L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 904, January 1, 2017
A Century of Kevin O’Morrison
by Jim Davidson
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
“I can’t believe you did that,” said Joan. “You closed the door right in those FBI men’s faces!”
She was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, where she’d been listening.
“That’s right,” said Des.
“You’re defending a criminal and you don’t even know him!”
“He belted an officer and went AWOL, that’s all.”
“The government is after him!”
“Government—I never seen those two before in my life.”
“You’ve never seen Nikos at all!”
“Yeah, but Nikos is family.”
—The Dead File, by Kevin O’Morrison
One of my earliest memories was being in my grandmother Blanche and great aunt Dori’s home, watching my mother’s cousin Kevin O’Morrison on television, acting in a commercial for Reynold’s Wrap. Kevin was smiling, clean-shaven, wearing a work shirt and a big white butcher’s apron. You could see that he was enjoying himself. Given the ways residuals work, I think Kevin dined out on that commercial for many years thereafter. For a while, and to quite a few people, he was the “Reynold’s Wrap Man.” A super hero of mundane proportions, wrapping meat at the speed of hands.
You may not have seen him in that role, especially if you are under 50, but you might have seen him as the drunken doctor in the mini-series Lonesome Dove, or as Meg Ryan’s father in Sleepless in Seattle. He also played a sheriff in Chevy Chase’s zany comedy Funny Farm. Older readers may recall Kevin in roles such as a prizefighters in the classic film noir boxing drama The Set-Up (1949) and in The Golden Gloves Story (1950).
The Hollywood Reporter notes “He made his movie debut in Dear Ruth (1947), starring Joan Caulfield and William Holden.” Fans of JD Salinger may notice the names of those two stars, Holden and Caulfield, with some delight. He played in Peter Yates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) opposite Robert Mitchum. The Reporter continues, “On television, O’Morrison played the title character on the 1950-51 series Charlie Wild, Private Detective and was on The United States Steel Hour, Philco Playhouse, Lonesome Dove and Law & Order. A native of St. Louis, O’Morrison in 1938 had a walk-on in Orson Welles’ innovative play Caesar, produced for Broadway by the director’s Mercury Theater company. He also appeared on the stage in Winged Victory and The Rose Tattoo.”
Readers may not readily notice that Kevin’s career on stage began in 1938, his film career in 1949, his television career in 1950, but then there was a hiatus, a period when he wasn’t getting acting roles, until about 1973 for film, a little earlier as I recall for the Reynold’s Wrap commercials. Kevin explains some aspects of how that situation felt in his excellent novel, The Dead File. Yes, he was one of the many actors and playwrights who found their careers suddenly on hold as a result of the disgusting behaviours of McCarthy, Nixon, and the “House Unamerican Affairs Committee.” Woodrow Wilson’s march toward fascism was alive and well in the 1950s.
Born in 1916
My great aunt Dori Adams never married. However, she did give birth to Kevin in May 1916. The picture at right shows her holding her son in 1917.
During one of my visits to Kevin and his wife Linda O’Morrison’s apartment in New York City in the 1980s, while I was a student just a subway ride away at Columbia, Kevin talked briefly about identifying the man “Morrison” as the most likely candidate for his father, and adopting the Irish construction O’ to indicate that he was the son of Morrison. Naturally, since “Morris-son” means son of Morris, and O’ means son of, the construction was entirely unique. In the huge New York City white pages that came with the telephone in my dorm room, there was only ever one entry for O’Morrison.
A few years before Kevin was conceived, Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law. About the same time, 1913, the income tax amendment to the constitution was supposedly ratified by the requisite 36 states. (I should note here that many people felt that tariffs were bad for the poor and affected prices in ways favouring industrialists. Much of the support for an income tax in the 1909 to 1913 period reflected a desire to replace tariffs, which, of course, never happened. Instead, Americans began to suffer from both tariffs and income taxes.)
Then, in 1914, Europe went to war. It is an interesting aspect of Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 re-election campaign that much emphasis was given to “he kept us out of war” even as events like the Zimmermann telegramme and the sinking of the Lusitania were being configured to bring the USA into that very same war. I mention these aspects of history prior to Kevin’s birth to give you some of the flavour and context of the era in which he was born. Wilson would go on to segregate the civil service, bringing Jim Crow to Washington, DC; start the FBI; form the Black Chamber to monitor every phone call and every telegramme from Americans to other countries, a predecessor of the National Security Agency which today monitors every form of communication by Americans, and probably by everyone on Earth; establish American brown shirt brigades to terrorise minorities and promote patriotism; bring the USA into World War One to support the major banking cartels; turn away Ho Chi Minh at the Versailles peace conference in 1918 and thus start the Vietnam War; and promote the ideology that resulted in the Justice Department’s “Palmer Raids” against anarchists, resulting in the imprisonment and deportation of American citizens for expressing political thoughts.
It was, as they say, a turbulent period. There were race riots. Treaties against trafficking in narcotics in the 1920s began what we now suffer under as “the war on drugs.” Narcisistic psychopaths like William Randolph Hearst clamoured for war. Jacob Schiff, having arranged a $100 million loan to Japan in order to bring about war in 1905 between Japan and Russia wrote a rather famous cheque to finance the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Tsar was deposed and he and his family executed. Bolshevism, fascism, and other ideologies became prominent in America.
The Morgan Yard
Kevin was a really great playwright. It is not just me saying so, either. Wikipedia contains the following passage, “He began writing plays in the 1960s, most of which have been performed Off-Broadway and in theatres throughout the US; two of which have been performed in Europe. He is a Creative Art Public Service (CAPS) Playwriting Fellow, a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Playwriting Fellow, Winner of the National Repertory Theatre’s First Prize for Playwriting (for his play "A Party For Lovers), and was awarded The Pinter Review Gold Medal for Drama (for his play The Nightgatherers). Two of his plays were chosen to be staged at the O’Neill.” So, he was much honoured as a playwright.
My favourite play of his reflected on a place in the Missouri Ozark Mountains near St. James that my family visited on a great many occasions. My grandmother and my great aunt Dori are buried in the family cemetery that Kevin discusses in his play “The Morgan Yard”. Some of my most cherished memories involved family gatherings to visit, tend the gravestones, leave flowers, and remember our ancestors.
A summary of the play appears on this site. “To Carrie Morgan, the Morgan Yard is a burying ground where all Morgans have rested since 1789. To the Defense Department, it is land owned by them since the little known Redefinition of Public Lands was enacted in 1934. When the department tries to incorporate the yard into its Indian Landing Depot, the town, the Army and Carrie find themselves on a collision course and the yard becomes a place of mortal struggle.”
As you can see, I come by my anti-government views both genetically as well as through my education, upbringing, and experiences. The government has never been on the side of ordinary people, it has always been a tyranny for the benefit of the few who control power.
My cousin Kevin helped me see things not as they seem, but as they really are. As an actor, as an author, as a playwright, Kevin did amazing things to bring enlightenment to the world. I miss him.
In late November, I felt a strong urge to visit the Seattle area. One of my goals was to visit with my cousin Kevin and his wife Linda, two of my very favourite people in the world. I phoned the number I’ve always had, but the subscriber line was disconnected. I later learned that Cox Communications refused to provide any forwarding information, presumably because they are as evil as their reputation suggests.
The state government of Oregon seems to hate eastern Oregon, truck drivers, and motorists with a passion. Unlike nearly every other state in the country, Oregon refuses to put any natural minerals, or beet juice, or anything on their Interstate highways in the winter, wanting to promote as much danger, as many accidents, and as much death as possible. Oregon should have all its federal highway funds cut off, permanently. Then again, all states should, and the federal govt should cease to exist. Anyway, the trip to Seattle took me three days. It is Oregon’s fault.
On Monday 12 December 2016, I visited the O’Morrison family home in Ardenwood. I remember a conversation with my cousin in 2006 when he mentioned that he liked the name of the subdivision, as it reminded him of Buck Rogers and Dale Arden from serial films in the 1930s. Kevin and Linda’s neighbours helped me find them at the Fairwinds Brighton Court assisted living facility, where they had been since October 2016.
Very sad to say, my cousin passed away on Sunday 11 December. The news was shared to me by telephone at the front desk of the Brighton Court facility by Linda’s nephew Eric, which was, to me, a rather difficult and unhappy way of learning this news. Somewhat to my surprise, I learned that I have three cousins who are Linda’s two nieces and nephew, who have never been introduced to me, and whose last names I still do not know. (I did give their first names to the reporter from the Hollywood Reporter, but he neglected to include them in his listing of survivors, sad to say.)
You never met my cousin, in all likelihood, if you’re reading this obituary. Nowadays he has begun that “long sleep” quite near Seattle, so it is possible you never will. You can visit his personal web site however long it remains up, and see there his personal motto, “Ubi libertas, ibi patria,” or “Where freedom dwells, there is my country.”
You would very likely enjoy any of his many performances on the silver screen, and if “Charlie Wild, Private Detective” ever makes it to Amazon video or NetFlix, you might see some of his television performances. He wrote many excellent plays, and each of them is worth reading, staging, and viewing. His novel The Dead File is an excellent read. He also completed a script for “The Mutilators,” which I don’t think was ever published, but survives in the collected papers of my mother and in a few other places.
Here is a brief excerpt:
Androcles: “Law, Mennipus, is nothing more than custom, canonised.”
Menippus: “Then let me tell you, Androcles, it’s become our custom for private citizens to make their own law.”
Cousin Kevin was a brave, charming, easy-going, tough, and hard working loader, freighter, bell-boy, usher, vaudeville comedian, stage actor, film actor, television actor, playwright, author, and a fun man to know. I think everyone in my family remembers hearing a story of a sailing adventure and a very large whale that rolled over nearby and stared at Kevin through one eye, before moving along. If that whale seemed to grow with every telling of the story, it never did swamp the ship. Wherever Kevin is, now, I expect he’ll be sharing that story along with many others.
Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, space enthusiast, extropian, raconteur, and bon vivant. He took to heart Heinlein’s admonition to be capable of many things a long time ago, and can kill a beast, prepare a carcass for cooking, tan the hide, use the small bones for sewing, gather herbs, make fine sauces, clean a house, programme a computer, build a database, populate a spreadsheet, engage in forensic accounting, and read at blinding speed. He currently is a principal at EldarCapital.com and is planning two conferences in 2017. You can read his essays on Being Sovereign in his book by that name from Amazon.com, where it was briefly among the million best sellers. You can read his essays on Being Libertarian from Lulu.com. And if you are very nice to him, he might make available copies of his book The Atlantis Papers “for a fee, Ugati.”
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