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  • Morse Code
  • R. F. Dietrich (bio)
Robert E. Wood and Anthony Wynn. Valiant for Truth: Barry Morse and His Lifelong Association with Bernard Shaw. Portland, Oregon, and Calgary, Alberta: Planet Publications (Lulu), 2012. 219 pages. $23.95 paper.

In 1995, Robert Wood and Anthony Wynn worked with Barry Morse when he co-starred with June Lockhart in A. R. Gurney’s play, Love Letters, which gave them the opportunity to listen to one of the consummate professionals tell wonderful stories about his amazingly busy and varied career in theater, television, film, and radio, which added up to more than three thousand roles. It undoubtedly added up to considerably more than three thousand words to tell the story of that career or provide acting venues for it, as Wood and Wynn did in the ensuing years in a variety of ways, from the co-authoring with Morse of books such as the autobiographical Pulling Faces, Making Noises (2004) and the theatrical memoir Remember with Advantages (2007), to scripts for television, radio, the stage, audio recordings, CD projects, etc., in which Morse displayed his art in all its fantastic range.

Although the world knew Barry Morse as Police Lieutenant Gerard, “the most hated man in America” as he relentlessly pursued the innocent Dr. Kimble in the hit 1960s TV series The Fugitive, Wood and Wynn discovered that there was a sort of “Morse code” operating in Morse’s life which signaled the fact that he was more the pursued than the pursuer, that from the age of fifteen on G. B. Shaw was always “on his case” in the sense of often being on his mind as a guide to life in and out of the theater. In 2009, at a symposium sponsored by the International Shaw Society at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Wynn delivered a talk entitled “Shavianism—A Morse Code: The Lifelong Dedication of Barry Morse to George Bernard Shaw,” in which was begun the revealing of that code that has resulted in this book, a book that is chock-full of Shaviana (including a collection of rare photographs), much of which will not be found anywhere else.

Born in 1918 and raised in London’s Shoreditch area, ironically the locus of much of the vibrant life of the Elizabethan theater, but despised in the early twentieth century as a slum to escape from, Barry Morse exited that [End Page 214] world when he underwent a Pygmalion-like transformation after luckily receiving at the age of fifteen a scholarship to learn acting at RADA, the very same Royal Academy of Dramatic Art that Shaw had helped establish financially (and continues to benefit through his will) and helped to lead with advice to its board. At Morse’s RADA audition, Shaw was already in his life in spirit, as he chose for one of his audition pieces the Chaplain’s recantation of the burning of Joan of Arc in Shaw’s Saint Joan. The actual Shaw materialized later with visits to RADA, some with administrative purposes primary, but occasionally to visit with the students and teach acting. How to play the lion in Androcles and the Lion was Morse’s most amusing lesson from Shaw, taught by illustration as Shaw got down on the floor and impersonated a lion having its belly rubbed. Would that there had been a smartphone camera around to capture that!

At RADA, Morse soon learned precisely what Eliza Doolittle had learned under similar tutelage: that you could play royalty if you could speak the part. So Morse’s cockney accent disappeared, replaced by the King’s English and whatever other dialect was called for by the role. The kindly ministrations of Shaw to the young actor changed him in other ways too, partly as it encouraged the reading and playing of the playwright’s works, leading gradually to such total absorption of Shavian ideas about life and theater that he found himself in numerous Shaw roles as his career developed because they had become second nature to him. And so it came to pass that, after the young Morse’s eventual move to Canada, it seemed only logical and natural, in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 214-217
Launched on MUSE
2013-09-17
Open Access
No
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