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Sheridan Morley, 65; theater critic, broadcaster and author of show business biographies

February 20, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sheridan Morley, a theater critic, broadcaster and author of many show business biographies, died Friday at his home in London, British news media reported. He was 65.

Morley, who wrote for such publications as the Times of London, Punch, the Spectator and the International Herald Tribune, reportedly died in his sleep. No cause of death was given.

"He had incredible enthusiasm and an encyclopedic knowledge of the performing arts," said Colin Paterson, the BBC's entertainment correspondent.

Morley was the son of actor Robert Morley, and grew up surrounded by film and theater personalities. Actress Gladys Cooper was his grandmother and Noel Coward his godfather.

He was named Sheridan after the character Sheridan Whiteside in the play "The Man Who Came to Dinner," in which his father was appearing in London's West End when his son was born.

Morley began his career as a news reader for ITN and worked for a variety of British broadcast outlets, including BBC2's "Late Night Line-Up," "Kaleidoscope" on Radio 4 and "Theatreland" on LWT.

He also wrote for such newspapers as the Evening Standard, the Sunday Telegraph and both the Daily and Sunday Express.

Besides a book about Coward, Morley wrote biographies of John Gielgud, Katharine Hepburn, Gertrude Lawrence, Ginger Rogers and Oscar Wilde, among others.

He published his memoirs, "Asking for Trouble," in 2002.

Morley also wrote several theatrical entertainments, including "Noel and Gertie," about Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, as well as a celebration of musical theater composer Vivian Ellis called "Spread a Little Happiness."

As a longtime observer of the British theater, he wrote "Spread a Little Happiness: The First Hundred Years of the British Musical."

A 1987 review of the book in the Los Angeles Times noted that Morley was not a great fan of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber: "He calls Webber's shows 'jumbo-jet musicals,' rooted neither in Britain nor America."

Reviewing the same book, the New York Times noted that certain sections have a "distinctly apologetic tone" in discussing less than stellar eras of the British musical theater.

"Morley quotes a bitter editor who concluded at the time that 'in order to succeed, the West End musical play should be pointless to the verge of inanity, with a plot that enables the chief comedian to lose his trousers, climb into a grandfather clock, dress as a woman, burst into mock operatics and fall over at least a dozen times,' " the Times wrote.

His marriage to Margaret Gudejko ended in divorce.

Survivors include his second wife, critic and television producer Ruth Leon; and a son and two daughters from his marriage to Gudejko.

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