Carlton E. Morse, prolific pioneering radio writer who created "One Man's Family," which was heard Sunday nights on NBC for 27 years and became the longest running serial in radio history, has died. He was 91.
Morse died Monday in Sacramento, where he grew up.
The showpiece series of Morse's career, which ran from 1932 to 1959, chronicled the story of San Francisco stockbroker Henry Barbour, his wife, Hazel, their children, Paul, Hazel, Claudia, Cliff and Jack, and about 100 assorted characters through 3,256 episodes. The fictional family lived in the very real Sea Cliff neighborhood overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Although the series was considered the wellspring of the modern radio and television soap opera, Morse was outraged by the designation of his show as a "soap."
"I punched a guy right in the nose for saying that," he angrily told The Times in 1987. "I never wrote a soap opera in my life. I wrote radio dramas."
The shy, gentle Morse rarely got riled about much, but he was adamant about that.
"For soap operas, they think of a plot and then drop people in to tell the plot. In my shows, first came the characters. Their relationships to each other is what made the plot," he said.
On radio, Morse was a one-man band--producing, writing, directing and casting his shows--and he liked it that way. The series was attempted on television in prime time from 1949 to 1952 and daytime from 1954 to 1955. It had a different cast, was produced in New York, and had lots of bosses.
"The TV version was a flop," Morse said decades later. "And we made one picture (feature film), but it was never released.
"I didn't like New York. I came back to Hollywood," he told The Times. "I'm a loner. I couldn't bear writing a show and having a director, producer and light man . . . 10 different people. By the time you got through, it wasn't your show at all. I got spoiled doing radio."
He did a lot of radio. His second most popular series, "I Love a Mystery," ran 15 minutes five nights a week from 1939 to 1952.
He also did 43 other radio serials, including "The Woman in My House," "His Honor, the Barber," "Family Skeleton," "Adventures by Morse," "China Town Squad," "Pigskin Romances," and "Killed in Action."
In his mid-80s, he founded a publishing company, Seven Stones Press, and turned out six novels, including "Killer at the Wheel," "A Lavish of Sin" and "Stuff the Lady's Hatbox."
Morse was born in Jennings, La., June 4, 1901, and moved to San Francisco in 1906, then to Oregon and eventually to Sacramento with his family. He began his writing career working on the Sacramento High School newspaper and covering radio and police for the Sacramento Union.
He attended UC Berkeley and worked on the San Francisco Call, Bulletin and Chronicle, before settling into a writing job for NBC radio in San Francisco in 1929.
Westerns and murder stories dominated the airwaves, and Morse, intrigued with the novel "Forsyte Saga," concocted his show about a family as something different.
"I wrote three episodes and presented them to the powers that be," he told The Times in 1987. "They were dubious. They wanted action shows, but agreed to put it on the air for six weeks. That was April 29, 1932, and it never went off for 27 years."
Facing increasing competition from television, the series ended rather suddenly on May 8, 1959.
"Some silly guy at NBC in New York wrote and said: 'Will you bring the show to a conclusion on such and such a date?' " Morse said. "And I wrote back and said: 'The show's been on 27 years. What kind of conclusion except that people are just not there anymore?'
"I never heard any more from them, but that's the way the show ended. It was just there one day and the next day it was gone."
Morse and his wife of six decades, Patricia, lived in Hancock Park during their Hollywood days.
The couple adopted a war orphan, Mary Noel Canfield, in 1949. Mrs. Morse died in 1984, after the couple retired to Woodside near San Francisco. Morse later married his companion-nurse-housekeeper, Millie Goodman.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Morse is survived by two brothers, Wilmer and Harry, and two sisters, Lucille Chastine and Anne Morse, all of Sacramento.