Actor, director, producer Howard Morris dies at 85
Ernest T. Bass, Atom Ant and more
Prolific actor, writer, director and producer Howard Morris died on Saturday, May 21, at age 85. Morris’ son David announced his father’s passing online at www.ernestt.com, a website devoted to Ernest T. Bass, the eccentric, hill-dwelling bumpkin Morris played in five episodes of The Andy Griffith Show in 1963 and ’64. In a message to his father’s fans, David Morris wrote, “All I can really say now is that I miss him beyond words.”
In addition to his performance as the rock-throwing rube Bass, which earned Morris legions of devotees, he amassed more than 150 memorable film and television credits, both in front of and behind the camera, in a career that spanned more than 50 years. He had dozens of acting roles, did voice-over work for numerous cartoons, wrote for two series and directed both feature films and episodic television.
Although he is frequently associated with the rural south thanks to his association with The Andy Griffith Show (of which he directed episodes in addition to playing Bass), Morris was a city boy through and through. Born September 4, 1919, in the Bronx, he grew up in New York, where he developed an interest in performing at a young age. As a teenager he attended the National Youth Administration’s radio workshop, where met Carl Reiner, with whom he reconnected during World War II, when Morris was Reiner’s sergeant in a Honolulu-based entertainment unit. During the war, Morris and Reiner appeared in army productions of the classic Shakespeare tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth.
When the war ended, Morris and Reiner were cast in the touring musical Call Me Mister, after which they joined Sid Caesar’s classic television comedy Your Show of Shows. In 1961, Morris moved to Los Angeles, where he established himself as an actor through guest spots on such TV shows, as The Twilight Zone, Wanted: Dead or Alive and Make Room for Daddy, and as a director of such 1960s series as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., Hogan’s Heroes and Get Smart.
Morris also maintained a film career, with acting roles in such films as The Nutty Professor, Way…Way Out, High Anxiety and The History of the World: Part 1 (the latter two of which were written and directed by his onetime Show of Shows colleague Mel Brooks). He also directed the movies Who’s Minding the Mint?, With Six You Get Eggroll and Don’t Drink the Water. At the same time, Morris was one of the busiest voice performers in the animation business. A partial list of his cartoon credits includes episodes of Beetle Bailey, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Archie, Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Among his signature characters were Atom Ant, Jughead Jones and Gopher from several Disney-produced Winnie the Pooh productions.
On February 27, 2004, Howard Morris was interviewed by the Television Academy's Archive of American Television for an hour and a half in Los Angeles. He spoke about his work as a regular with Sid Caesar on television’s Admiral Broadway Revue, Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour. He briefly chronicled his work as a director in series television, features and commercials, and discussed his voice-over work in animation. Morris also talked enthusiastically about playing Ernest T. Bass. Over two dozen photos accompanied the interview, including images from such series as Your Show of Shows, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Lucy Show.
The entire Howard Morris interview may be screened at the archive offices at the Television Academy in North Hollywood. For more information about this interview, or about the Archive of American Television, call (818) 509-2260.