Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mary Lawton Morgan, Theatrical Star

Mary Lawton Morgan in her mink coat in The Deadly Game (1964)

Mary Lawton Morgan, Theatrical Star

I was just eight years old when I saw my mom in a play at Lakewood Little Theater (now the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood, Ohio). She appeared in The Deadly Game (1964). Her part was an important one but her appearance was at the end of the last act.  I remember her laughing and suggesting that the only reason she got the role was because she owned her own mink coat (which she wore in the show). Mom had been active in performing dramatic readings as a member or the Three Arts Club. I remember her rehearsing The Women in our living room. “Jungle Red Sylvia,” she read as her character had been to a manicurist at a salon in which the story revolves. I have since seen the 1939 movie The Women and read the play The Deadly Game. I can see why she was well cast in each.

Another movie helped me remember the plot of a play in which my mom appeared at LLT in 1964. The Best Man, of course, was a play before it was a movie starring Henry Fonda. Her next role at LLT was as star in Mary Mary in 1965 (Debbie Reynolds played Mary in the movie version). A few years later she was in Any Wednesday (1967) which was a comedy about marital infidelity.  Later she was in a play at LLT called What Did We Do Wrong? which was probably timely in 1968.

I remember mom preparing for her role in The Cactus Flower in 1970. She practiced the sort of sing-song-y phone reception her role called for as assistant to dentist Dr. Winston. “Doctor Winston’s Office,” she repeated as an efficient office manager. The role was played by Goldie Hawn in the movies.

Mom completed a Masters degree in Theater at Case Western Reserve University in her early 40s and refocused her energies on directing. She was named director in residence at Clague Playhouse somewhere around 1970. In that role she would direct The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd; Man of LaMancha; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and stay active in running the venue that seated fewer than 100 or so patrons a performance.

In 1977 mom returned to act at Lakewood Little Theater in Veronica’s Room. A role for which she was honored at best actress that season. (She had served as guest director for the play Gypsy at LLT but, I think, was happy to return to that stage.)

I saw my mom fill in for an actress who was sick once. Mom was director but was able to step-up like an under-study. She was a nun/school teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It was impressive to see her ability to perform at the drop of the hat like that.   

Of course, mom was a supporter of the Great Lakes Shakespeare (in fact, she was even invited to speak to a group about The Taming of the Shrew). Her talk was scholarly. She demonstrated her academic side. After all, she was now the holder of a Masters degree in Theater. (A thesis paper on Othello was part of her coursework so she was a student of Shakespeare.). I was proud of my mom that day and so glad to be among the audience (with my dad). The event was staged outside the auditorium and dubbed the Rose & Crown Inn for that event.

Somewhere around 1978 she played the part of Aunt Eller in Oklahoma. She was brave enough to even sing for that role. She also agreed to direct a production of West Side Story for St. Edward High School.  My parents started to spent more time in Key Biscayne, Florida and eventually moved there full time in 1985 when they sold their house at 15106 Edgewater Drive.    

Mom passed on in 2011. The wonderful people at The Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood dove in to the archives and recently shared some production stills from the Lakewood Little Theater period of which mom was so involved. (In addition to acting she was also a teacher in teen workshops/classes.)
Note: My brother Greg reminded me that mom also performed in Berea. My sister Lynn reminded me of mom directing a production of Laugh In at Wildwood.


  1. She was in The Subject Was Roses, a three-actor drama, very Irish-American and extremely powerful. The playwright, Frank Gilroy, won a Pulitzer prize for this work. Mary Morgan's performance was staged at John Carroll University during my freshman year (1965-1966), but I'm sure it was not a JCU production.

    Philip Lawton

    1. Thanks for sharing that Philip. Glad you saw that show and also Mary, Mary at LLT.