December 07, 2011

Harry Morgan, Primetime Emmy Winner Known for M*A*S*H and Many Other Series

In addition to the role of Col. Sherman T. Potter in M*A*S*H, Morgan starred on the 1960s update of Dragnet and numerous other shows.

Harry Morgan, an actor best known for the role of Colonel Sherman T. Potter in the long-running television comedy M*A*S*H, died December 7, 2011, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 96.

Although he more than 100 movies, he is best known for has decades of television work, which also included the role of Bill Gannon, partner of Jack Webb’s Joe Friday on the updated version of Dragnet, from 1967-1970. Other series included the comedy Pete and Gladys, December Bride, The Richard Boone Show, Kentucky Jones, The D.A., Hec Ramsey, Gunsmoke and Blacke’s Magic.

He joined M*A*S*H in 1975, replacing McLean Stevenson, who left the show, and remained on the series until its end in 1983, when M*A*S*H went off the air.

In 1980 he earned a Primetime Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for his performance as Colonel Potter.

The son of Norwegian immigrants, Morgan was born Harry Bratsburg on April 10, 1915, in Detroit, Michigan. He originally planned to become a lawyer, but when he took debating classes as a pre-law major at the University of Chicago, he became interested in performing.

He made his professional debut in a summer stock production of At Mrs. Beam’s in Mount Kisco, New York, and his Broadway debut in 1937 in the original production of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy.

In 1942 he moved to California in 1942, where a talent scout saw him in a Santa Barbara stage production, which led to a contract with 20th Century Fox. He originally used the name Henry Morgan, but switched Harry in the 1950s to avoid confusion with the radio and television personality Henry Morgan.

Morgan made numerous films in the 1940s and ’50s, including The Ox-Bow, A Bell for Adano, All My Sons, The Big Clock, Yellow Sky, High Noon, The Glenn Miller Story and The Teahouse of the August Moon. In the ’60s and ’70s he appeared in Inherit the Wind, How the West Was Won, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, The Flim-Flam Man, Support Your Local Sheriff! and The Apple Dumpling Gang. As a tip of the hat to his Dragnet role, he reprised the role of Bill Gannon in the 1987s film version of Dragnet, starring Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd.

His vast television appearances included hundreds of series episodes. A partial list included The Lone Wolf, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, Have Gun — Will Travel, The Virginian, Dr. Kildare, Love, American Style, The Partridge Family, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, 3rd Rock From the Sun, You Can’t Take It With You, The Jeff Foxworthy Show and The Simpsons.

He also reprised the role of Sherman Potter in the short-lived AfterMASH.

Morgan’s first wife, Eileen Detchon, died in 1985 after 45 years of marriage. Survivors include his second wife, Barbara Bushman, whom he married in 1986, three sons from his first marriage and eight grandchildren. A fourth son died in 1989.

Harry Morgan had the distinction of being interviewed for the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the three-and-a-half hour interview, conducted in Century City, California, by Henry Colman, Morgan began by describing his early years breaking into acting in summer stock, which led to his work in the Group Theater and his notable appearance in Golden Boy on Broadway.

He then talked about his move to Hollywood and how he landed a contract at Twentieth Century Fox. He spoke briefly about some of the movies he made and the directors for whom he worked.

He went on to detail his work in television, describing several shows he appeared in as a regular, including December Bride, Pete and Gladys and The Richard Boone Show.

In addition, he talked about his appearance as Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet and described working with Jack Webb.

Finally he described in great detail his experiences on the classic sitcom M*A*S*H, describing his character Col. Sherman T. Potter, discussing the actors in the ensemble and the characters they played, and describing the atmosphere on the set.

The entire interview is available online here.

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