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In the 80`s there were two people the world loved to hate, one naturally was JR Ewing and the other was undoubtedly queen of mean Katherine Wentworth, half sister of Pamela Ewing.Played by the wonderful and talented Morgan Brittany. So it was a pleasure to be given the opportunity to talk with the one time child actress who wrecked havoc for the Ewings.
Thank you to everyone who put forward questions to Morgan.
Interviewer : You started off acting at the age of 5 in a series called Sea Hunt. Can you tell us how you got into show business? Did you come from an acting background?
Morgan: well actually not really. My mother had been a country and western singer but when she moved out to Hollywood found it very difficult to get work so when I was born they put me into dance classes and singing classes as soon as I could walk actually. I was in a dancing school and a gentleman saw me and wanted to put me in a commercial so one thing led to another. Back in those days probably mid 50`s, there were not that many child actors so I started working pretty much right away.
Interviewer: so your first movie was in 1962 playing baby June in Gypsy with Natalie Wood. That must have been quite an amazing time.
Morgan : it was absolutely amazing. The most wonderful thing about that film was that I was working in one of the last great Hollywood musicals and it was wonderful because it was all of the old timers, the old wardrobe people, everything was still like it was in the 30`s and 40`s . So I was very fortunate to be able to be a part of that
Interviewer: I read that Natalie Wood was your favorite actress.
Morgan : Oh yes .between Natalie Wood and Vivien Leigh
Interviewer: yes because you played the part of Vivien Leigh in several movies.
Morgan : There were three of them. Day of the Locust done in the 70`s, then there was Gable and Lombard and following that was the mini series moviola and moviola was called the search for Scarlett O'Hara and it was that which brought me to the attention of the Dallas people.
Interviewer : You were also in Hitchcocks The Birds which I watched last night.
Morgan : You did? (laughs)
Interviewer: yes you had quite a horrendous time in that. Getting attacked by a flock of seagulls and then savaged by a crow
Morgan : (laughs) exactly. We had a few birds that were real, some birds were mechanical and hand puppets. There were 4 of them that were particularly trained but it was the most unbelievable situation because back then they didn't have the special effects they do now. So it was pretty much letting the birds hit you.
Interviewer: So you not terrified of birds now? You don't run away screaming at the sight of one? ;) (laughs)
Morgan : (laughs) no no not at all.
Interviewer: You were established at this point as a child actress under the name Susan Cupito. What was the reason behind changing your name?
Morgan : At the time I was growing up in the business I was very well established within the industry as a child actor and as I grew up and turned into a teenager there was less and less work.In fact the last thing I did as a child actor under that name was a motion picture called Yours Mine and Ours with Lucile Ball and Henry Fonda. After that film everything pretty much stopped for me, the phones didn't ring anymore, the agents said the career was over there was nothing they could do, child actors didn't continue on, basically `thank you very much have a nice life`. I went back to school but I really was not trained to do anything except be an actor. I had no real education because I was in and out of schools so I decided that I would completely change my look, change my image, change my name and move to New York.
Interviewer: So is there a story behind the name Morgan Brittany?
Morgan : Yes I wanted a completely different name and I was interested in romantic civil war novels and as I got on the airplane to go to New York I had picked up a book. I thought I would keep the first name Susan and change the last name but I picked up this book and as I opened it the lead character in it was called Morgan Brittany.
Interviewer: what book was that?
Morgan: It was Blood Ties and written in the 1940`s and it fit me perfectly and it was so ironic that the character in that book was such an evil wicked woman and then I end up playing that kind of character.
Interviewer: So in 1981 you got the role of Katherine. How did that come about? What was the interview process like.
Morgan : I was with the William Morris Agency at the time and I really wanted my career to go more towards Motion pictures rather than television and I was not really interested in doing a television series , in fact I had never even seen Dallas and it had been on the air for 3 years but of course I knew the big who shot JR thing and it was like "oh I know that show, Iv heard about that show" but I really had not seen it and I had just gotten married in May and when I came back to Los Angeles my agent called me and said they are looking for a new character on this television show and they don’t know what they want, they don't know if they want young or old but they do know she’s the half sister of Pamela Ewing so I said I don't really want to go, they said just go.
I went to MGM studios and I walked into a room and there were tons of girls, tall, short, blonde, skinny, you name it they didn't know what they wanted. So I sat down and they gave me two pieces of paper to read. Finally about an hour and half later I went in, I really had an attitude (laughs) by that time I was very upset as I didn’t want to be there. I read the two pages and I got up and said "look that's all the time I have, I have to go" then I walked out. When I walked out I thought about it and I thought I’d never done that before. How could I do that? I called my agent and said I really blew it, I was so rude and nasty to these people and they are never going to want me. But that’s what they wanted, they liked that attitude. From that they decided that is what they could turn Katherine into.
Interviewer: Who interviewed you?
Morgan: Lets see now. Leonard Katzman, Phil Capice.
Interviewer: so were you pleased you got the role?
Morgan : you know I was in a sense but I remember asking my agent, I said I don’t want to do television and they said don’`t worry this is a very limited role, it’s only seven episodes. I said ok and that's fine as I really had my eye on doing feature films. So I did a movie and then I got a phone call that the character went over so well that they wanted me back as a regular.
Interviewer: so in those initial 7 episodes were you aware Katherine was a schemer?
Morgan: I worked it that way. There was an early scene with Cliff Barnes where I sort of made it antagonistic towards him and I realized that I was going to get on his nerves and I asked the director is that was ok and said "don’t give everything away but if you want to do that, that’s fine"
Playing it on the edge, you don’t know whether to like her or not, that's what made people interested in finding out more about her. So unfortunately to get me back on the show Rebecca had to die (laughs). I always felt so bad about that because that was the only way they could get me back on the show was to have her die.
Interviwer: so they killed her for you? that was rather unfortunate for Pricilla Pointer (laughing).
Morgan : yes I felt so terrible, I said to Pricilla that I was so sorry, but it was nothing to do with her, my character lived in New York and the only way to get her back to Dallas was to run the company from there, and Rebecca had to die for them to run the company.
Interviewer: So on your return did you sign a long term contract and at this point did you know Katherine was going to wreck havoc?
Morgan: Yes the contract was year to year, at that point they told me we really want me to turn hard and for the first two years she would be conniving and manipulating, involved with JR and then later go after Bobby. Because they had their shows already written out like a year in advance so they knew where everything was going.
Interviewer : So did you enjoy playing the bad girl?
Morgan: Oh I did. The only time in my career prior to that I played an evil character was in the twilight Zone.
Interviewer: Oh with the talking puppet
Morgan: that's right. I played a real nasty little girl but most of the roles I had up until then were very sweet and very nice. You know I had a career in New York City where I was a spokesperson for a product and was loved by everyone, they would buy anything from me , then all of a sudden this evil side comes out. It was a great opportunity for me because I had never played that before. But then it turned into a double edged sword where after being on that show people thought that was all I could do.
Interviewer: You perfected the evil glare so well. One scene in particular just before Katherine shoots Bobby you give JR this amazing stare. It was brilliant.
Morgan : Yes (laughs a lot) you know it’s funny because Larry Hagman helped me with that a lot. We got such a kick out of playing such evil characters and especially he and I together when we would do scenes together we would kind of be like which one is going to be meaner (laughs)
Interviewer: So you didn't have to think of someone you didn't like? (laughs)
Morgan: (laughs) You know I had a lot of motivation in my life. There were a lot of people that I would of loved to have acted that way towards but never could.
Interviewer: Did you have any say in how the character developed?
Morgan: I really didn't. They had it pretty much figured out where they wanted her to go. The only thing was I kept saying to them is look is she ever going to get Bobby? Is she going to win? and they said "well she can’t win we don’t want her to win she is so evil. So I said what are you going to do with her and they said that eventually she is going to just loose it, she is going to go over the edge and get more and more psychotic", so every week I would have to put a little more of that madness creeping into her.
Interviewer: yes she changed from a rather angelic look to total glitz. Did you have a say in the `look`?
Morgan : yes absolutely and wilder and wilder. The bigger shoulder pads, the bigger hair. I had a lot of say in what I wanted to wear but she was very over the top. It fitted that character.
Interviewer: I believe Travillia came in to add more glitz
Morgan: yes he did. You see in those years we were very competitive with Dynasty and I remember many many times on a Wednesday morning when we would go into the makeup room Larry would have the LA times and would turn to the ratings and go "we beat em again" (laughs) so every Wednesday Dallas would come out on top. There was a big rivalry between the networks, ABC wanted Dynasty to takeover and we were still holding it and that's when everything got much more glitzy and much more glamorous.
Interviewer: The most unforgivable thing Katherine did was split up Pam and Bobby. How did fans react? Did you get angry mail?
Morgan : oh yeah. I would go out into the public and people would hate me, waitresses in restaurants would say "just leave him alone". I'm like `Wait its a character I'm not really her".It was pretty funny, the whole world was watching.
Interviewer: so then Katherine shot Bobby. Did you know beforehand it was Katherine who did it?
Morgan: no , they shot it with three different actors. They had me do it, they had Holly Harwood do it and they had Sue Ellen do it.
Interviewer: so was it your choice to leave at that point?
Morgan: At that point I was under contract with Aaron Spelling for another TV series Glitter but Dallas had me contracted to the end of the season and Aaron made a deal with me before Dallas picked up my option so at that point I was doing two TV shows at once so Dallas wrote me out for a while and then brought me back .
Interviewer : would you have liked Katherine to have been a major character?
Morgan: you know she was big enough as it was because it is so difficult when you are recognized as that character, if she had been any bigger I don't think I ever would of worked, it was hard enough as it was and Larry Hagman told me that "I’ll forever be JR Ewing" and he’s right. I talk to a lot of people on that show and they are very typecast.
Interviewer: Then you returned in 1985 to kill off Bobby. How did you feel about killing off one of the worlds most popular television characters?
Morgan: Oh god. I said don’t make me do this. When I die someday that’s what will be on my obituary. "The woman who killed Bobby Ewing". When I did that scene I was seven months pregnant with my daughter so I asked for Katherine to die because they were not going to be able to hide me anymore, so they said they will both die together. At that point they had no idea Patrick would want to come back then everything changed with the dream.
Interviewer: were you pleased that Katherine was alive again ?
Morgan: When they called me I said you have to be kidding. Nobody will buy that, I said don't you understand you buried the guy, they even said it on Knots Landing. Did they all have the same dream? The writers said they couldn't think of any other way to do it. The whole year was gone, like it never happened. Then I said to them "what kind of drugs was Pam on?". (laughs)
Interviewer: Then you returned in 1987 in your nurses uniform with the bandaged Pam .But for only two episodes, why was that?
Morgan: Well what they did if you watch those shows, Pam wanted to leave so who better to take Pam than Katherine, so the only clues that you have to who took her away was a woman in a big hat. They never really say who took her but you assume that it was Katherine. So they wanted that to be a mystery in the show, so some day Katherine would reappear, which someday I probably will, who knows? She's definitely not dead, and they have that open story line.
Interviewer: So were you ever asked back again?
Morgan : They talked about it, at that time they had lost a lot of the original writers. Everybody had moved on. But they always have that mystery, she's out there somewhere.
Interviewer: so would you consider being in a Reunion movie?
Morgan: it would depend, at this point I don’t know. I have gotten over that character, but if the situation presented itself, who knows?
Interviewer: Do you think Katherine was plain psychotic or just misunderstood?
Morgan: (laughs) She was psychotic, she was one of these people that are obsessed, they will find something they want and will do anything to get it and if they can’t get what they want they will destroy the person and themselves. There are a lot of people like that, even though she had everything she wanted Bobby. It kind of parallels Scarlett O'Hara in a way , how she was with Ashley. I asked the producers "what if she gets Bobby? Will she then not want him anymore?", it was like a game. On that show the characters were either good or they were bad and I learned a lot from Larry Hagman about playing the evil part, but what you wanted to do with those characters was to get people so involved that they wanted to come back the next week to see what they were going to do and that’s what we tried to do with Katherine, people hated her so much that they couldn't stay away.
Interviewer:What were your favorite scenes?
Morgan: Some of the most fun I had was doing the shows with Jenna Wade, Pricilla Presley. When Pricilla joined the show we would have to do scenes together that were so bitchy, we had so much fun with that.
Interviewer: Yes, actually I remember one of your first scenes with Jenna would of been in a bar where you warned her to keep away.
Morgan: (laughs) yes, offering her money to move away. That is my favorite scene and one with Ken Kercheval where he’s asking me for money to save the company."Your asking me for money?" (getting back into the Katherine role as she states this and laughs) it was great.
Interviewer: So I gather there were many funny moments on the set?
Morgan: Oh many, we had a great time. It was not that serious, everyone knew their part so well we could have fun with it. There were a lot of jokes that were played, a lot of practical jokes that Larry and Patrick did.
Interviewer: so is it true that the cast really were like one big happy family?
Morgan: I did not work with everybody, my character was pretty much JR, Pam, and Cliff. I hardly ever worked with Linda Gray, I never worked with Lucy or Ray Krebbs. We would only work together at the Oil Barons Ball or barbecue. But Larry and Patrick were so funny and it was a good thing I was a professional actor because they would joke up until the last second.
Interviewer: Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman have stated that there was a lot of drinking on the set. I have this image of the whole cast staggering around drunk.
Morgan: (laughs) Those two always, it was fortunate that the shows turned out great. If you didn’t have professional people it could of been a disaster.
Interviewer: Are you in touch with any of the cast members?
Morgan: Once in a while I see Charlene Tilton, I would love to see John Beck , I haven't seen him in a couple of years. When I did Glitter, Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter) was on that show and he passed away, he was one of the nicest people. I`v seen Linda a couple of times and Patrick a couple of times but basically people have gone their own way.
Interviewer: ok here's a question for you. If you were stuck on a desert Island which cast member would you choose to be stuck with.
Morgan: (laughs) oh my, really you want to know? Howard Keel, Clayton Farlow. When I was 16 I would watch all of his old MGM musicals and I was so in love with him, he to me was the like the most amazing performer and singer. When I met him on the set of Dallas I said "Howard i’m in love with you". He is the most charismatic , wonderful man, he is a Sean Connery type, it doesn’t matter how old they are they are just incredible.
Interviewer: Following on from that which cast member would you most not like to be stuck with?
(I couldn`t resist but to ask this)
Morgan: (laughs a lot) Let me see now, I can’t say but there is one person, an obvious person. I`ll leave it up to your imagination, but I can't say.
Interviewer: Did you have a favorite cast member to act with?
Morgan: I would say it was between Patrick and Larry, they were so much fun and I learnt so much from Larry.
Interviewer: Did you work with Barbara Bel Geddes. She seems to have vanished from show business?
Morgan: Barbara was very quiet, she was very professional , she would only come on the set when they needed her, she was very low key.
Interviewer: Were you still on the show when Donna Reed took over the role?
Morgan: yes and I kind of felt bad for Donna because she was walking into a no win situation. It was very hard for people to accept an icon like Miss Ellie being played by someone else.It was very rough on Donna, I think she wasn’t comfortable being there and she was such a nice lady.
Interviewer: Your husband is Jack Gill who has directed you in two movies and I believe you have two children?
Morgan : I have a daughter of 14 and a son whos 12. I'm really active in my childrens school and activietes and it's great.
Interviewer: What is your current project?
Morgan : I’m doing a lot of musical theatre , I do national tours of Broadway shows, back to the singing and dancing I had done as a kid. I’m getting ready to do Pippin a musical which Ben Vereen did on Broadway in the 70's.Allot of people are very surprised that I sing and dance., they don't realize that’s my background. I also sing with a jazz band and we have talking about making a CD with some old standards.
Interviewer: Do you ever surf the internet? Were you aware of the Dallas phenomena on the net?
Morgan: Yes I use it all the time, the web site I went to, the Ultimate Dallas site is fabulous, I love that. it’s really something, it’s terrific. You know there's a resurgence now because it’s twenty years since who shot JR and people are really interested.
Interviewer : As I`m sure you know you have quite a following from a whole new generation of Dallas fans. In particular there is one 16 year old young man Jason Bonifant from Ohio who is a huge fan and would like me to say hello to you.
Morgan : (laughs) that is so nice, how sweet. Please say hello back from me. That is great. Everything comes around doesn`t it?
Interviewer : You`ll never escape it. Dallas will haunt you forever.
Morgan : (laughs) it really will.
And that is where we end it.
Thank you to all the fans who put forward questions and a very special thank you to Morgan Brittanny for taking part.
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