George Morrison, an acting teacher and director who trained, worked with, and inspired great actors including Gene Hackman, Edie Falco, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Klugman, Sandy Dennis, Judy Collins, Susan Dey, Jane Alexander, Jill Clayburgh, Joel Grey, Stanley Tucci, Scott Glenn and Ving Rhames, has died. He was 86.
Hackman thanked Morrison in his acceptance speech after winning the best actor Oscar for “The French Connection” in 1972.
Morrison was a founding faculty member of the acting program at SUNY Purchase, and he co-founded the New Actors Workshop with Mike Nichols and Paul Sills.
He became close friends with Nichols and Sills while attending the University of Chicago and would continue to work with them throughout his life. He was involved as a director with the Compass Players in Chicago before it became the Second City, and he studied directing at Yale Drama School.
After coming to New York in the 1950s, he directed several Off Broadway productions, including Dustin Hoffman and Joel Grey in “Harry, Noon, and Night” at the American Place Theater and “Epitaph for George Dillon.” He directed improvisation-based revues Off Broadway at the Premise with a company that included Gene Hackman, George Furth, Cynthia Harris and Ron Leibman, and, at Upstairs at the Downstairs, a cabaret revue that included Mary Louise Wilson and Jane Alexander. He also directed a long-running production of Pinter’s “The Caretaker” in Chicago and several television shows.
On Broadway, he directed Jack Klugman and Jill Clayburgh (in her Broadway debut) in “The Sudden & Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson.” He directed Gene Hackman and Sandy Dennis in “Any Wednesday,” and in one of the most painful moments of his career was fired by the producers one week before it opened to rave reviews and a long run.
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But in teaching that Morrison truly found his calling and made his mark on the theater world. He taught acting in New York for more than 50 years, training several generations of actors, directors, playwrights, producers and teachers. He ran an independent studio (the George Morrison Studio) for many years before becoming a founder of the theater arts department at SUNY Purchase – one of the premier acting conservatories at a public college in the United States – and served as a senior professor there for 18 years. He then co-founded – with Nichols and Sills – the New Actors Workshop, an independent conservatory for professional actor training, serving as president for 22 years before his retirement in 2009. He was known for mentoring “actor’s actors” and for his innovative, ever-evolving teaching.
Morrison’s most illustrious alumni were Gene Hackman and Edie Falco, both of whom studied with him from a young age. Hundreds of other working actors studied with him and credit his teaching as being foundational to their work. Hackman and Falco have been particularly vocal about Morrison’s contributions. Ms. Falco said that “George nurtured my talents in unique and crucial ways.” Hackman said in an interview that he had “the most influence on me of anybody in the business. He saw something in me that others didn’t. I am eternally grateful to him.”
George Morrison was the son of a self-taught tinkerer who invented one of the first color copiers, the Brightype. As a child he performed magic shows for extra money around his hometown of Evanston, Ill. He served in the Army.