Tribute to Mr. Mardi Gras

 Tribute to Mr. Mardi Gras
“Mr. Mardi Gras” Danny Morgan shows off one of his masks at his Galveston Studio (image courtesy of Rosenberg Library).

Mardi Gras is a time for grandeur and over-the-top style. Nothing better exemplifies this than the Mardi Gras costume. Often bedazzled with sequins, rhinestones, pearls, sparkles, feathers, colors, and sensual cuts that leave little to the imagination, these dresses are enjoyed by spectators and cherished by their owners. So it is no surprise then that every year Mardi Gras revelers fret over their wardrobes. Will it fit within the theme? What sort of materials should be used? What colors should be included? This February the Rosenberg Library remembers the man who helped revelers answer these questions for over 25 years.

 Tribute to Mr. Mardi Gras
This unique Mardi Gras dress, made by Danny Morgan, will be on display throughout February (gift of Collins Morgan).

Danny Lee Morgan, also known as “Mr. Mardi Gras,” was born Nov. 23, 1943 in Mississippi to a professional baseball player and cotton farmer named Chester Morgan and his wife Audrey. Danny showed an artistic aptitude early in life, excelling at piano and drawing. In 1954 the Morgan family moved to Pasadena, Texas. After high school he went to college at Baylor University and then briefly worked for NASA drawing spaceships for their brochures. At age 21 he and a friend went to New York. There he landed a job at Saks Fifth Avenue where he met numerous well-connected people, which eventually led to opportunities to work in theater and television production.

After getting his break, Morgan took the design world by storm. He worked on a number of Broadway productions creating costumes and sets. Additionally he designed for special events at the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum, and worked for the (then) three major television networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Some of his most notable clients included Diana Vreeland, Caroline Kennedy and NYC Mayor Ed Koch. He also broke into film, working with Hollywood stars like Meryl Streep, Brooke Shields, Lucille Ball, James Cagney, Paul Newman, Bob Hope, and Richard Gere. Morgan’s designs also appeared on The Tony Awards, That’s Life and The Parade of Stars at the Palace Theater. He taught design courses at Princeton University where he became acquainted with both Brooke Shields and her mother Terri as students.

Morgan came to Galveston in the mid-1980s at the request of Dancie Ware who was helping resurrect the island’s Mardi Gras celebration which had been mostly inactive for the previous thirty years. Upon his arrival he created about 250 costumes for the Krewe of Momus (Galveston’s oldest krewe) and then decided, after 20 years in New York, to make Galveston his home. He later recalled, “When I first came to Galveston, I pictured myself moving here and rocking on my veranda. [But] I haven’t had time to do any rocking yet.” He soon opened up a costume shop and kept busy making Halloween costumes, outfits for the Galveston Historical Foundation’s Dickens on the Strand celebration, wedding and prom gowns, and local television and film designs. However Mardi Gras was his busiest season, and he loved the last-minute rush that came along with it. In 1993 alone, he and his crew of fifteen employees used over 1,000 yards of fabric and 200 yards of sequins to create some 300 float costumes, 45 ball costumes, 175 masks, and 250 headpieces.

 Tribute to Mr. Mardi Gras
Designer Danny Morgan helps some satisfied customers at his studio (image courtesy of Rosenberg Library).

For a quarter century Morgan was deeply involved with Galveston’s Mardi Gras. Every year he reviewed designs for floats, made suggestions, and then created gowns and headdresses (his favorite thing to design) for his clients – which included Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas and George and Cynthia Mitchell. He gave tips on how to design customs at home and shared his passion and experience with his employees. In 2010 Galveston proclaimed him “Mr. Mardi Gras,” but sadly he died later that year. As a last gift to the community, his shop Morgan Studio allowed funeral goers to pick out a costume or accessory to wear at the funeral.

The dress on display was donated to the Rosenberg Library by the Morgan family after Danny Morgan passed away. Like all dresses Morgan created, it is masterfully crafted. It is a long evening gown made with velvet and plenty of sequins in shades of turquoise, blue, and silver.

Past Treasures