Jack Morton, a man who believed that conventions should offer more than bloviating speeches by day and rowdy boozefests by night and who founded an industry providing headline entertainment at conferences and corporate events, died June 28 at his home in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 94. Family members said the cause of death was "old age."
Mr. Morton founded Jack Morton Productions in 1939 in Washington, a business that brought in Bob Hope, Lawrence Welk, George Burns, Red Skelton and other stars not only to entertain conventioneers but also to promote the company message or product.
In recent years the company has evolved into public events production around the world, including the upcoming 2004 Olympics in Athens. The company also produced the Hong Kong handover and farewell ceremonies in 1997 and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, in 2002.
Mr. Morton was born Irvin Leonidas Morton Jr. in Newport, N.C., the son of a tenant farmer. His mother died when he was 6, leaving 11 children. As a teenager, he wangled a job as ticket taker, usher and sometimes janitor at a Raleigh second-run silent movie house (where he acquired the nickname Jack); by 18, he was managing the place.
In 1932, Mr. Morton moved to Washington to attend George Washington University. Working his way through school, he began booking dance bands for fraternity and sorority events. Soon, he was booking bands for social events and government agencies, including the White House. He became great friends with the Roosevelts, Mr. Morton's son, William, recalled.
After graduating from GWU in 1936, Mr. Morton worked briefly as a salesman for General Electric, then returned to his first love, entertainment. In 1939, he founded Jack Morton Productions and began providing entertainment at conventions and trade shows.
"It was a time when the association business was really getting going," William Morton said. In the 1940s and '50s, as people began to fly more and trade associations began bringing people to Washington and other cities for conventions, the company grew.
Jack Morton went to New York City -- to Radio City Music Hall, the Copacabana and other New York entertainment venues -- and learned who was popular, then set about booking them for conventions. "He basically invented a new business," his son said.
The entertainers -- whether a big band, a comedian or a combination of the two -- would tailor their shows to the interests of the company or product. Clients included General Motors, Xerox and Johnson & Johnson.
Mr. Morton was fond of the comedians, Jack Benny in particular, but once the show began he would watch the audience, not the act; he wanted to gauge the reaction of the convention-goers to the message underlying the act.
"It was entertainment, but not entertainment for entertainment's sake," said Josh McCall, chief executive of Jack Morton Worldwide. In the late 1950s, Jack Morton Productions began producing the whole convention for its clients.
People like to meet, Mr. Morton told The Washington Post in 1981. "There are two times to have a meeting," he said -- when things are going well and everyone wants to celebrate or when sales are weak and people need a boost.
Before turning over the company to his son in 1977, Mr. Morton opened offices in New York and Chicago and then in other cities across the country. Impressed by multimedia productions at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the company began to produce and design training programs, multimedia productions, video-conferencing and exhibits for the Smithsonian and other public institutions. Jack Morton Worldwide, a subsidiary of Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., now employs more than 600 people throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
After his retirement in 1977, Mr. Morton turned his primary attention to philanthropic interests. He established an endowment at his alma mater, George Washington University, to fund the Media and Public Affairs Building, which opened in 2001. The school's Jack Morton Auditorium is the broadcast home of CNN's "Crossfire." He and his wife, Anne, also became major donors to the Anne Morton children's theater in Vero Beach.
Mr. Morton, whom his son remembers as something of a showman, self-published several pamphlets of aphorisms, as well as a memoir, "The Jack Morton (Who's He?) Story" (1985).
A resident of Washington for more than 70 years, Mr. Morton and his wife moved permanently to Vero Beach in 2001.
In addition to his wife of 68 years, survivors include a son, William I. Morton of Greenwich, Conn., and Hobe Sound, Fla.; two daughters, Mary Louise Morton Seilheimer of Orange, Va., and Diane Morton Fentress of Washington and Dark Harbor, Maine; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.