"I never wanted to be part of my family's freak show. Ever," says Molly Morgan. The pale goth beauty, clad in all-black clothes she designed, looks at her younger sibling. A riot of color, Bonnie Morgan has curly, flaming-red pigtails and bright blue eyes. She has paired her purple-and-turquoise dress with black-and-white–striped jester stockings.
"We were definitely not friends growing up," Bonnie says. "But I loved Molly and I worshipped her."
"And I hated Bonnie," Molly says. "She was not cool."
Unfazed, Bonnie simply nods in agreement.
High above the streets of Los Angeles on a peak in Laurel Canyon sits Morgan Castle, an eccentric home to an eccentric family. If Cirque du Soleil combined with Disney to mount a production of Alice in Wonderland starring the Addams Family, you'd have the Morgans: 63-year-old stuntman/actor Gary Morgan; his wife, Suzy, a painter and gallery owner; and their 30-something daughters, Molly and Bonnie, both working actresses since childhood.
Bonnie is also an aerialist, stuntwoman and contortionist, while Molly is a belly dancer: Her troupe, Les Petites Bonbons, performs a 1920s-themed belly dancer flapper revue. Together, the sisters have a variety show called The Morgan Sisters (altered to The Morbid Sisters around Halloween). And the family's Doll Act, in which Bonnie emerges from a tiny box, dressed as a porcelain doll, has been booked by both Katy Perry and Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, the latter for his daughter's birthday party.
The Morgans are perhaps the coolest family in all of Los Angeles — simply because they couldn't care less about being cool. They know everyone who's artsy and smart and does creative things. They throw legendary parties. Yet they seem to enjoy nothing more than one another's company — and the sort of kooky, goofy, quirky fun that most people only dream of having.
Gary and Suzy Morgan purchased their 3,000-square-foot home in 1982. The family was living in the Hollywood Hills, Gary says, "and we'd go for a run or walk to look at the view, and we'd always see that house. It was my dream house. Suzy came home one day and said, 'You won't believe it, but that house is on the market.' When we got it, it was in such bad shape. ... The whole house was under a remodel and the owners had run out of money."
For the next 30 years, Gary bought up surrounding lots and slowly worked, he says, to make the house "more magical." Pretty in pink, turquoise and purple, it now features flags, battlements and turrets: "It's like the Barbie Dream Castle, something out of Disneyland."
Walking up the long driveway, high up in the sky, past Bonnie's bright yellow Smart car with its clown nose and CLWNCAB license plate, feels like crossing into a dreamland. Within seconds of ringing the doorbell, you are greeted by the entire Morgan clan and Picasso, their talkative cockatoo, who is part of the family's extended bird crew: an emu, a goose, a rooster, a hen and 13 chickens, all named after various preparations of the fowl (Marsala, Cacciatore, Coq au Vin). Inside the castle, previous pets, including a marmoset and a goat, have been stuffed and are displayed among puppets, dried insects, sculptures, trinkets, paintings, skulls, porcelain masks and old black-and-white photographs. A disco ball hangs above a hurdy-gurdy in the living room. Located just off the kitchen is an aerial rig, up which Bonnie climbs to a trapeze. As she swings back and forth across the room, no one bats an eye.
"We are a strange family," Molly says. "I feel like the worst thing I could have done to my parents was to become an accountant."
"But we genuinely love each other," Gary says. "It's like Avalon."
Los Angeles is the current setting, but the Morgans' real-life fairy tale begins on the other coast. Gary Morgan was born Gary Panansky in New Jersey in 1950 to vaudevillian parents, whose acrobatic act, Morgan & May, opened for Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra. (His parents eventually opened a dance school in New Jersey.) Little Gary traveled around in a trailer with them. Among his baby sitters? The Andrews Sisters.
Unconventional as they were, his parents did have limits. "We often shared dressing rooms," Gary says. "We'd do nightclubs and work with strippers, who were always so sweet to me. And I'd ask my dad, 'Hey, why can't I watch Fifi's act?' and my dad would say, 'Stay in the dressing room with your mother, son.' One of the strippers did an act where a monkey took her clothes off. I did not understand why I couldn't watch the chimp act."
Almost as soon as Gary could speak, he was incorporated into his parents' show, performing short, stand-up comedy routines with his dad, which ultimately led to commercial and theatrical work. As a child, Gary played the son of Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland in Garson Kanin's A Gift of Time on Broadway. Thanks to his parents' training, he also could dance, do trapeze and perform acrobatics. (Among other things, that later led to a gig as an assistant choreographer for the 1984 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.)