Joan Morgan

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(b. Forest Hill, London, 01/02/1905 – d. Henley-on-Thames, 22/07/2004). Actress, screenwriter, novelist. Joan Morgan was all of 16 years old when she came out to South Africa to take the leading role in Swallow (1922), Leander De Cordova's film version of the book by H. Rider Haggard. Nevertheless, by that time she was already an experienced actress, with some 20 shorts and features behind her, three of them made in the United States. The daughter of actress Evelyn Wood and Sidney Morgan, the director of production of the Progress Film Company at the Shoreham Film Studio, she made her first appearance in the prolific Maurice Elvey’s The Cup Final Mystery (1914) and made numerous films with her father in the director’s chair. She was Ellen Terry’s granddaughter in Her Greatest Performance (1916), and took the title role in the first film version of Little Dorrit (1920), directed by her father. In addition she appeared in films with three actors who had already visited or subsequently would visit South Africa, namely M.A. Wetherell in Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight (1923) (he was also the villain in Swallow), Harvey Braban in The Great Well (1924) and Frank Cellier in Her Reputation (1931), which was her last film as an actress.

Interviewed for her appearance in the British segment of Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s Cinema Europe: the Other Hollywood (1995), a six-part television series on the history of the silent film in various European countries, she mentions that one of the reasons she was picked for the role of Swallow was because she could ride a horse. She recalls her exciting time in Johannesburg, where she and her mother (and presumably her imported co-star Hayford Hobbs) stayed at the Carlton Hotel. She also tells of working with Leander De Cordova and says that the film’s production manager, Leon D. Britton, proposed to her. Some of the ostrich feathers she took home with her were later used for a dress she wore in A Lowland Cinderella (1922). At one stage she was offered a five-year contract in Hollywood but, much to her regret, her father turned it down, presumably because at the time she was underage.

After she retired as an actress at the early age of 26, she turned to writing and produced a number of screenplays, including some for her father. Using the pseudonyms Iris North and especially Joan Wentworth Wood, she also wrote novels and plays, some of which were adapted for the screen and television. Later in life she turned her hand to the renovation of houses, which resulted in another book which she called The Casebook of Capability Morgan. In 1996 she was a guest of honour at the celebrations that marked the 100th anniversary of the British cinema. (FO)


S.A. Pictorial, 22 July 1922

The Guardian, 31 July 2004 - Obituary

The Independent, 24 July 2004 - Obituary

Brownlow, Kevin - Cinema Europe: the other Hollywood (correspondence)

Gifford, Denis - The British film catalogue: 1895-1970

Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm

Low, Rachel Low - The history of the British film 1914-1918

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