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Helen Morgan (August 2, 1900 – October 9, 1941) was a US theater and film singer and actress. Singer of the genre torch, caused a sensation in the musical stages of the Chicago clubs in the 1920s. She was known for her role as Julie LaVerne in the original production represented on the Broadway circuit of the musical Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern Show Boat (1927), as well as in the replacement of 1932 and in the two cinematographic adaptations of the work, one from 1929 and the other from 1936.
Her real name was Helen Riggins , and she was born in Danville, Illinois. His father was Frank Riggins, a farmer, and his mother’s name was Lulu Lang Riggins. After divorcing, she remarried, adopting the surname “Morgan”. The second marriage of his mother also ended in divorce, so he decided to move to Chicago with his daughter. Helen did not complete her studies, and had to work in different jobs to make a living, as a manicurist, cashier or extra cinematographic. At twenty years of age, Morgan had followed voice lessons, and had begun to sing in Chicago speakeasies. Although his voice did not seem adequate in those years for the type of songs in which he specialized, he achieved a great reputation within the genre torch (sentimental songs). It became characteristic of his performances in Billy Rose’s Backstage Club in 1925, which was presented to the audience wrapped in a silk scarf and sitting on the piano. However, despite the dry law in the United States, Morgan became an alcoholic, and was often seen drunk during her performances.
Morgan was discovered by Florenz Ziegfeld when she danced in Sally’s choir in 1923, performing at the Ziegfeld Follies in 1931, the last active year of the Follies. During that period, she studied music at the Metropolitan Opera during her free time, however, in the course of her work on Show Boat, Morgan’s stardom ran into difficulties. Her fame in the world of New York nightclubs (which were really illegal speakeasies at the time of the ban) led her to perform at a club called Chez Morgan. On December 30, 1927, a few days after the premiere of Show Boat, she was arrested in Chez Morgan for violating anti-alcohol laws. The charges were dropped in February 1928, and the club reopened with the name of Helen Morgan’s Summer Home, but she was again arrested, and this time she was charged. However, in a trial held in April 1929, she was acquitted by the jury.
In 1927, Morgan acted as Julie LaVerne in the original cast of the musical Show Boat, her best-known role. She sang “Bill” (with lyrics by PG Wodehouse and music by Jerome Kern) and “Can not Help Lovin ‘Dat Man” in two theatrical performances and two adaptations to the film of the musical produced in an interval of eleven years.
Another one of its outstanding papers was the one of Kitty Darling in the film of Rouben Mamoulian premiered in 1929 Applause, in which it exhibited an excellent interpretation and in which there was also to sing a cappella.
After performing in the 1929 film version of Show Boat, she participated in the musical Kern and Hammerstein represented on the Broadway Sweet Adeline circuit.
Morgan also starred in a radio show, Broadway Varieties, on CBS. The show, which played light, popular and semi-classical music, was broadcast from September 24, 1933 until April 22, 1934. A later version was issued, without Morgan, from May 2, 1934 until July 30. of 1937.
His last film performance took place in the version of Show Boat premiered in 1936, and which has often been considered the best of the two films about the musical (the 1951 version in Technicolor was the other, since the of 1929 was based on the novel by Edna Ferber of the same title, and that was the origin of the musical).
At the end of the 1930s, Morgan was hired to participate in a show at Chicago’s Loop Theater. However, at that time she was already drunk, and in 1940 she had to be hospitalized, after embodying Julie La Verne one last time in a Show Boat revamp carried out in Los Angeles. He was able to perform again in 1941, thanks to his manager, Lloyd Johnson. However, alcoholism caused her to collapse while performing in George White’s Scandals of 1942, dying of liver cirrhosis in Chicago, Illinois, on October 9, 1941. She was 41 years old. Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, in Alsip (Illinois).
Morgan had married three times, the first with an admirer, Lowell Army, whom she had met while performing in Sally. Her second husband was Maurice “Buddy” Maschke, with whom she had married on May 15, 1933, and from whom she divorced several years later. His last marriage was with Lloyd Johnson, with whom he married on July 27, 1941. On June 25, 1926, in Springfield (Illinois), Morgan had a daughter, Elaine Danglo, who gave him up for adoption.
Morgan was played by Polly Bergen in a drama in the anthology series Playhouse 90 in 1957, The Helen Morgan Story, directed by George Roy Hill. Bergen won an Emmy Award for her performance, and in that same year the feature film The Helen Morgan Story premiered, in which Ann Blyth played Morgan.
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