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Richard Morris; Screen and Stage Writer

May 01, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Morris, writer for film, television and stage who penned the Broadway musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and the motion picture "Thoroughly Modern Millie," has died. He was 72.

Morris, who lived in Sherman Oaks, died Saturday of cancer at the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center.

After its 1960 Broadway debut, Morris adapted "Molly Brown," with music by Meredith Willson, for a 1964 screen version starring Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell.

Morris paired again with Willson in 1969 for the less successful musical "1491" about Christopher Columbus, which made its debut at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion starring John Cullum and Chita Rivera.

"Columbus was a super-salesman, the 15th century's slickest," Morris told The Times when the play opened. A history buff and world traveler, Morris wrote the musical based on his speculation that Columbus seduced Spain's Queen Isabella in order to win her financial backing for his expedition to America.

Morris' greatest screen success was "Millie" with Carol Channing and Julie Andrews in 1967, for which he won a Writers Guild Award. At the time of his death, he was working with his writing partner Dick Scanlan on a stage version of the film.

A native of Burlingame, Calif., Morris attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles for a year before enlisting in the Army. He wrote shows in the special services division during World War II.

After the war, he studied acting at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse and wrote comedy sketches for such performers as Kaye Ballard.

The sketches earned him a screenwriting job at Universal Studios, where he had minor early success with "Finders Keepers" starring Tom Ewell in 1951 and "Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair" starring Marjorie Main in 1952.

Morris then moved to television, writing episodes for Ann Sothern in the "Private Secretary" series and writing and directing for "The Loretta Young Show."

His other motion picture screenplays included "If a Man Answers" with Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee in 1962 and "Change of Habit" with Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore in 1969.

Morris is survived by a brother, Walter, of Hillsborough, Calif.

A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. today in the Evans Chapel of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, 16221 Mulholland Drive.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the American Cancer Society.

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