The Academy Award-nominated film actor Chester Morris, who will forever be associated with the character Boston Blackie, was born John Chester Brooks Morris in on February 16 1901 in New York City, the son of actor William Morris and comedienne Etta Hawkins.
Chester Morris made his Broadway debut as a teenager in 1918 in the play "The Copperhead," in support of the great Lionel Barrymore, who ironically would play Boston Blackie in a silent picture (The Face in the Fog (1922))a generation before Morris would make that role his own. A year earlier, Chet Morris had made his movie debut in Van Dyke Brooke's An Amateur Orphan (1917), but he didn't really become a movie actor until the sound era. Instead, Morris made his acting bones on the boards, appearing on Broadway in the plays "Thunder" and "The Mountain Man" in 1919. He returned to the Great White Way in 1922 in the comedy "The Exciters." following it up with the comedy-drama "Extra" in 1923. Now established, Chester Morris began billing himself as "the youngest leading man in the country."
Hie appeared unbilled in 'Cecil B. DeMille's The Road to Yesterday (1925) in 1925, but though his dark, good-looks and chiseled jaw made him a natural for movie stardom, it wasn't until the transition of the movies from silent pictures to the talkies that he became a movie actor. He was one of the first actors to be nominated for an Academy Award when in 1930 (the second year of the as-yet non-nicknamed Oscars) he was recognized with a nod as Best Actor for Alibi (1929) (1929), his first talking picture. But it was his appearance in The Big House (1930) (1930), the film for which he is best known (other than for his assaying Boston Blackie in the eponymous detective series of the 1940s) that he broke through to stardom.
From 1930 through the middle of the decade, he was a star with good roles in first-rate pictures, usually assaying a tough guy. However, his star dimmed and by the end of the decade he was appearing in B-pictures, but beginning in 1941, the Boston Blackie series at Columbia Pictures revived his career. In all, he appeared in 14 pictures as the detective. He later segued to TV work in the 1950s and '60s, appearing in the occasional film such as his last, The Great White Hope (1970) in 1970, which meant he had been a working movie actor in seven decades.
Afflicted with cancer, Chester Morris took his own life on September 11, 1970. He was 69 years old.