Morgan Conway (born Sidney Conway, March 16, 1903 – November 16, 1981) was an American actor, best known for his portrayals of Dick Tracy.
Early life and career
Conway was educated at Columbia University in New York City. He had a brokerage business in New York City for 11 years before closing it in 1933. He went to Hollywood and began acting in little theatre. Conway was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild. His first film appearance was in the 1934 film Looking for Trouble.
Returning to New York, Conway acted on Broadway in plays that included Angel Island (1937), In the Bag (1937), Mimie Scheller (1936), Summer Wives (1936), and If a Body (1935).
For many years he freelanced, working for various studios in bits or supporting roles. His most familiar appearance from this period is probably in Charlie Chan in Reno (1939).
RKO Radio Pictures and portrayal of Dick Tracy
By the mid-1940s he was a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures, and he was chosen to portray Chester Gould’s comic-strip detective Dick Tracy in a pair of feature films: Dick Tracy and Dick Tracy vs. Cueball. RKO’s earliest publicity photos posed Conway in profile, hoping to emulate Gould’s square-jawed caricatures. Although this screen Tracy didn’t resemble the print Tracy physically, Conway’s dramatic interpretation was faithful; he gave the role an understated, businesslike quality totally in keeping with a police procedural. Morgan Conway is considered by many (including Dick Tracy writer Max Allan Collins) to be the best screen Dick Tracy.
Conway’s films were successful in theaters, but exhibitors had grown accustomed to the screen’s original Dick Tracy, actor Ralph Byrd. Byrd had played the role in four hit serials, and was a closer match physically to the comic character. Some exhibitors petitioned RKO to make more Tracy features, but with Byrd. RKO made the substitution, reassigning Conway to two other “B” features. The studio abandoned most of its “B” product in 1947 and Conway’s contract was not renewed. In 1948, author Chester Gould proposed that RKO should continue the series, stipulating that Morgan Conway should play the lead, but RKO (then in organizational turmoil after the studio’s sale to Howard Hughes) declined.
Conway left the motion picture industry and returned to New Jersey, where he died of lung cancer at the age of 78, having dabbled in real estate on and off for some years. He was survived by his second wife, Lilian—the couple had been happily married for several decades. Back in the late 1920s, Syd had been briefly married to a young divorcee of some means from Alabama, Aurelia Fitzpatrick Carr, who bore and raised his only child, a son, Ben Conway (1927–2003). Syd and son (and later Ben’s wife and children) shared quality time in the late 1940s and early 1950s after Ben returned to New York from his military service in post-war Japan. From the early 1960s to early 1990s, Ben was a prominent literary agent in Hollywood, helping launch a number of writing and directing careers in the same industry in which his father had worked.