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Robert Morse, Broadway's Finch in How to Succeed and Mad Men's Bert Cooper, Dies at 90

Morse won a Tony for playing Finch, and another Tony for his work as Truman Capote.

Robert Morse
(© David Gordon)

Robert Morse, the Tony-winning original J. Pierrepont Finch of Broadway's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and the eccentric Bert Cooper on TV's Mad Men, has died at the age of 90, his family has confirmed.

Born May 18, 1931 in Netwon, Massachusetts, Morse made his Broadway debut as Barnaby Tucker in the original 1955 production of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, a role he would reprise onscreen. He earned his first Tony nomination, for Best Featured Actor in a Play, for the 1959 drama Say, Darling, which was inspired by co-author Richard Bissell's experiences as his novel 7 1/2 Cents was adapted into the musical The Pajama Game. Morse, as a young producer named Ted Snow, was widely believed to be playing a version of Harold Prince, who produced Pajama Game on Broadway.

Morse's first Best Actor in a Musical Tony nomination came for Take Me Along, a musical version of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!, but it was his next show, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, that would make him a star. Morse won the Tony for his portrayal of the ambitious Finch, who works his way up the corporate ladder from window washer to board chairman. Morse would go on to play Finch onscreen.

His stage credits also include Sugar, the first musical-theater adaptation of Some Like It Hot, Carl Reiner's short-lived So Long, 174th Street, 1990's Tru, a solo show for which he won Best Actor in a Play and an Emmy for his work as Truman Capote, and the 2016 revival of The Front Page, which marked his last Broadway appearance.

Morse was no stranger to film and television over the course of his career. He was a regular in the musical television series That's Life in 1968 and made appearances on Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Dukes of Hazzard, and other shows. It was his role as advertising executive Bert Cooper on Mad Men that cemented his reputation among a new generation, and he earned five Emmy nominations over the course of his seven-year run on the show.

In 2016, Morse told TheaterMania about his experiences going to see Daniel Radcliffe play Finch in the most recent How to Succeed revival. "I would look up at the stage and say, 'How the fuck did I do that?' I couldn't imagine. I was never off stage!" How to Succeed also provided humbling moments over the course of his career. "I often talk to people who say, 'I did that show in high school' or 'I got my love of theater from playing Bud Frump, or your part.' It's amazing."


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