Raymond R. Morgan Jr., president for 50 years of the corporation that owned radio and television show “Queen for a Day,” originated by his father, died Wednesday in Del Mar, Calif., of natural causes. He was 88.
On his way to New York to pitch the show in March 1945, Morgan Sr. visited his son, a Marine stationed at Camp Le Jeune, and told him about the project. “What we’ll do,” Morgan Sr. told his son, “is take a lady who has never had anything special happen and grant her fondest wish. We’ll give her some prizes, too, and a new outfit. Then over to a swanky beauty salon to get her all fixed up and off for a night on the town.”
“Queen for a Day” debuted on the Mutual Broadcasting System two months later and ran continuously on network radio and television for the next 20 years. Throughout the 1950s, “Queen for a Day” was the No. 1 rated daytime half-hour. Over two decades, emcee Jack Bailey crowned over 5,000 women as queen and gave away more than $17 million in prizes. Over 2 million people attended the broadcasts of the program, which originated from a Hollywood theater-restaurant.
Morgan Jr. began his career as a time salesman for WDSU-TV New Orleans. Four years later, he returned to California when his father’s firm was acquired by New York advertising agency Fletcher D. Richards Inc. Morgan Sr. died in 1958, and Morgan Jr. took over as president of “Queen for a Day.” The show continued on ABC for six more years.
Morgan entered the advertising business in 1964, joining forces with Robert F. Anderson. A supporter of the presidential candidacy of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, Morgan was asked to produce a television documentary that would underscore the difference between traditional American values and the “anything goes” generation of the 1960s. The result was “Choice,” a symbolic 30-minute blitzkrieg of soundbites, file footage, still pictures and narrative over a rock soundtrack. The techniques employed in “Choice” would become mainstream years later.
Goldwater declared “Choice” too controversial and nixed primetime showings scheduled on every major network. Although never released or shown to the general public, prints of “Choice” found their way to collectors, educational institutions and film industry archives. It continues to be featured at seminars and retrospectives as a landmark in art of political communications.
Morgan Jr. was a committee chairman in Ronald Reagan’s first campaign for governor of California in 1966 and successful run for re-election four years later. Reagan appointed him to the Governor’s Commission on Traffic Safety, and a TV commercial Morgan produced about speeding — “Over 55 mph, St. Christopher gets out” — won an Emmy for the commission in 1970.
Several pilots for a new version of “Queen for a Day” — a forerunner of many of today’s makeover reality shows — have been produced; the most recent was a one-hour special on Lifetime in May 2005.
In 2007 Morgan sold the rights to the title and concept “Queen for a Day” to former Univision president Michael Wortsman. In association with syndicator RDF-USA, Wortsman plans a new and multi-national version of the show.
Ray Morgan Jr. was born in Oakland, Calif., and grew up in Los Angeles. He served three years in the Marine Corps beginning in 1943 and graduated from Stanford with a degree in journalism in 1948.
He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Mickie, and two stepsons.