Saturday, September 26, 2015
Kiss Me, Kate Meets Cinderella
After several opera stars turned him down, Cole Porter found himself without a leading lady. The show’s director suggested an unknown: Patricia Morison, a working movie actress in supporting roles, from B pictures (Queen of the Amazons) to a cut above that. (She has the distinction of performing in the last film of three popular series: the Thin Man, the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan and the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes.)
Though she sang for soldiers on USO tours and at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II, she hadn’t sung a note in the movies. Cole Porter invited her to sing for him at his house in Hollywood. Her agent told her it wasn’t for any particular role, and she did it just for the contact and the experience. But according to Porter, as soon as she walked in he knew she was the one—if she could sing. He accompanied her on piano, and discovered, yes, she could.
But the producers were still considering other possibilities, and the writers had to be consulted. Unfortunately they were all in New York, and Patricia couldn’t afford the plane fare.
Then out of the blue she was invited to sing at a Bob Hope USO reunion concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The producers and writer Bella Sprewack were in the audience, and they all were convinced. Patricia Morison got the role as Lilli Vanessi.
She was a great success. At the opening night party, after the rave reviews came in, she told everyone that she felt Cole Porter “has just lifted me out of my pumpkin coach.” It was a Cinderella story for real.
Morison had another success in the original production of The King and I, both on Broadway and on its national tour. She subsequently sang in many touring musicals, and performed her starring role in Kiss Me, Kate many times, including in a television movie in 1964, onstage in Seattle in 1965 and for the last time, in Birmingham, England in 1978—30 years after her Broadway opening.
Patricia Morison turned 100 earlier this year, and is the last surviving member of the original cast of Kiss Me, Kate. She lives in southern California.