Patricia Morison, who starred as shrewish diva Lilli Vanessi in the original 1948 Broadway production of “Kiss Me, Kate” as well as Anna Leonowens in the 1954 run of “The King and I” opposite Yul Brynner, died of natural causes in her Los Angeles home Sunday. She was 103.
Morison was born on March 15, 1915 in New York City, the daughter of playwright and actor William Morison and Selena Fraser, a British Intelligence agent during World War I. After graduating from high school, Morison took acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse and made her stage debut at the Provincetown Playhouse in the musical revue “Don’t Mind the Rain.” Her Broadway debut followed shortly, in 1933’s “Growing Pains,” though she never appeared on stage, instead acting as the stand-by for Helen Hayes in the lead role of Victoria Regina.
After catching the eye of talent scouts, Morison signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and made her feature film debut in the 1939 film “Persons in Hiding.” She starred in eight more films through 1942, including her first in the villainous role she would go on to inhabit as a femme fatale in “Romance of the Rio Grande.”
When the United States became involved in WWII in 1942, Morison participated in a USO tour of Great Britain and returned to cinema as a freelancer. Her career continued to be prolific — she landed roles in “The Song of Bernadette,” “Hitler’s Madman” and “The Fallen Sparrow” in 1943, “Calling Dr. Death,” “Without Love,” and “Lady on a Train.”
After appearing in several more films, Morison made her stage return in 1948 in Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” opposite Alfred Drake, which even further cemented her notoriety and made her a bonafide Broadway star. The play ran on Broadway for a record-breaking total of 1,077 performances over two and a half years, before Morison took it to London for another 400 performances. The production earned six Tony awards, including the first ever for best musical.
Adding to her star power, Morison took over the role of Anna Leonowens in the Rodgers and Hammerstein production of “The King and I,” co-starring Yul Brynner in his star-making role as the King of Siam. Morison appeared in “The King and I” until its Broadway closing on March 20, 1954, and then continued with the production on the national tour through 1959.
Morison’s career also expanded to include television in the ’50s and ’60s, mainly in musical roles in variety shows, though she also had a recurring non-musical role in the 1952 series “The Cases of Eddie Drake” and appeared in a guest role on “Have Gun — Will Travel.” She continued to be remembered for her “The King and I” tenure: she and Brynner performed “Shall We Dance” on a special anniversary broadcast of the Tony Awards in 1971.
Morison was active on stage through the ’60s and ’70s, and made special appearances well into the 2000s, including a performance on stage for Broadway Backwards, a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in 2014 at age 99. She performed “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” and received a six-minute standing ovation.
In her later years, Morison took up her early passion of painting, with several showings in and around Los Angeles, New York and Japan. Never married, she lived in Los Angeles the remainder of her life, and continued to support theater and organizations such as The Actors Fund, The LGBT Community Center, The Thaiians, and The Hollywood Museum.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Actors Fund or Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.