Ernest Fredric Morrison was an American child actor, comedian, and dancer who performed under the stage name Sunshine Sammy Morrison. He was the only black East Side Kids/Dead End Kids member. He was the first African-American actor to be signed for a long-term contract.
Ernest Morrison was born on December 20, 1912, to Louise (Lewis) and Joseph Ernest Morrison in New Orleans. He was born into a family of showbiz as he was the brother of screen actress Dorothy Morrison. His other sister was Florence Morrison. Ernest made his unofficial movie debut as an infant, replacing another child who was sulky on set and couldn’t stop crying. Since Morrison was able to stay put throughout the production, the film crew decided to christen him “Sunshine,” since he did not cry. Morrison’s father would add Sammy to his son’s pet name to create his stage name of Sunshine Sammy.
Morrison was the first black child movie star signed to a long-term contract, signing with studio executive and producer Hal Roach in 1919. He is most famous for his role in the Our Gang/Little Rascals series. When Roach brought in his Our Gang series, Sunshine Sammy was the first child recruited. Roach also created a series called The Sunshine Sammy Series just for Morrison in 1921, but only one episode was shown on TV. Roach recreated his idea in a series called Hal Roach’s Rascals/ Our Gang. Morrison made his debut as “Booker T. Bacon” in the 1922 debut short of the series called “One Terrible Day.” As Morrison was the oldest member of the cast, he was paid $10,000 a year, making him the highest-paid black actor in Hollywood at the time. He filmed twenty-eight episodes and remained with the show until 1924 when he was twelve years old. However, Morrison forego the series in 1925 after Roach declined his father’s demand of $75 a week pay raise (taking his weekly wage to $300).
Morrison also worked with American film producer Sam Katzman in a series called The Dead End/ East Side Kids. Morrison used his personal experiences growing up on the East Side of New York City to shape the character of “Scruno.” He spent three years on the project before leaving to pursue other opportunities. In 1934, Morrison at the age of 22, married Annette McAbee, but the couple divorced in 1936.
Sunshine Sammy was drafted into the army during World War II in 1944. His duty was to perform as a comedian-singer-dancer for the troops. After being discharged in 1945, Morrison was offered a role in the series, The Bowery Boys, but he declined the offer citing his dislike for the setup.
Ernest Morrison later accepted a job as a quality control inspector for an aerospace company in California. He occupied the position for the next seventeen years. After his retirement, he reappeared on television in the 1970s on episodes of Good Times and the Jeffersons. Morrison appeared in one hundred and forty-five motion pictures in his career. He was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1987.
Ernest Fredric Morrison died of cancer aged 76, on July 24, 1989.