As Colonel Sherman T. Potter might say, “Mule muffins.” Lovable character actor Harry Morgan died this morning at the age of 96. His family said he had battled pneumonia recently.
Morgan hadn’t acted on TV or film since 1999, after appearing in a sitcom called ‘Love & Money’ and doing a guest arc on ‘3rd Rock From the Sun.’ But his career spanned approximately six decades. In addition to his iconic TV roles on ‘Dragnet’ and ‘M*A*S*H,’ he appeared in dozens of movies dating back to 1942.
The Norwegian-blooded actor was born in 1915, just three years after the Titanic sank and less than a year after World War I began. His family lived in Michigan, and he initially hoped to become a lawyer. But he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940s in the hopes of making as an actor. It didn’t take long.
His first film appearance (billed as Henry Morgan) was in ‘To the Shores of Tripoli’ in 1942. He went on to appear in classic movies such as ‘High Noon’ and ‘Inherit the Wind.’
But television is where he made his mark. He was a regular in several series from the 1950s to the 1980s. He was on the popular sitcom ‘December Bride’ from 1954 to 1959. His character, Pete, was so popular that he got a spin-off, ‘Pete and Gladys,’ which ran a couple of years.
He hit it big again with the revival of ‘Dragnet’ in the late 1960s. But his most-loved role was as Col. Potter on ‘M*A*S*H.’
Morgan replaced McLean Stevenson, who (prematurely, he would later admit) left the show after only three years for an attempt at further TV stardom. Morgan had been so good in the 1974 episode ‘The General Flipped at Dawn,’ in which he played a cuckoo high-ranking officer, that the producers brought him back to replace Stevenson permanently.
Their decision was wise. Col. Potter was quite different than the bumbling Col. Henry Blake, but in a good way. He was fatherly, funny and more by-the-book. But he had a heart, and if something seemed immoral, he would question it. Likewise, he wasn’t afraid of occasionally breaking regulations if it made sense to him.
The character had a tough exterior, but he could make your heart melt when he was brought to tears. That’s the kind of role Morgan played so well – manly and genuine, but emotional deep down. That, and he was funny as hell. He won an Emmy for the part.
Morgan is survived by his second wife, Barbara (his first wife died in 1985), three sons and eight grandchildren. Col. Potter, who stayed in the military for nearly half a century, would surely been proud of Morgan’s tenure in Showbiz.