On Saturday at Two Strike Park in La Crescenta, a Crescenta Valley legend was honored: Dennis Morgan, classic film star, founder of Two Strike Park and the Montrose Christmas Parade, and all around good guy from La Cañada. The Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley presented a screening of “Christmas in Connecticut,” a 1945 Christmas romantic comedy in which he starred opposite Barbara Stanwyck.
According to Mike Lawler of the Historical Society, the Saturday night viewing was to be a one time event, but Morgan’s family had been so supportive and positive it may become a retrospective series of the actor’s career. Morgan was a well-known actor from the 1930s and 1940s. He starred in many films including “Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman” with Ginger Rogers and “My Wild Irish Rose” with Irene Dahl.
“We had talked about it for some time and it looks like we have it now. His family is willing (to help with prints and such),” Lawler said.
Morgan’s family, which is actually the Morner family (Morgan was a stage name) is helping with the series’ organization. Next up, “Desert Song” an actor’s print of a film that has never been released on home video. A screening date on this and other films has yet to be scheduled.
Morgan played an important role in Crescenta Valley and Montrose. The story goes that what is now the Montrose Annual Christmas Parade began one afternoon in the 1950s when Morgan marched down Honolulu Avenue. It then became an official parade when he invited some of his Hollywood friends like Jackie Cooper to join.
He lived in La Cañada but was an active member in all the surrounding communities. Two Strike Park, according to reports, began when Morgan saw a poster of a little boy who had been hit by a car while playing baseball in the street. This tragedy spurred Morgan into enlisting several big league baseball players for a series of games between celebrities and baseball stars. This became an annual fundraising event and the proceeds were used to buy equipment and land. Morgan went before the board of supervisors and offered to donate five acres of the land for a baseball field if Los Angeles County would buy adjoining acreage. They agreed and Two Strike Park became a reality.
Mara Morner-Ritt, granddaughter of Morgan, was in attendance at Saturday’s screening.
“To me, it’s so nice to see that what he did is still appreciated,” said Morner-Ritt. “It’s a nice reminder that the things you do can still affect people long after you’re gone.”
Morgan passed away in 1994.
The Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley is working on other outdoor film venues including a series at the site of the old Montrose Theatre, a vaudeville stage that was located next to Andersen’s Pet Shop. The building burned down in the 1980s, Lawler said.
For more information on Historical Society events, visit their website at www.cvhistory.org.