Morganna Roberts (born July 4, 1954) is an entertainer who became known as Morganna or Morganna, the Kissing Bandit in baseball and other sports from 1970 through the 1990s. She was also billed as "Morganna the Wild One" when appearing as a dancer in the 1980s.
Morganna famously rushed the field on many occasions and kissed Major League Baseball players including Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, George Brett (twice), Steve Garvey, and Cal Ripken, Jr. She has been described as "baseball's unofficial mascot" and "the grand dame of baseball". She also crashed National Basketball Association games, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of her most notable victims.
Morganna Roberts was born in Louisville, Kentucky. She was a baseball fan from a young age, as her grandfather took her to see the Louisville team. She grew up in a poor family; her mother Jane disowned Morganna as a baby, which led to her grandmother Virginia's taking care of Morganna for six years. Morganna was then sent to Mount Mercy Catholic Boarding School just outside Louisville. She initially wanted to be a nun but ran away from the school at age 13, hitchhiking with a friend to Baltimore, where she begged shop owners for a job while living on the street and eating out of garbage cans. She was unable to find work because she was too young to get a work permit.
After a month, Morganna came across an ad in the window of the Flamingo Club for a "Cigarette Girl or Camera Girl. Must be 18". She told the owner she was 18, and he quickly decided she would be better employed as an exotic dancer. Morgana had no idea what that was but said yes, thinking "it had something to do with a camel and veils". Her first appearance on stage did not go well; she could not walk in her high heels, and as she danced, the men in the audience kept shouting "Take it off". Thinking they were referring to her, she burst into tears and had to be led off the stage by the manager. After watching some of the other performers, however, she soon got the hang of it and was a well-established and successful exotic dancer by the time she was 17. Her act combined stripping with comedy, wearing two 10 gallon cowboy hats on her chest and impersonating the film critic Gene Shalit. She avoided singing, however, as "when I sing, people think the place is being raided."
She attracted particular attention for what the writer Hank Davis describes as "her ample physical development. Simply put, the woman makes Dolly Parton look developmentally delayed". She gave her measurements as 60–23–39 inches (152–58–99 cm), which she referred to as her "baseball stats". She frequently quipped that Parton was "flat-chested" compared to her. Morganna's famously well-endowed physique began developing when she was only nine and, according to her, by the time she was 12 she could pass for 18. She had to wear I cup bras, costing $50 each and custom-made by a firm in Columbus, Ohio: "People ask me where I get my bras and I always tell them the same people who make my bras made the domes for all the stadiums." She also had to spend $45 a month on aerobics classes to help strengthen her back to take the weight of what she called her "stage props." Nonetheless, she insisted: "I'm not a sex symbol. I'm a comedienne. I make folks smile. I make them laugh - and that makes my day. What are we here for, if not that?"
Her on-field career began in August, 1969 when she rushed onto the field at Crosley Field, Cincinnati and kissed Reds player Pete Rose. She was prompted by a friend who "dirty-double-dared me to do it. Where I'm from, you don't turn down a dirty-double-dare... at least, not when you're a teenager." Rose reacted with "terrible language" but the next night he tracked her down "to the local nightspot where I was appearing and apologized with a bunch of roses." She obtained the nickname "the Kissing Bandit" from a Cincinnati sportswriter who announced her arrival with the headline: "Bandit steals kiss from Pete Rose."
Over the following years, Morganna became a familiar sight at baseball fields, basketball courts, and hockey rinks. By 1990, she had kissed 37 Major League Baseball players, 12 National Basketball Association players, and dozens of minor league baseball, basketball, and hockey players, plus various umpires, managers, and owners, and, on one occasion, The San Diego Chicken. She confined herself to kissing them on the cheek, commenting: "It's more sanitary than the lips, and that way their wives don't get upset. Besides, who wants tobacco stains all over your teeth?" On one occasion, one of her "victims" got his own back. Three weeks after Morganna had kissed George Brett, as he prepared to bat against the Baltimore Orioles, Brett marched onto the stage during Morganna's performance and, to the cheers of the crowd, gave her a kiss of her own. Few players seemed to mind being kissed by her; Kelly Tripucka of the Detroit Pistons famously commented, "It was like hugging a mattress. When I saw her coming at me, I thought it was like a Mack truck. I had two options – either get hit or get out of the way. I decided to get hit."
Her pastime was not without its hazards, however; she was beaten by security guards in Cincinnati, suffered various injuries jumping from stands onto playing fields, and was hit by a pitch in Milwaukee. She was arrested and charged with trespassing nearly 20 times and was jailed briefly in Anaheim, California. She also stood trial in Houston, Texas, where her lawyer used what he called the "gravity defense" to explain her unauthorized presence on the field, arguing: "This woman with a 112-pound (51 kg) body and 15-pound (6.8 kg) chest leaned over the rail to see a foul ball. Gravity took its toll, she fell out on the field, and the rest is history." The judge laughed and dismissed the case. Despite the arrests and fines, her fame earned Morganna millions of dollars.
Morganna's involvement with baseball extended to being the star of her own set of bubblegum cards and becoming the part-owner of a minor league club, the Utica Blue Sox. On one occasion she gave them a pep talk when they were 15-7 down and in last place; they went on to win 40 of the next 54 games. She endorsed the "Morganna Kissing Bandit peanuts" brand from Carolina Fine Snacks, which expected a doubling of its sales as a result. She even got featured in a display at the Baseball Hall of Fame, where a picture of her attempting to kiss Frank Howard was put on display. Her popularity with baseball fans grew to the point that minor-league clubs began inviting her to kiss their players as a way of drumming up publicity. The Boise Hawks went further, getting her to enter the field by bungee jumping from a crane, then persuading CNN to feature her jump as its "play of the day". Her appearances proved to be extremely popular, consistently doubling average attendances.
Off the field, Morganna worked as an entertainer, doing comedy and dancing. She worked regularly as an exotic dancer in Houston, Las Vegas, and Oklahoma City, sometimes earning as much as $7,000 to $10,000 a week. She was occasionally hired to publicize events, making personal appearances and giving speeches at places such as car shows and trade conventions. She also dabbled with television, appearing on Johnny Carson and David Letterman's late-night talk shows and occasionally hosting Good Morning, Columbus, a local TV talk show. Morganna appeared as the mystery guest in a 1978 episode of the game show, To Tell the Truth.
She appeared in Playboy magazine, in the June 1983, April 1985, and September 1989 issues. During the 1990s, she occasionally kissed minor league players. Her last notable appearance before retirement was in the Farrelly brothers' feature film Kingpin (1996), in which she appeared as herself.
She appeared in an obscure ChoiceMark Corp. VHS tape named "Sports Blooper Mania" in 1989, where she hosted/presented many sports bloopers that had been captured on film; and during the tape, an ongoing storyline developed where the viewer had to keep watching to find out who she would kiss next, as she claimed she was planning to kiss someone at an ongoing ball game, as she is famous for. Morganna ended up kissing Charles Barkley, who, at the time, played for the Philadelphia 76ers. As part of the plotline, she interrupted the game, kissed Barkley, and got arrested afterward.
At age 22, Morganna married Bill Cottrell, an accountant from Columbus, Ohio. The two met at a World Series game where he offered to help her with her taxes. Six months later, they got engaged; Morganna joked, "This man is saving you money. Better marry him!"
Morganna retired at the end of 1999 and now lives in Ohio. She no longer grants interviews.