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Obituary: Broadway star Robert Morse dies at age 90

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Robert Morse, who somehow remained boyish for every one of his nearly seven decades in showbiz, died this week at the age of 90. From his Broadway debut to a late career encore on TV's "Mad Men," Bobby Morse was expert at playing mischievous rascals. Critic Bob Mondello remembers.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: In another performer's hands, the corporate schemer in "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" might just have seemed craven.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I BELIEVE IN YOU")

ROBERT MORSE: (As J. Pierrepont Finch, singing) You have the cool, clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth.

MONDELLO: Morse made J. Pierrepont Finch a charmer with a gap-tooth grin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I BELIEVE IN YOU")

MORSE: (As J. Pierrepont Finch, singing) Yet there's that upturned chin and that grin of impetuous youth.

MONDELLO: Thoroughly winning, though he was so cocky that he sang this song to a mirror.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I BELIEVE IN YOU")

MORSE: (As J. Pierrepont Finch, singing) I believe in you.

MONDELLO: Playing a charming imp became a career for Morse in films, including the funeral home satire "The Loved One," and on TV in, among other things, "That's Life," a series built around his musical comedy talent - but mostly in the theater, especially in a mid-career triumph, the one-person show "Tru," in which he played, through a mountain of makeup, writer and social gadfly Truman Capote.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "TRU")

MORSE: (As Truman Capote) Last night, I made the mistake of trying to keep up with Miss Ava Gardner. Miss Gardner is muy macho.

(LAUGHTER)

MORSE: (As Truman Capote) And in her wake, I sort of fell into the drink, so to speak.

MONDELLO: Morse never lost his impish charm, not even on his return to the corporate world as the eccentric ad agency boss Bertram Cooper in TV's "Mad Men." On his first day on a set that he described as looking like a road company of "How To Succeed," he skipped between the desks, singing "A Secretary Is Not A Toy," until he realized the rest of the cast was too young to get what he was doing. As a tribute, though, when his character passed away several seasons later, the show's producers gave Morse a fantasy musical number...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")

MORSE: (As Bertram Cooper) Don, my boy.

MONDELLO: ...So he could let Don Draper, the show's leading man, know he should enjoy life while he still could.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")

JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) Bert?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE")

MORSE: (As Bertram Cooper, singing) The stars in the sky, the moon on high, they're great for you and me because they're free.

MONDELLO: And as always, Robert Morse nailed it. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE")

MORSE: (As Bertram Cooper, singing) The moon belongs to everyone. The best things in life are free. The stars belong to everyone. They gleam, they're for you and me. The flowers in spring, the robins that sing... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.