Steinway Model B
Here is a bargain priced Steinway Model B with a very interesting history. It was owned for decades by Stanley Morner, better known as popular film star Dennis Morgan. He was a singer and leading man who was one of the top stars at MGM in the 1940s. You can read about his career on Wikipedia but be sure read the story below written by his son (also Stanley Morner) about the fascinating history of this piano and the legendary Hollywood musicians and composers who played it.
After all of its years of service and enjoyment this Model B is ready to be rebuilt, although it is still fully functional. Interested parties may wish to contact Callahan Piano Service (link is on the keyboard at left) to discuss restoration plans. Despite its early age and short (85 note) keyboard this pianos is fully modern and can be expected to perform like (actually much better than) a new Steinway once restored. Size 6ft. 11in. Serial number 67713.
Memories of Steinway and Sons #67713 Model B
By Stan Morner
This piano was completed on Aug. 20th, 1890 and sold to Lyon, Potter, & Leo of Chicago, IL on September 26, 1890. I don’t know how or where my father found it or how he came to own it, but #67713 has been owned by our family since sometime early in the 1940s. I have kept piano for sentimental reasons, including the fact that it was played by some pianists and composers of note: Ralph Blane, Liberace, Heinz Roemheld, Alton Rinker, and Ray Turner among them.
My father was a Hollywood actor and singer. His stage name was Dennis Morgan. He appeared in 55 feature films over a period of twenty years starting in 1936. He received top billing in at least two thirds of these films. Although Morgan starred in westerns, dramas, action films, and comedies, his first love was singing in musicals such as Shine on Harvest Moon, My Wild Irish Rose, The Desert Song, One Sunday Afternoon, and The Time, The Place, and The Girl. His leading ladies included Ginger Rogers, Ida Lupino, Joan Crawford, Betty Davis, Barbara Stanwyk and others.
During his heyday, Dennis Morgan lived in a mansion in La Canada, California, designed by the architect Paul Williams. The property had three guest houses as well as a large main home. This Steinway piano occupied the central space in the interior Paul Williams had designed. The Steinway fronted the living room and solarium with the largest window in the house in the background. The lavish parties in those days all included music around the piano. I will try to give you a feeling for the atmosphere of those evenings.
Much of the music that was featured came from the world of the European influenced operetta so popular in the forties. Songs composed by Sigmund Romberg, Franz Leher, Johann Strauss Jr. as well as melodies from the movies of the period were among melodies that echoed through the rafters of those beautiful rooms in our La Canada home. There were also piano recitals and pianists like Ray Turner who played ragtime and saloon music.
Ralph Blaine was a friend of Dennis Morgan. During one visit Blaine was in Hollywood hoping to have a movie made from his musical Three Wishes for Jamie. Ralph Blaine is known for his collaborations with Hugh Martin. Their best-known songs include “The Boy Next Door,” Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “The Trolly Song,” all written for the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The last song earned them their first Oscar nomination. Their second Oscar nomination was for the song, “Pass That Peace Pipe.” Ralph Blaine played and sang at such parties.with great joy. Blaine’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” will always be associated with the Christmas gatherings in my mind. That song and the film “Christmas in Connecticut” catch something of the post World War II warmth and confidence that permeated an era in American life.
Another friend of Dennis Morgan’s was Heinz Roemheld, a composer who had numerous movie credits through the forties and early fifties. Roemheld’s best know song is the melody he composed for King Vidor’s movie Ruby Gentry. This theme became one of the top melodies in 1952. Roemheld is a good example of the many musicians with classical training who created the sound tracks for so many movies yet were not household names for most movie-goers.
Dennis Morgans’s friendship with Liberace went back to Milwaukee when Morgan still went by his real name, Stanley Morner, and Liberace by his real name Wladziu Valentino Liberace, or “Lee” to his friends. Liberace did not entertain at any of the parties of Morgan’s La Canada mansion, but he did play the piano on at least one occasion when he visited our home.
Other lesser known or unknown musicians used this Steinway. Alton Rinker is one such composer. He and my father wanted to make a musical based on the life of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. I remember vividly and have on an old vinyl record some of the songs Rinker composed based on Robert Burns poems. Unfortunately, that project was never to become a reality. Jack Warner, Head of Warner Brothers Studio, said the the ‘public’ would think it was about a cigar. You may remember there was a popular brand of cigars named after the poet. To me, even the unknown friends who took over the piano late in the evening to play and sing football fight songs or whatever light fare of the day remain in my memory.
But make no mistake. The music I loved most was from musicals and operettas, most of this melodic lore forgotten in the musical landscape of our time: Serenade from The Student Prince, “Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz” from Lehar’s The Land of Smiles,” One Alone” from The Desert Song or the title song from Shine on Harvest Moon,“My Wild Irish Rose.”“One Sunday Afternoon” and so many others from movies of the period. One melody from Johann Strauss’“A Night in Venice” is perhaps the most haunting to me. The English title, “Love Can Be Dreamed,” I believe comes from a version sung by John Charles Thomas. What a night in Venice had to do with nights in the La Canada mansion is a mystery, but they will always be linked in my mind through the hidden in the magic of that melody.
Much later in the 1980’s my father knew has own voice was declining, the sight of the Steinway depressed him. How could it not considering the memories? I have kept the piano since that time. Now it is time for me to sell the piano, an instrument whose own voice has been on decline for some years. My hope is that #67713 Model B can be owned by someone for whom it can still bring the joy of music.