Joe Morella, a former Variety reporter who became a biographer of numerous Hollywood stars, died Aug. 13 of Covid-related illness in San Diego, Calif. He was 81.
Morella wrote at least a dozen biographies — often co-authored by Edward Z. Epstein — of stars including Loretta Young, Lucille Ball, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Clark Gable and Bob Hope.
He also wrote books on Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and Simon and Garfunkel. In 2012, his novel “Murder on the Hearst Yacht,” speculating about the death of 1920s silent film producer Thomas Ince, was published.
Morella founded the website ClassicMovieChat with Frank Segers, another Variety alum, which has since published more than 2,700 blog posts covering a wide array of topics relating to classic Hollywood.
The late Johnny Madden, another Variety colleague, bequeathed to Joe several shoe boxes full of informal unpublished movie star photographs taken by the late Donald Gordon (a former Hollywood actor and Madden’s landlord) that ultimately became a regular staple on ClassicMovieChat.
Among the Gordon collection are candid shots of memorable Hollywood stars from Joan Crawford to Sydney Greenstreet.
Morella was born Nov. 19, 1939 in Nutley, N.J., and was a high school classmate of Martha Stewart. After attending Montclair State U., he gravitated toward showbiz journalism, and took a job in the late 1960s as a reporter for Variety.
At Variety, he became an indispensable administrative assistant to editor Abel Green.
Morella also worked for Universal as publicity-promotion agent for the studio’s productions in the 1960s, where he toured venues such as state fairs and regional sporting events to accompany stars pitching their latest products.
In his later years, Morella – along with his longtime companion and husband, Jim Bliss – developed real estate properties in Tucson, Arizona and in San Diego and enjoyed traveling and foreign cruises.
He is survived by Bliss and numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.