the moon belongs to everyone

Twirling With Robert Morse on Mad Men

Photo: Justina Mintz/AMC

For seven seasons, Robert Morse tenderly portrayed the eccentric ad honcho Bertram “Bert” Cooper on Mad Men. In mid-season episode “Waterloo,” his character dies after witnessing the moon landing, and despite his off-camera death, Bert returns to the Sterling Cooper offices one last time at the episode’s end in an ethereal sequence, singing and dancing “The Best Things in Life Are Free” to an awestruck Don Draper. Was it a hallucination? An acid trip? A dream? Who cares. It’s beautiful. Marisa Field, an actor and dancer, was one of five women who performed the number alongside Morse. (She’s wearing the purple dress.) Here, she reflects on what it was like to give Morse, a veteran of the theater, such a poignant sendoff. “What an absolute lovely way to go,” he previously told us in 2014.

Because of Mad Men’s insane nondisclosure agreements, it wasn’t explained what I was doing when I went into the audition. A friend who’s a choreographer was working with Mary Ann Kellogg, who choreographed the piece. He was like, We’re workshopping this period piece, I can’t tell you absolutely anything else, but trust me, you want this role. Be here at this time. I showed up and when I walked out of the elevator, I was like, Oh my God, I can’t believe it, this is for Mad Men. I was a huge fan of the show. Throughout the audition process, nobody told us what was happening. I later found out that it was a nod to Robert’s role in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but more specifically, A Secretary Is Not a Toy.” The audition was quite large. I want to say there were around 50 people before us five were chosen.

In the workshop, they presented us with what the scene was about and they had a recording of Robert singing the song. We played around with different ideas of what our movements would look like. Matthew Weiner came in a few times and was very collaborative: I like this part, but can we do something here more, because Robert likes moving his feet this way. I was shocked — well, not shocked, but excited — to see that Matthew was still so involved in the process. It didn’t matter that the show was in the seventh season. He was very invested in the choreography and wanted it to be perfect for Robert.

We had a rehearsal with Robert the day before. It was delightful. He was so proud and excited to do the number. He brought in old CDs for us to listen to — Sugar was one of them. And photos of old shows he had done. It was really charming. You could tell he was so thrilled to be doing this dance and having this part of his past recognized on Mad Men. The filming day must have been 12 hours, maybe more. They had to shoot our side and then also shoot the reactions for Jon Hamm. He was there nearly the whole time we were. When we were shooting the dance portion of the scene, Jon was less reacting in the moment and had more of his producer-ial hat on; taking notes and watching and deciding how to react. We did it as best as we could for him to give his reaction shots. Because it was Robert’s last episode, and everyone in the cast and crew was so fond of him, everyone was in the boardroom watching us film it. Literally the entire cast. They presented a cake for Robert after.

Robert was very humble about his dancing. He told me in between takes, “I was never a dancer. I remember when Gwen Verdon was trying to teach me choreography and I always felt like such an idiot.” He was a true showman and knew what to do. To this day, it was the most special thing I’ve ever worked on. The fact that he lived up to the legend and was also this humble, sweet, and kind man, who was so proud of all of the work that he did — and not in a braggadocios way — was surreal. It was obviously very special to him. I was in a dreamlike state the whole time.

The Story Behind Robert Morse’s Mad Men ‘Best Things’ Dance