September 24, 2004
An interview with Christopher Morrison, Paul Frees’ neighbor
One of Paul Frees’ neighbors, Chris Morrison, kindly agreed to allow me to interview him, via E-mail, about Paul Frees. I got to know Chris after he discovered our web site. I know that it was a true labor of love for him to answer my questions. He confessed that he frequently uses the “hunt and peck” style of typing. So he dedicated hours upon hours to the answers in this interview! Great job, Chris! Thank you for contributing to what will surely be one of our very best features, on the Watler Tetley Web Page! One interesting detail, to note: Chris did not answer all of my questions. I gave him the opportunity to beg off any questions, if he felt that he would not be paying total respect to his dear friend and neighbor, Paul Frees. There were other reasons why he chose to not answer some of my questions. The reasons for this, however, are between him and me. With all this being said, I hope that you enjoy our interview.
I assumed, from some of the things that Paul told me, that he was the kind of person who drew fun times to him (and did quite a bit of entertaining). Is this accurate? Was he really an extrovert or was he more of an introvert, who did well in small groups?
Yes in the early days he always seemed to have people around. I would see him at some of the local restraunts with friends. Having been over to his house only a few times, and living down the hill, I could not tell you about any parties at his home. He would come into the coin shop, where I worked, with friends on many occasions, and he would buy gold coins to give out as gifts. He bought gold chains as well.
You mentioned to me, in an E-mail, that he really touched you. Do you have any interesting and/or poignant stories to share, along these lines?
Sometime around 1973 I was working at a coin shop in Tiburon,CA. In walks this very interesting man (dressed like he had just gotten married) who had purchased a few things in the past. My boss somehow had gotten into a conversation about crime with Paul and he was surprised when Paul pulled out a Marin County Sheriff’s badge from his pocket. He showed it to him, along with his I.D. card. My boss looked over at me and said: “Show him your badge.”. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a reserve officer’s badge from the city of Belvedere. Paul was as shocked as we were with him…Here were two of the least likely law enforcement officers in the country (appearance-wise) running into each other (I was 21 at the time and looked 15; I think I weighed 140 pounds). After that we always greeted each other as friends for the rest of his life.
Paul seemed to describe himself as a “homebody”. He also gave some of his hobbies/pastimes, as painting, writing stories and music and cooking. Does that sound like the Paul Frees that you knew? What other Frees hobbies/pastimes, do you recall?
# 1 interest: His Fans. He LOVED them! His daughter Sabrina mentioned that her father would pull into a gas station and talk to the attendant for ten minutes…So true…I’ll give you a story. I was working as a night property manager for the company that owns the buildings and parking lots in the town of Tiburon,near Paul’s house in the early 1980’s. I was fixing the ticket machine as you enter the parking lot one night and the attendant, named Neal, was standing next to me. In drives Paul and his wife in his Mercedes coupe. Paul blasts out: “Chris how you doing my boy!” Before I could reply Neal blurts out “Oh my god you’re Paul Frees -man of 1000 voices!” Well all I can say is that Paul exploded with joy! He pulled the car over and talked with Neal for the longest time about his career. Neal was a wiz at movie trivia and went toe to toe with him during that conversation.
Besides the fans he had an interest in collecting police hats, fine handguns and large tropical birds (the only one of his hobbies, I think, that Beverly, his wife, liked). On one of my visits (3 total) to his house, they showed me their collection of Cockateels and Cockatoos in their downstairs bedroom. They had completely remodeled the whole house, building an inside bird cage that was set into the design of the house rising 30ft or so up through the interior from the lower bedroom.
People have stated that he might have been agoraphobic or a recluse. But if you could have seen that house and what was in it, along with a straight-on view over the water of San Francisco, you would stick around your own house too! The house next door is on the market now for $5 million dollars. The Frees house has got to be worth at least $3 million now. A young couple came into my store, a few weeks ago, after hearing from someone that I knew Paul. So I closed the shop for a few minutes, walked them up to house, and gave them a tour of the outside. Paul had a trap door built in to the top floor bedroom wall above the carport for emergency exit if needed (related to his work in undercover narcotics).
How much did you know about his other role, with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, as an undercover agent? Did he ever discuss this with you? Do you know how that job came about for him? The internet movie database mentioned that he was doing that work in the 60s. Do you know if he was still doing it, when you became neighbors? I assume that he was carrying a gun (and perhaps even employing a bodyguard), when he was involved with this work.
Paul was an expert at the application of make-up and disguise. That was one of the things he brought to his undercover work in law enforcement, along with his ability to mimic voices over the phone. Maybe some old timer from the Bureau of Narcotics will come forward, some day, with some very interesting “war stories”.
Paul mentioned some of the “kick in the door” drug raids that he was involved in, around the County, over the years. I have forgotten the content of those conversations, however. As I stated before, his “Police Work” was the real thing. I’m sure others will come forward and state the same. He carried a shoulder holster weapon (see page 157 photo of Ben Ohmart’s book on Paul Frees) and he employed a bodyguard, at various times. Peter Davis was one of these, on occasion.
Paul seemed to always be on guard for his personal safety. At least, it seemed that way to me. He picked Belvedere-Tiburon, California, because it was one of the safest places in the country. He built a fortress of a house, had the only barred windows in town, and he kept lots of police and firemen around, as friends. There was one narrow road, up to the house, and two police departments within a half mile. Who knows? Maybe someday it will come out that his work, with the Feds, was more notable than his other career!
Is there anything that you would care to add?
Perhaps just a little bit more about how he touched me; I could spend four hours talking about my casual relationship with Paul to others! I live in a town where Robert Redford, Andre Aggassi, Tom Snyder, Vivian Vance, Sterling Haden, Bob Cummings and many other celebrities have lived. Though Paul Frees was just another “run away” from Beverly Hills to his nieghbors, to me he was a kind-hearted, wonderful friend, who also touched the lives of so many people in such a positive. Unfortunately he suffered in anonymity.
Brian; I think you are doing a great thing for our friend Mr. Frees. Your web site’s sensitivity has brought back all these memories to me. For that reason, I decided to share this with you. Please feel free to use this on your site or just keep it for your records.