The Film Star who became a member of the British Union of Fascists.
Joan Morgan was born on 1 February 1905 at 13 St Germans Road, Forest Hill, London. She was the only child of Sidney Arthur Morgan, a property owner who later became a prominent film director, and his wife, Evelyn, an actress. An English rose of the silent film era, Joan starred in at least 34 movies, often under the direction of her father Sidney Morgan. She made her film debut in Maurice Elvey’s ‘The Cup Final Mystery’ starring Elisabeth Risdon in 1914.
In 1920 Joan was offered a Hollywood contract by the Famous Players – Lasky Corporation who had opened a studio at Islington – soon to become Gainsborough. Her father forbade it, this was something which she never really got over. Throughout the 1920’s, Joan was given stage roles in the West End as well as being cast in her father’s films. Her favourite role was as Amy Dorrit in Charles Dickens’ ‘Little Dorrit’ a film directed by her father.
Little Dorrit, was made by the Progress Film Company which was based at the Shoreham Beach studio complex at Shoreham-by-Sea. The professional facilities at Shoreham enabled the Progress Film Company to produce seventeen features for the British market between 1919 and 1922. Many of their films achieved great critical acclaim.
Little Dorrit originally ran for approximately 68 minutes, comprising elaborate sets and costumes, studio and location filming, and a cast of notable British actors. This 1920 version was the first film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel, a story of love, money and imprisonment in the Victorian era. Only 21 minutes of the film has survived. Joan Morgan, was only 14 years old when Little Dorrit was made. It was her portrayal of Amy Dorrit which led to the offer of a five year Hollywood contract – an offer which was rejected by her father.
Joan’s star faded following the closure of the Progress Film Company in 1923 and the introduction of sound in 1929. Her last major role was ‘A Window in Piccadilly’ in 1928. Although Joan made a talkie in 1932 called ‘Her Reputation’ she was no longer in demand as an actress. Luckily, she was able to step into screenwriting using the name Joan Wentworth Wood. Her biggest success as a screenwriter was the 1926 British war film ‘The Flag Lieutenant’, which repaid its production costs four times over.
She had a knack for writing even as a child; when she submitted an essay to The Times newspaper, aged 8, it was rejected as they refused to believe it was written by someone under 10 years of age.
In the 1930s, Joan Morgan joined the British Union of Fascists and wrote articles for Mosley’s Blackshirt and Action newspapers. In the article below, which appeared in Action on 23 January, 1937, she accuses the Jews of ruining the British film industry by being in it solely to make money.
Quote from Joan Morgan’s article:
A Jew once said to me: “Every race was given one talent. We were given a talent for making money.”
“It has been stated that most film magnates graduated from the fur trade. Any trade with money in it is equally good for the Jews. Let them leave the Film Industry to the men and women whose life-blood it is, that splendid legion of British workers whose love for it is so deep that they never complain at 24-hour days”.
Joan Morgan was the last surviving British screen star who had worked prior to the First World War. She died in 2004 at age 99 in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, UK. She never married.
References: Screen Archive South East, Little Dorrit, National Portrait Gallery London – Joan Morgan, Internet Movie Database : Joan Morgan, British Union of Fascists, Action Newspaper, 23 January, 1937.
This article on Joan Morgan reproduced by kind permission of Britannia