirit. Sending love to his son Charlie & daughter Allyn. Had so much fun hanging with Bobby over the years – filming People v OJ & hosting so many screenings (How To Succeed, Loved One, That’s Life) pic.twitter.com/H1vCD3jjulAdvertisement
— Larry Karaszewski (@Karaszewski) April 21, 2022