The forgotten Hollywood war hero: Wayne Morris

Warner Brothers star, Wayne Morris in he 1930s

Warner Brothers star, Wayne Morris in he 1930s

He can be seen playing alongside Bette Davis as a boxer in “Kid Galahad” (1937) or a cadet running amok at the Virginia Military Institute in “Brother Rat.”

Wayne Morris may not be a name you’re familiar with but you have most likely seen the husky, affable blond in Warner Brothers 1930s and 1940s films.

But you may not be familiar with Morris’ war time record.
We frequently hear about Hollywood actors such as James Stewart, Clark Gable and Mickey Rooney who enlisted and were decorated for their bravery during World War II.

However, Morris is rarely recognized for his service and was one of World War II’s first flying aces.

His interest in flying started in Hollywood.

While filming “Flying Angles” (1940) with Jane Wyman and Dennis Morgan, Morris learned how to fly a plane.

Morris in 1944 in his plane "Meatball." The decals show how many Japanese planes he shot down.

Morris in 1944 in his plane “Meatball.” The decals show how many Japanese planes he shot down.

Once World War II began, Morris joined the Naval Reserve and became a Naval flier in 1942 on the U.S.S. Essex. He put his career on hold to fight. The same year he was married to Olympic swimmer Patricia O’Rourke.

“Every time they showed a picture aboard the Essex, I was scared to death it would be one of mine,” Morris said. “That’s something I could never have lived down.”

Morris flew 57 missions-while some actors only flew 20 or less- and made seven kills, which qualified him as an ace.  He also helped sink five enemy ships.

He originally was told he was too big to fly fighter planes until he went to his uncle-in-law, Cdr. David McCampbell who wrote him a letter, allowing him to fly the VF-15, according to “McCampbell’s Heroes: the Story of the U.S. Navy’s Most Celebrated Carrier Fighter of the Pacific”, Edwin P. Hoyt.

Three of his planes were so badly damaged by enemy fire that they were deemed unfit to fly and were dumped in the ocean, according to IMDB.

“As to what a fellow thinks when he’s scared, I guess it’s the same with anyone. You get fleeting glimpses in your mind of your home, your wife, the baby you want to see,” Morris said. “You see so clearly all the mistakes you made. You want another chance to correct those mistakes. You wonder how you could have attached so much importance to ridiculous, meaningless things in your life. But before you get to thinking too much, you’re off into action and everything else is forgotten.”

For his duty, Morris was honored with four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.

When he returned to Hollywood after four year at war, his once promising career floundered and Warner Brothers did not allow him to act for a year.

Jack Warner welcoming actors home from the war in 1945 including Wayne Morris, Ronald Reagan, Army Air Forces; Jack Warner; Gig Young, Coast Guard; and Harry Lewis, Army.

Jack Warner welcoming actors home from the war in 1945 including Wayne Morris, Ronald Reagan, Army Air Forces; Jack Warner; Gig Young, Coast Guard; and Harry Lewis, Army.

Morris’s most notable post-war films include “The Voice of the Turtle,” “John Loves Mary” and “Paths of Glory.” His career ended with several B-westerns.

At the age of 45, Morris passed away in 1959 from a massive heart attack.

But his service to his country was not forgotten. Morris is buried in Arlington Cemetery and was given full military honors at his funeral.

Morris with his wife Patricia and daughter Pamela in 1946.

Morris with his wife Patricia and daughter Pamela in 1946.

Though I am thankful for all men and women who serve our country, I wanted to recognize Wayne Morris.

For years I saw Wayne Morris in films and knew nothing about him except that I liked him. He is one of those character actors that can make a movie special.

Morris seemed like a regular guy. Before he started out in Hollywood, he played football at Los Angeles Junior College and worked as a forest ranger.

After I researched him and discovered his war record, I wanted to honor his service and his work in films.

Thank you to Wayne Morris and men and women in the military for serving our country.

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20 thoughts on “The forgotten Hollywood war hero: Wayne Morris

    • Thank you very much Stephen for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂
      I think actors fighting in the war is a very special topic. I don’t believe any or many contemporary actors would do the same today

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    • wow, that is a nice note. My dad was Wayne’s best friend in LA and thus I got the name Wayne. not so bad having a hero as a namesake. I love when his old movies are on tv.

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  1. A wonderful post!

    I just bought a “two-fer” set of his Westerns from Warner Archive — one costarring fave Virginia Grey — and am really looking forward to seeing them.

    Thanks for writing about Wayne Morris today!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    • Thank you Laura!
      I love Virginia Grey as well! Let me know how they are so I can maybe check them out too. I haven’t seen any of his westerns, just the comedies and films with Priscilla Lane.
      Thank you for always being so kind 🙂

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  2. Thank you for writing this. As a Priscilla Lane fan I am well aware of a good portion of Wayne Morris’ acting career and his achievements in WWII are worthy of recognition. Thank you for your service Mr. Morris.

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  3. Nice write up on Morris. He really doesn’t get the attention he deserves. He is one of the faces I always enjoy seeing when he pops up on screen.

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    • Thank you for stopping by, Robby. I enjoy seeing him too!
      He was in some Warner Brothers films with some big names but seems to get very little recognition, which is unfortunate.

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  4. Excellent and important look at on Morris’ outstanding military service.

    One of his post-war mid-budget westerns features a favourite performance. It is 1954s “Riding Shotgun” where he plays a loquacious and pragmatic lawman. He’s a regular guy trying to stay on the fence between the bad guys and the wronged good guy played by Randolph Scott. It’s not a great movie as it is marred by unnecessary narration, but it has an intriguing premise that keeps drawing me back to it.

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    • I haven’t seen much of his later stuff but I would love to check it out. It sounds like some of his post-war westerns were pretty good, except for the one that came out after his death

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  5. Lovely tribute to Wayne Morris. When he walked into a scene he always lit up the screen. But that’s terrible that Warner Brothers would not let him make a film for a year after he got back! I was thinking about starting a series of posts on actors and their service in the war and this makes me want to do that even more. We hear so little about their actual experiences fighting overseas.

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  6. Pingback: The Return of Doctor X – 1939 | The Bogie Film Blog

  7. Pingback: Wayne Morris | The Bogie Film Blog

  8. Mr Morris’ IMDb bio states that he was the father of three children, and reports one child from first wife Leonora Hornblow but none from second wife Patricia O’Rourke. Your article shows a picture of daughter Pamela. Who are the other two children or is IMDb wrong?

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      • WOW HOW COOL HE IS MY GODFATHER….THUS THE NAME WAYNE… I WAS BORN IN BURBANK,CA AND LIVED ON TALUKA LAKE FOR 8 MO AND THEN TAKEN TO OKLA WITH MY PARENTS… I ALWAYS FELT AKIN TO BERT DEWAYNE AS HE WAS A REAL WAR HERO AND FOUGHT TO GET INTO NAVAL AVIATION… I LOVE SEEING HIS OLD MOVIES

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