James Ryan Morrison died November 14, 2021 in Spokane, Washington, with his son Jameson and caregivers Samantha and Syvanna by his side. It was a day after his 97th birthday and three nights after he finished a huge slice of apple pie before going to sleep.
He was born on November 13, 1924 in Pawling, New York during the Coolidge administration. He started smoking at age four, setting the garage on fire and leaving traces of smoke that remain today.
He left Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut to serve in World War II, repairing B25s; B17 and Mustang P51 in Africa. His contributions to the Allied war effort would later mystify his wife and children who endured his endlessly battered Chevys.
He graduated from Bowdoin College after the war and traveled across Europe with a shaving kit and a camera to start a career that spanned over 7 decades. His work encapsulates cinematic moments that have earned their place in the US National Film Archive, the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, and in American pop culture advertising.
He was one of the last pioneers of Cinerama, the revolutionary widescreen process introduced in the 1950s that projected images from three synchronized 35mm projectors onto a huge curved screen. Morrison served as editor of the first two Cinerama epics, including “This is Cinerama” and “Cinerama Holiday.” He served as assistant director on “The Seven Wonders of the World” and filmed an erupting volcano while perched in the side-mounted gun port of the B25 piloted by famed stunt pilot Paul Manz.
In 1956, he married Anne Sloan. Their life together spanned New York, Wilton; Grosse Pointe, Mich.; You’re welcome ; Colorado Springs, Colorado; five children, five grandchildren and 16 dogs.
They were introduced because she, a recent Vassar graduate, was interested in working in television and he was a producer on “The 60,000 Question,” then top show on CBS.
She gave him her number. He tore it up, threw the pieces in the air, and said, “I’ll remember that.” She gave him her number again and the sequence repeated itself. This routine continued for the next 61 years, each time she gave him a list of things to pick up from Safeway.
Anne died in 2017 and never left him.
In the early 1960s, Morrison wrote and produced the first six-minute commercial to air on television, hiring a young John Williams to compose the soundtrack. Morrison also produced several iconic advertisements, uniting the Chevy truck brand with the American West.
In 1969, he, Anne, and their children moved to the Springs, and he founded his own company, writing and directing corporate films for AT&T, GM; MasterCard; the US Army Corps of Engineers; the Saudi government and the Taft School.
In 1986 he produced “Race to the Clouds: The Story of Climbing Pikes Peak” for Audi. In the 90s he wrote and directed a pilot for PBS hosted by Walter Cronkite, filming on the flight deck of the USS Teddy Roosevelt while deployed in the Persian Gulf.
He has written four books, including: “Treehouse,” set during the Vietnam War; “The Stuff Americans are Made Of,” examining American cultural influences; and “Birdie”, a biography of Boston Red Sox All-Star wide receiver Birdie Tebbetts. He completed his latest novel in 2019: “The Cost-Effective Life of Beno Bigelow,” the story of an adventurer who unwittingly becomes part of everything he has seen, from Pearl Harbor to the collapse of the Wall of Berlin.
Morrison survived both service in World War II and a COVID infection in 2020.
He adored his grandchildren; Metropolitan Opera broadcasts; Klondike Bars and his belief that America should initiate national service to encourage all young people to serve their communities. In the last weeks of his life, he posted photos of his daily walks in his World War II uniform to raise awareness about suicide prevention among veterans.
He is predeceased by his wife, Anne Sloan, his sisters Elaine (Steve) and Jane (Robert) and his brothers Milnor (Marie) and William (Eileen).
He is survived by his children: Mandy; George (Miriam); Jamesson; Lucy (Richard) and Emily (Hanif). His zeal lives on in grandchildren Ruthie, Evan, Tallulah, Kahlil and Noah. In his extended family, he is survived by his sister-in-law Eileen Morrison and 29 nieces and nephews, all of whom suspect he might still drop by for a visit, unannounced.
He brought down the house with every wedding toast he ever gave, but he couldn’t go a single Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without bursting into tears trying to say the grace. He cared deeply about everyday moments of wonder. It is his legacy.
“It’s not the thing that’s beautiful,” he once told his daughter as he drove west on the 21st as the sun set. “It’s this light right now that makes things beautiful. And you better catch it now, kid, because it’ll be gone in an instant – and then it’ll be gone.
His family will hold a service at 10 a.m., Thursday, August 11, 2022 at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. All friends and family who wish to join in a fond farewell are welcome.
— This obituary was published by The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colorado on Legacy.com, where online condolences can be left.