Harry Morgan, best known for playing Colonel Potter on long-running TV classic M*A*S*H, died Wednesday morning in his Los Angeles, Calif. home. His son Charles, who confirmed Morgan had died, said his father had been treated for pneumonia recently, likely his cause of death.
Harry Morgan was a prolific character actor. Appearing in hundreds of movies and TV shows, Morgan played everyone from the loyal sidekick and the hardened thug to the stern judge and the tough but loveable police chief. He is best known, however, as the always-acerbic but often tender-hearted Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H.
From Law School to Film School
Harry Morgan was born Henry Bratsburg on April 10, 1915. Born to Norwegian immigrants in Detroit, Mich., Morgan graduated from high school intending to become a lawyer. Looking into pre-law classes at the University of Chicago, however, Morgan found himself juggling his interest in law with an undeniable passion for the theater.
According to The New York Times, Morgan made his profession acting debut in a summer production of At Mrs. Beam's in Mount Kisco, N. J. and his Broadway debut in 1937's original production of Golden Boy.
Morgan's big break came in 1942. A talent scout got him signed to 20th Century Fox, and Henry Bratsburg changed his name. Originally, he had planned to simply be Henry Morgan, but a radio and television humorist had the same name, prompting the change from Henry to Harry.
On television, where he was best known, Harry Morgan played Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet from 1967-70, Pete Porter in Pete and Gladys (1960-2), and was a regular guest star on shows like “The Richard Boone Show” (1963-64), “Kentucky Jones” (1964-65), “The D.A.” (1971-72), “Hec Ramsey” (1972-74) and “Blacke’s Magic” (1986).
On film, Morgan appeared in over 100 movies ranging from the serious to the slapstick. He first attracted attention with The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) alongside Henry Fonda, where he was praised for his portrayal of a drifter caught up in a lynching in the Old West.
Beloved Colonel on 'MASH'
To most American audiences, however, Harry Morgan was best known at Colonel Sherman T. Potter, commander of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit in Korea. Morgan played Col. Potter on M*A*S*H from 1975 to 1983.
Speaking of the wry-witted colonel, Harry Morgan called the M*A*S*H role the best part I ever had.
He [Colonel Potter] was firm, Morgan recalled in an interview for the Archive of American Television. He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humor. That humor carried through in Morgan's own contribution to the TV show: Col. Potter's elaborate swear words, ranging from sweet Nefertiti! to Carolina cowpies!
In 1980 Harry Morgan won a best supporting actor Emmy for his role as Colonel Potter, and reprised the role in AfterMASH (183-85), a short-lived spin-off. When asked about the shooting of the M*A*S*H finale, Morgan said he had sadness and an aching heart.
After M*A*S*H, Harry Morgan went on to appear as a guest star on such TV shows as The Love Boat, “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.”
Always in Character
Harry Morgan was married to wide Eileen Detchon for 45 years, until Detchon died in 1985. He also lost a son, Daniel, in 1989. He is survived by his second wife, Barbara Bushman, whom he married in 1986; three sons from his first marriage, Christopher, Charles and Paul; and eight grandchildren.
His son Charles said in a telephone interview with The Times that the most impressive thing about the prolific character actor was his memory. “My dad would read a script the way somebody else would read Time magazine and put it down and be on the set the next day,” he said.
He also noted his father's love of being in character, even when he wasn't supposed to be. Harry Morgan never appeared as a talk show guest, and Charles Morgan has a theory as to why.
“Appearing on a talk show to focus on himself because he was Harry Morgan was not nearly as natural as appearing in a role as Pete Porter or Bill Gannon or Colonel Potter, or as the cowboy drifter who wandered into town with Henry Fonda and got wrapped up in a vigilante brigade in ‘Ox-Bow Incident', Charles said of father Harry Morgan.
Remembering Harry Morgan
Harry Morgan's 2004 Television Academy Foundation Interview:
Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H:
Classic Curses from Col. Potter: