Robert Morse Was An Integral Part Of Mad Men, One Of The Greatest Shows Of The 21st Century

There's an episode of "Mad Men" with an especially morbid subplot. The agency is in chaos, a client is in town, and in the middle of an important presentation, Miss Blankenship (Randee Heller), Bertram Cooper's elderly secretary and the entire firm's crotchety grandma, dies. It's played for laughs, but not really. While everyone is concerned, their main worry is getting her out of the building without alerting the clients, except Bert, who both solemnly and grandly sums up her life: "She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut."

Robert Morse, the clever, puckish, and perceptive actor behind Bert Cooper, who died in his home at the age of 90 on April 20, 2022, was a bit of an astronaut, too. From Broadway, where he won hearts (and a Tony) with his performance in the 1961 musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," to his late-life career renaissance as the wisest and most irreverent man in the room on "Mad Men," there was something utterly cosmic about him. Morse could float into a room and steal the scene so easily that you wouldn't quite notice what had happened until he'd drifted back out.

His role as Bert Cooper was filled with dichotomies that Morse made look easy. Bert could be silly, wistful, hard-nosed, and cutting all in the same scene. While you'd expect the oldest man in the room to be mired in the past and radiate nothing but a sort of stern gravitas, Bert often brought levity to the show, whether he was walking around without shoes, decorating his office with clashing abstract art, or posthumously breaking into song and dance.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

It's hard not to think about Cooper's death while discussing Morse's passing. In a full-circle turn to the musicals of his youth, Cooper exits the show by appearing to Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in a vision. Surrounded by brightly dressed secretaries, he descends the office staircase and jovially sings "The Best Things in Life Are Free," while doing a casual soft shoe (ironically shoeless). It's a perfect summary of Cooper's role in "Mad Men"; he was strange, funny, and completely unforgettable. It's the kind of scene that makes you laugh before you realize you're also crying.

Speaking about his last episode of "Mad Men" with the New York Times in 2014, Morse was delighted with the way it all shook out, saying: "What a send-off! The opportunity to shine in the spotlight that Matt Weiner gave me — it was an absolute love letter. Christmas and New Year's, all rolled into one."

Robert Morse may have made his career by playing career men, but he'll be remembered as much more than that. He was a person who brought a little bit (or maybe a lot) of joy to audiences, whether they were watching him on the stage or their very own TV screen.