Clell Henry in Cross of Fire

David Morse - Brotherhood of the Rose

The Ottawa Citizen
Copyright The Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, November 14, 1989

Boomer finds life after Elsewhere

Vernon Scott

HOLLYWOOD -- Actor David Morse, who for six years played Dr. Jack "Boomer" Morrison in the highly acclaimed series St. Elsewhere, has found there is life after TV, although he doubted it for awhile.

Morse was one of the key performers in the large ensemble cast and became closely associated in the public mind with his role, but -- with some conscious effort on his part -- not so identifiably that he would not be accepted in other roles.

He worried about TV stars such as Carroll O'Connor in All in the Family and the late Lorne Greene in Bonanza becoming so indelibly fixed in their characterizations that it took years for them to break loose of the image.

The rangy 6-foot-4, blue-eyed Morse has grown a scraggly beard for his part in a re-make of the movie classic The Desperate Hours, directed by heavyweight Michael Cimino. And, in blue jeans and sports shirt he looked nothing like the soft-spoken Doc Morrison.

"In some ways St. Elsewhere was a good springboard for me," he said. "It got me out there in the public eye.

"Before the series, I starred in (the movie) Inside Moves and sort of expected I'd be working only in movies," Morse said. "For the first couple of years in the series I had to turn down some good film parts... They wouldn't let me out of the series to take advantage of them.

"I went in and fought for a couple of roles in TV movies. NBC let me do Down Payment on Murder playing a smart-aleck cop, Winnie playing a retarded man, and Six Against the Rock playing a convict.

"Those appearances knocked something out of gear just enough to keep me from being too closely associated with Morrison. People accepted me in other roles.

"I did Brotherhood of the Rose right after St. Elsewhere and Cross of Fire, which put more distance between me and the doctor.

"Best of all is breaking the block between TV and feature films with Desperate Hours. There is a psychological barrier there. And I'm playing a really wild guy, a criminal.

"I'm not making a big effort to change my image. Every character I play is inside me. It's just a matter of bringing him to life.

"Stardom can be a fleeting thing, an up-and-down ride, but actors have careers. Some people pursue stardom relentlessly and sometimes they achieve it, but I think you can lose a lot doing that. I'm more interested in working.

"I had no idea that St. Elsewhere would become so popular. I told myself that anything so good and well-written couldn't survive on TV. I expected it to last 13 weeks -- not six years.

"There were times when I thought Morrison was put through too much. A human being couldn't survive so many troubles and tragedies without taking viewers out of the story.

"Even in a show like that, the repetition of characterization and the pressure to compromise eventually dull your instincts. A voice inside you says, 'You can do better,' but that voice is told to be quiet and it takes the edge off your performance.

"At first I missed the series and the security of going to work every day. I felt a lot of pressure to go to another series. It was hard to turn down some of the offers.

"I knew the farther I got away from St. Elsewhere, the less appealing I would be to the people who make serious decisions about TV. There's a lot of value in that in terms of the business of television.

"It was like swimming away from the float. The farther I drifted, the more into deep water, the more insecure I felt, knowing I had to rely on myself.

"I won't say I will never do another series. As a person and an actor, I need a little time away from the medium to rejuvenate myself. And I've been able to do that."



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