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Happy Birthday, Jane Morgan!

She possessed one of the most distinctive voices heard over the radio airwaves—but you might be surprised to learn that the woman born Jennie Morgan on this date in 1880 had a rather highbrow show business career during her early years of performing.  Jane Morgan made her name as a violinist and classical singer on stage and in concert halls, once boasting of having sung everything from Jack and the Beanstalk to Carmen.  A few sources date her first appearance on radio in 1930, though she later joked to a Radio Life interviewer in 1947 that it was “whenever it was that there was no more theater.”

Jane Morgan was born in the United Kingdom (Warmley, Gloucestershire), but arrived on these shores at the age of one to settle down with her family in Boston.  Her childhood ambition was to become a concert violinist, and Jane attended the New England Conservatory of Music to achieve that purpose.  Along the way, she added voice training to her curriculum and, after graduation, joined the Boston Opera Company as a violinist-singer for $25 a week.  Because operatic roles require some dramatic interpretation, Morgan worked on her acting skills. By 1900, she was living with her widowed father and brother in Anaconda, MT. It was there Jane met the man would eventually marry—Leo Cullen Bryant, who taught music and headed up the Margaret Theater Orchestra.

Jane and Leo taught piano and violin at a school they started in Butte before moving their place of study to Nampa, ID.  Leo would eventually achieve fame as a symphony violinist and for his innovative music instruction.  As for Mrs. Bryant (Jane), she began touring in vaudeville with musical comedies and dramas like The Master Mind (1914), The Silent Voice (1914), and Her Temporary Husband (1926).  She appeared with Charlotte Greenwood in She Couldn’t Say No (1930) and with Barbara Stanwyck in Tattle Tales (1933).  She eventually transitioned into radio acting as a member of the stock company on The Lux Radio Theatre and with guest roles on shows like Dr. Christian.

Jane Morgan’s first bit of radio fame was on Point Sublime. This comedy-drama centered around a small seaport village and the romance between two of its inhabitants, Evelyn “Evy” Hanover (Jane) and storekeeper/mayor Ben Willet (Cliff Arquette).  Earle Ross, Verna Felton, Lou Merrill, and Mel Blanc were also prominent members of the cast of Sublime, which was heard over NBC’s West Coast network from 1940 to 1942, Mutual from 1942 to 1944, and then revived on ABC in 1947-48.  Morgan could also be heard daily as the titular Aunt Mary, a serialized drama with a passing similarity to Ma Perkins that was also a West Coast exclusive on NBC from 1942 to 1952 (except for a brief coast-to-coast Mutual run in 1946-47).

On The Jack Benny Program, Jane Morgan and her good friend Gloria Gordon (mother of Gale) played an adoring pair of geriatric fans named Martha and Emily.  All Gordon’s Emily had to ask was “Oh look, Martha—isn’t that Jack Benny over there?!” and the audience would be dissolved in hysterics, rightly recognizing how Benny’s writers were parodying “bobby-soxers.”  Jane originally played landlady Kathleen O’Reilly on the radio hit My Friend Irma, but she eventually relinquished the role to Gloria. (Gordon’s background was quite similar to Morgan’s — both had been born in England and both got their show business start from their studies in music.)  Jane’s other regular gigs include playing the wacky Mrs. Foster on Jack Carson’s show (The Sealtest Village Store), a variety of different roles on Bob Hope’s program, and taking over from Kathryn Card as “Mother Hemp” on Hal Peary’s Honest Harold (from 1950 to 1951).

The radio role for which Jane Morgan is most fondly remembered, however, is that of Margaret Davis, the pixilated landlady of schoolteacher Connie Brooks on the hit radio sitcom Our Miss Brooks.  Jane became so identified as Mrs. D that she would transition with most of the show’s radio cast to the small screen when OMB became a TV hit, and she reprised her role in the 1956 silver screen adaptation.  (It remains her sole movie credit, save for an uncredited bit in 1951’s Three Guys Named Mike.)  In addition to the dotty Mrs. Davis, Morgan demonstrated her considerable comedic talents on the likes of The Big ShowThe Eddie Bracken ShowFront and CenterThe Great GildersleeveThe Halls of IvyThe Harold Lloyd Comedy TheatreThe Life of RileyThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and Sweeney and March.

Jane Morgan was really a most versatile radio performer, and her non-comedic contributions include guest appearances on The Adventures of Philip MarloweArch Oboler’s PlaysBoston BlackieBroadway’s My BeatThe Cavalcade of AmericaEncore TheatreThe Eternal LightThe First Nighter ProgramThe Ford TheatreHallmark PlayhouseHedda Hopper’s HollywoodHollywood Star PlayhouseHollywood Star TimeThe Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild TheatreLet George Do ItLights OutThe Man Called XMystery in the AirNight BeatPresenting Charles BoyerRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveScreen Director’s PlayhouseThe Skippy Hollywood Theatre, Suspense, and The Whistler.  When Our Miss Brooks had its final radio curtain call in 1957, Jane decided it was time to leave the limelight. With the exception of a 1965 episode of TV’s Wendy and Me (the George Burns-Connie Stevens sitcom), she retired to her hobbies (she collected Oriental art treasures and loved gardening).  A long battle with heart disease kept her bedridden for the last five years of her life before her passing in 1972 at the age of 91.

At Radio Spirits, we pride ourselves on being able to offer multiple collections of the show that made Jane Morgan a household name, with the Our Miss Brooks sets Boynton BluesFaculty Feuds, and Good English.  (You’ll also find Our Miss Brooks broadcasts on our all-star comedy compendiums Great Radio Comedy and Great Radio Sitcoms, too.)  Our birthday girl can also be heard on The Harold Peary Show: Honest Harold and on the sets The Great Gildersleeve: Gildy for Mayor!Jack Benny: Be Our GuestLights Out, Everybody!Night Beat: Human InterestRichard Diamond, Private Detective: Mayhem is My Business, and Suspense: Beyond Good and Evil.  Happy natal anniversary, Jane!

One Comment

  1. Scott Cowden says:

    Wow! What a life & career!! Thanks for this!

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