by: Kerry Torpey ’20 Editor-in-Chief
During his career, Pawtucket native John Bowab ’55 made his mark on the New York theatre scene, directing and producing several plays both on and off Broadway. After previously donating the John Bowab Studio Theatre in the Smith Center for the Arts, Bowab will be endowing the Patricia Morison Master Class Series, named in honor of his close friend and Broadway actress Patricia ‘Pat’ Morison.
The Patricia Morison Master Class Series will provide funding for the department of Theatre, Dance, and Film to invite professionals who have worked in theatre to share their experiences and advise students who are looking to enter showbusiness.
Bowab says he wants these visitors to be “people who have been exposed.” “I think it’s one thing to have academics, but it’s another thing to have people who have been out there and have experienced what it is to perform and to perform to some sort of acclaim [or] acceptance in the professional world.”
The Patricia Morison Master Class Series is an endowed fund under planned giving in perpetuity, a type of annuity that is everlasting. The donation, therefore, is self-sustaining and will benefit PC students studying theatre for many years to come.
Andrea Krupp Esq., director of planned and estate giving in the Office of Institutional Advancement, says that as alumni age, they often take a second look at estate plans that may not have been revised in a number of years. Often, this is the time when the office receives calls about how someone can leave a gift to PC in their will, trust, or other estate planning vehicle.
“These conversations are about family,” Krupp says. “If alumni contemplate including the College in their wills, they are treating PC as a family member.” As a result, to plan such donations or gifts for the College is to develop a strategy that will take care of both one’s family and his or her lifetime passions. The Patricia Morison Master Class Series, therefore, is a continuation of Bowab’s passion for theatre at PC and will be, as Krupp describes, a major “fiber in the cloth of Providence College.”
In looking to Morison as the crux of the series, Bowab explains, “She just was so articulate and that’s what I’d like to expose the students to…it’s a thing about letting them see somebody who’s been out there and done it.”
Morison and Bowab’s friendship began when he was asked to direct a production of Pal Joey that Morison starred in with Dean Jones. “It was a fabulous production and she was so fabulous,” he explains. “And on the basis of that, we became dinner companions and went to the theater together.”
Bowab says Morison, who was also a talented painter, was very knowledgeable in symphonies and operas. In hearing her expertise, Bowab felt that he “was the one who was getting the education, and it was an education [he] couldn’t have paid for.”
While studying painting at The Art Students League of New York, Morison declined a scholarship offer to go to Paris and continue her studies. Instead, she focused on improving her acting skills at the Neighborhood Playhouse School for Theatre. Eventually, at 19 years old, she became the understudy to Helen Hayes in the 1934 production of Victoria Regina.
Following a lead role in an operetta called The Two Bouquets alongside her future Kiss Me, Kate co-star Alfred Drake, Morison signed a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1938. Despite spending years making films such as Without Love and Dressed to Kill, Bowab explains Morison “never got the roles she wanted, so that was when she decided to go back to New York.”
Upon returning to the Big Apple in 1948, Morison’s life changed forever when Cole Porter, acclaimed songwriter and composer, heard her sing and cast her as the lead role of Lilli Vanessi in the hit Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate. New York Times reporter Brooks Atkinson describes Morison as “an agile and humorous actress who is not afraid of slapstick and who can sing enchantingly.”
After appearing in both a Broadway and London production of Kiss Me, Kate, Morison starred as Anna Leonowens in the Rodgers and Hammerstein production of The King and I. She was both a part of the touring cast, alongside co-star Yul Brynner, and appeared in the final show for the play’s Broadway closing.
Bowab understands that when he was in college, he would have loved to hear from working professionals like Morison, who worked hard to have successful careers in such a competitive business. Wendy Oliver, chair of the department of theatre, dance, and film, says, “We are delighted to receive this generous donation, and are looking forward to the opportunities it will provide. With this fund, we plan to bring renowned musical theatre artists to campus to work with our students in the Smith Center for the Arts.” On top of the education students receive at the College, the Patricia Morison Master Class Series will equip students with a type of knowledge that, like Bowab and Morison demonstrated, cannot be taught.