Christopher Morley (1890-1957), American man of letters, successful in many pursuits including journalist, humourist, playwright, poet, essayist and editor. Sometimes compared to Noel Coward's sophistication, the mordantly witty author embarked on a prolific career which produced such works as the stream-of-consciousness best-selling novel Kitty Foyle (1939).
On 5 May 1890, Christopher Darlington Morley was born in Haverford, Pennsylvania. His father, Frank Morley, was a math professor at Haverford College, his mother, Lilian Janet Bird, a musician and poet who would teach her son to read. The Morley's moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1900. In 1906 Morley entered Haverford College, and as valedictorian graduated four years later. His brother Felix Morley would later become President of Haverford.
During his college days his stories and articles were published in the Haverfordian which he also edited for a time. He participated in the drama program, writing and acting, and played cricket and soccer. Morley then went on to study modern history at New College, Oxford University, London, England on a Rhodes scholarship. A volume of his poems, The Eighth Sin, was published in 1912.
Returning to the United States in 1913 he began his life of letters at Doubleday, Page and Co. of Long Island, New York. He also married the same year, Helen Fairchild, with whom he'd have four children. In Philadelphia he would edit the Ladies' Home Journal (1917-1918), and the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger. He published essays and poetry as well as his first novel, Parnassus on Wheels (1917). Appealing to booklovers, it's the story of travelling bookseller Roger Mifflin and is continued in his best-selling The Haunted Bookshop (1919);
"Malnutrition of the reading faculty is a serious thing. Let us prescribe for you. By R. & H. MIFFLIN, Proprs."
In 1920, Roslyn Estates in Nassau county of New York state would be the next and final residence of the Morleys, their home called "Green Escape". The Bowling Green is the column Morley wrote for the New York Evening Post, one of them in honour of his friend, O Rare Don Marquis. Morley was one of the founders, and editor for sixteen years of the Saturday Review of Literature. For the Book-of-the-Month Club he was involved in the selection process and wrote reviews. Walt Whitman's poetry provided much inspiration for his own and in 1927 twelve volumes of his work was published.
"The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads into madness."
One poem in particular, Caught in the Undertow (1921), expresses Morley's wry and witty perspective on life and love;
Colin, worshipping some frail,
By self-deception sways her:
Calls himself unworthy male,
Hardly even fit to praise her.
But this tactic insincere
In the upshot greatly grieves him
When he finds the lovely dear
Quite implicitly believes him.
From 1928 to 1930 he co-produced dramas in New Jersey theatres. His collection of humorous essays Pipefuls was published in 1920. The satire with a dog named after author George Gissing, Where the Blue Begins appeared two years later. "No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does." Thunder on the Left (1925) followed. During his time at Doubleday he also collaborated with Ogden Nash on Born in a Beer Garden or, She Troupes to Conquer: Sunday Ejaculations by Christopher Morley, Cleon Throckmorton, Ogden Nash and Certain of the Hoboken Ads, with a Commentary by Earnest Elmo Calkins (1930).
Around 1936 Morley assisted in the revision of the 11th and 12th editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. It was at this time that he built his cabin called "The Knothole" on the rear of his Roslyn property, where he would produce most of his work for the rest of his life. After his death the cabin was moved from the property to Christopher Morley Park on adjacent Searingtown Road. Morley's autobiographical novel of his Haverford, Oxford and Paris days, John Mistletoe and Human Being both appeared in 1931. Ex Libris Carissimis (1932) is based on the series of lectures he did at the University of Pennsylvania and at University of Hawaii, Shakespeare and Hawaii (1933).
He formed the "Three Hours for Lunch Club" and as a devotee to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Morley authored many works including Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship (1944). He also helped found the "Baker Street Irregulars" club in 1934 which today still produces The Baker Street Journal. He wrote prefaces to works of authors he admired including H. H. Munro and William Shakespeare.
When it first appeared in 1939, Kitty Foyle raised the ire of his critics. Dealing with such controversial topics as abortion, the Irish immigrant-turns-career-girl story became a best seller and was made into an Academy Award winning movie starring Ginger Rogers in 1942. During the 1940s Morley continued to edit works from his favourite authors including Sir Francis Bacon, and a close friend and humorist Don Marquis. Indicative of Morley's sense of humour and mischief, in 1942 he wrote his own obituary for the biographical dictionary Twentieth Century Authors. His last novel was The Man Who Made Friends with Himself (1949).
In 1951 Morley suffered a series of strokes that would impede his work. On 28 March 1957 Christopher Morley died and is buried at the Roslyn Cemetery in Roslyn, Nassau County, New York, USA. Upon his death the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune published his personal message to his friends and colleagues.
"Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity."~ Christopher Morley
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.
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