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Helen Morgan (Paperback)

The Original Torch Singer and Ziegfeld's Last Star

P&S History > Humanities > Biography & Memoirs

Imprint: University Press of Kentucky
Series: Screen Classics
Pages: 416
Illustrations: 70 b&w illustrations
ISBN: 9781985900592
Published: 6th August 2024
Casemate UK Academic



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An emotive soprano, heartrending melodies about unrequited love, and a draped-over-the-piano persona made Helen Morgan (1902–1941) the original torch singer, but she was so much more. The versatile actress appeared on Broadway, in film, and on radio. In a number of stage revues, she danced, sang, and excelled in sketch comedy. She played Julie in Kern and Hammerstein's Broadway musical Show Boat (1927) and also starred in the duo's Sweet Adeline in 1929. That same year, Morgan appeared in Rouben Mamoulian's classic film Applause. When the Great Depression made theater roles scarce, she headed the CBS radio program Broadway Melodies and worked in the emerging medium of television.

Yet Morgan's life was one of extremes. She earned a million dollars throughout her career but remained in constant debt. She was one of the most universally beloved people in her profession, but a stable romantic relationship eluded her until the very end of her life. She was a protofeminist who aided women facing unplanned pregnancies, yet she also sought respite in a man whose financial support would allow her to retire from the stage. Through it all, she battled alcoholism; brandy would eventually extinguish her flame in 1941.

Helen Morgan: The Original Torch Singer and Ziegfeld's Last Star is the first biography of the gifted performer since 1974. Author Christopher Connelly utilizes interviews, newspaper articles, and family scrapbooks to present an honest and unflinching look at Morgan's life. Connelly's meticulous research addresses Morgan's troubled childhood, including her mother's six marriages, and the trauma of her stepfather's arrest and conviction for manslaughter in 1913. Also revealed are details regarding her early career in vaudeville and silent film, insights into the speakeasy and supper-club culture that served as a backdrop to Morgan's career, and accounts of her outstanding accomplishments, philanthropic actions, and enduring popularity. This gripping narrative presents the brief but brilliant life of a complex, talented, and iconic entertainer.

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