Obituary: Robert Morse, veteran Broadway star who played Mad Men’s Bert Cooper on television

Robert Morse, the actor who died aged 90, made his name in the hit 1960s stage and screen musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Although he experienced more vicissitudes later in his career than his talent deserved, he enjoyed a late triumph as eccentric ad veteran Bert Cooper on the television series Mad Men.

sharp-toothed and pucky, he was perfect in Frank Loesser’s cast How to succeed… – his first starring role on Broadway – as J. Pierrepont Finch, a window cleaner who, through various clever inventions, works his way up to become chairman of the World Wide Wicket Company.

The show opened at the 46th Street Theater in October 1961 and ran for more than 1,400 performances. Morse wasn’t a born dancer, but his exuberant energy and the skills of choreographer Bob Fosse helped him, and he won one of the seven Tony Awards the production was showered with.

His other Broadway appearances during this period included Where were you when the lights went out? (1968) with Doris Day; and the Boatniks (1970), in which he was high profile as a bumbling coastguard in pursuit of Phil Silvers’ jewel thief.

He was particularly proud of that A Guide for the Married Man (1967), which he considered “the first American adult sex comedy.” Directed by his childhood hero Gene Kelly, Morse saw a suburban Casanova – advising his neighbor Walter Matthau on how to get away with adultery.

However, films such as The graduate ushered in a more tongue-in-cheek and world-weary approach to satirical comedy, for which Morse’s boyish charm was deemed inadequate.

As his film career came to an end, he continued to work on Broadway – earning another Tony nomination in 1973 for wearing drag-in sugara musical version of Some like it hot – but he lost his nerve in 1976 when he appeared in an almighty flop, So long, 174th street, which closed after 16 performances, bankrupting the Harkness Theatre. “That was the end of the theatre. That was the end of me,” he recalls.

He began using drugs and drinking to excess while “trying to make a career out of cheesy TV movies.”

He finally returned to Broadway in 1989 to critical acclaim True, a one-man play about Truman Capote; and won a second Tony Award. In 1992 he won an Emmy when the play was televised.

Although he worked diligently on stage thereafter, he seemed destined to remain largely forgotten by the general public until he was cast in 2005 Mad Men. Matthew Weiner brought Morse out of relative obscurity to play Bertram Cooper, senior partner at advertising agency Sterling Cooper.

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Morse – who received five Emmy nominations during his eight-year run on the show – had fun as the avuncular but steely Cooper, whose enthusiasm includes Ayn Rand and Japanese culture (he prefers not to wear shoes to the office).

Cooper was killed in the penultimate season and died quietly while watching the Apollo 11 moon landing.

After leaving mad MenMorse played journalist Dominick Dunne in a miniseries The People v OJ Simpson (2016) and returned to perform on Broadway that same year after a 25-year absence the cover alongside Nathan Lane, John Goodman and his former mad Men co-star John Slattery.

Robert Alan Morse was born on May 18, 1931 in Newton, Massachusetts. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, whom he married in 1989, and their son and daughter, as well as three daughters from his first marriage to Carol D’ Andrea.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Obituary: Robert Morse, veteran Broadway star who played Mad Men’s Bert Cooper on television

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