Entertainment, History, Local Films

‘Fight Mental Health’: The Legacy of Morgus & Chopsley

Last of ‘Chopsley’ actors passes

It was a small sign in the laboratory above the Old City Ice House, but it stood out to me more than anything for the few frames of celluloid it occupied: “Fight Mental Health.” This was in the film The Wacky World of Doctor Morgus, set and shot in New Orleans of course. In its own way, this sign represents everything that is loved about Morgus the Magnificent and his assistant Chopsley, and even represents everything about this city’s personality in just three words. It is not an attempt to derail the mental health community or to diminish those with illnesses, but rather to challenge the stigma of what is normal and to embrace all that is weird and strange.

It was at a book convention some years ago when I came across this movie for the first time. I was writing for the now-defunct PROPAGANDA New Orleans outlet and was sitting at a booth promoting the site. A man roughly my age came up to our table, and happily gave me some DVDs of Morgus episodes from the 1980s and the film as a lagniappe of sorts, in hopes to get some coverage. Absolutely, I followed up with a review of Wacky World as soon as possible.

Morgus and Chopsley conduct an experiment in the Old City Ice House in New Orleans. (Photo: WDSU-TV)

Right now, in my home office, sits two Fleurty Girl coffee mugs – one for Morgus, one for Chopsley. I dare not drink out of them, letting both sit atop my movie collection instead. The vast majority of the TV episodes featuring both characters may be lost to time and weather, but the option to drink from their mugs – literally and figuratively – will remain for a while.

Sid Noel (Morgus the Magnificent) still lives in the area (right near where I moved to a month ago), keeping to himself as I understand. The last of the actors to play Chopsley (first was Tommy George), James Guillot, passed away recently and received much love and sentiments in the days following.

It is my goal to one day soon interview Sid about specific episodes, anecdotes, and more. Additionally, I’m aiming to eventually find missing footage and recover them somehow. Until then, Morgus and Chopsley maintain their status as New Orleans mascots of sorts — Our fictionalized Emperor Norton’s and Don Quixote’s, so to speak.

It goes further than simply being on TV for children’s bedtime and teenager’s interest. They made appearances at Pontchartrain Beach. They celebrated holidays in the community. They had backstories that were so local that you wanted to believe more than anything. They were fixtures whom you might encounter somewhere in the Quarter. In one scene from Wacky World, Morgus his seen playing a board game and having a drink with presumably another NOLA misfit. Maybe a stranger. A tourist? A drifter? Doesn’t matter, really. All are plausible to hang around the city. All are plausible to be in the company of Morgus and likewise, all are welcome to New Orleans.

The good doctor’s lab sign sticks with me for many a reason, but none more important than the fact that he chose to hang it on his wall, indicating a special place in his heart for something that is more than a mere decoration. He placed it up as a reminder to himself and to his patients and visitors, for those cold, solitary days and nights, when ways of life and being are attacked as inferior. Sometimes we hide, sometimes we run, but we never stop being ourselves. Be weird. Fight “mental health” in whatever form it takes. There are others who will have your back. After all, how can one be Magnificent without a Chopsley?