By: Darryl Reilly
I have written profiles of William Hickey, Anne Jackson and Aaron Frankel, the teachers who made the most impact on me in the course of studying acting at HB Studio, starting in the 1980’s. I audited many of the other teachers’ classes and studied with some fine ones.
Edward Moorhouse began teaching at the school in 1957, and died on May 14, 2021, at the age 96. I encountered him as a substitute for Mr. Hickey who was off filming a movie. I found Morehouse to be a caricature of an imperious acting teacher and had no intention of marking his passing. However, my opinion softened after recently watching a video interview with him.
“STOP! STOP!” Bellowed Mr. Morehouse who was 60, way back then at a young man and a young woman who were performing a scene taking place in a kitchen. “If you’re washing dishes, wouldn’t there be WATER!” Such yelling by a teacher in a classroom was a new and rarely repeated event for many of us.
The actors had set up the prop sink and the young woman handled dishes. Being in their early 20’s and with little acting class experience, it hadn’t dawned on them to lift up the detachable plastic sink, take it out to the restroom in the hallway, fill it up with water and bring it back for their scene. Couldn’t Morehouse have let them finish the scene and then suggested next time having water would make the scene more effective? That was not his style.
Bespectacled, wearing a tweed blazer and emitting superiority, Morehouse was perfect casting for the part of an obnoxious acting teacher and was a stark contrast to the benign William Hickey whom the class was used to. Also memorable was in a hushed tone Morehouse launching into a semi-homoerotic reverie about encountering Gary Cooper in the early 1950’s near Tiffany’s on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue and following him for a few blocks to the St. Regis hotel. I was not enticed to study with Morehouse.
In 2019, I was at the HB Studio theater for a program commemorating Uta Hagen’s centennial. Into the lobby was brought in an ancient man in a wheelchair. I stared at him and recognized him to be Edward Morehouse from his glasses. He stared back at me as if he was thinking, “Do I know him?”
The HB Studio Facebook page thread about his death was filled with former students’ testimonials of his greatness. There was mention of a video of him on YouTube, it’s a revelation.
Recorded in his Manhattan apartment when he was 90, it’s a lovely 57-minute recitation of his life produced by one of his past students. Morehouse served in the U.S. army during W.W.II and came to New York City in 1947 to be actor, studied extensively and took odd jobs to survive. The allure, glamor and excitement of that era is wonderfully recounted by him in his rich voice and august presence.
He auditioned for Kiss Me Kate and Cole Porter whimsically befriended him for a time. He began studying at HB Studio in 1952 and developed close relationships with its founders, Herbert Berghof and Ms. Hagen.
Undoubtedly traumatic was losing out on a big break of repeating his workshop performance as Lucky in Waiting for Godot, when it was produced on Broadway in 1956. He has Off-Broadway credits in the 1950’s and his filmography consists just of a small role in 1965’s The Pawnbroker a television appearance in The Naked City. He would go on to direct many Off-Off-Broadway plays.
“This barroom Benzedrine business” muses Morehouse in the interview and declares that along the way he gave up trying to be an actor and devoted himself to teaching. He also delivers a moving account of the dawn of AIDS. In 2015, former students of his set up a GoFundMe page for him that raised over $20,000. By then, he was unable to teach and had only Social Security to live on. Soon after, he moved to the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey, where he died.
Edward Morehouse’s long ago abrasive behavior was awful, but I now have respect and appreciation of him as a human being.
The HB Studio weekly email newsletter which announced the news of Morehouse’s death, also noted the death of Charles Grodin at the age of 86. Mr. Grodin studied there from 1956 to 1959 with Uta Hagen. Grodin would often hilariously reminisce of his clashes with her over her views on acting exercises and technique. As he became successful, he regularly donated money to HB Studio, attended many functions and made peace with Hagen.
When I was auditing classes at HB I sat in with Frank Geraci, Dorothy Dorf and Ed. I chose Ed. He was unflinchingly honest and that’s what drew me to him. The others tried to be nice, Ed just told it like it was. Not for every taste but I stuck with him, happily, for the five years I studied at HB. I even introduced my wife to his classes as well and she became sold on him as well. He didn’t have any patience for folks that just wanted to be stars.