Clipped From The Desert Sun
s OOP 1 ... Everyone loves a clown, especially ones made by Morris t knew at once I had to have tiat clown (made by John Morris)." Norma Lea Browning Yesterday morning in Palm Springs the relatives, friends, admirers, patrons and maybe a million memories attended the memorial service of artist John Morris. Morris. It was not possible to see or hear the misty melodies strung across the hearts of all those in the chapel. Some, I'm certain, certain, were joyous in their recalling, others heavy with the grief of a sudden sudden loss, a pa-vanne pa-vanne pa-vanne here, a jig there. He was like that. A man of many moods, and most of them merry. There was occasional sadness but humor invariably prevailed. He had the ability to attack with invasive laughter and a sparkling twinkle. Norma Lee Browning didn't know John Morris when she first arrived in the de- de- FREDERICK HEIDER sert. She was a newspaperwoman, brisk, curious, brilliant and embracing. It was with all those qualities she walked a stranger into the gallery of Kay Obergfel. Her glances, as is the way with women of the press, were swift and inclusive, inclusive, but this day the encompassing swiftness halted and froze. Her eyes caught streaks of yellow among a clutter of paintings piled carelessly carelessly on the floor. It was the painting of a yellow clown. "I knew at once I had to have that clown. I had fallen in love. It was a firm and final decision. It was my first Morris clown, my Butterfly Clown.' The first of many, many more." Browning went on to collect clowns painted by Morris. She has about 30. Magda Gabor (John called her "Magpie") has 40 or so. Browning bought Morris' clowns from the galleries of Wally Fin-ley Fin-ley Fin-ley and Jeannette Mclntyre. And in the 'irne of her collecting, she became John's id friend. "His hometown was Laguna Beach," Norma Lee recalls, "but it was in Hollywood Hollywood so many good things happened to him. Joan Crawford was one of his students. students. She did a self-portrait self-portrait self-portrait of herself as a clown with a broken heart. John gave me that portrait. I have it still. Always will. "A story about John I'll never forget was the day he wanted to avoid seeing a dealer who was flying to Palm Springs to see him. He asked me to help him out. And so I did. I met the dealer, brought him to my house, saying John would arrive arrive any minute, which he never did. I then took the dealer back to the airport and sent him off. "A long time later a painting of a clown arrived with this note: Dear Norma, Norma, here at long last is your clown to repay repay you for a favor. I'm sorry it has taken taken all this time but that's how the clown dances. I hope he amuses you as much as he amuses me.' It was dated 1970, which , in vears before I met John.' It was one of his favorite pranks, dating dating his works with strange, unrelated years When Browning gave up buying a Jack Baker work with jungle parrots because because it conflicted with her clown collection collection Morris sent her a clown with a par-; par-; par-; rot on his foot, a four-leaf four-leaf four-leaf clover in his , hand and the work was dated 1907. There were the monkey clowns named Bonnie and Clyde and portraits of Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Red Skelton and Bob Hope as clowns. There were also poodles, nuns, the unforgettable, unforgettable, eternal corners of Paris. And there was an oil painted for Norma Lee Browning's unforgettable and eternal Russell, an oil titled "Mr. Humming Byrd." Morns created great pieces of work but that is what he himself was ... a great piece of work. Salute! Heider's column appears daily except Saturday.