Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Late Great Harry Morgan

Harry Morgan, who appeared in films from Holiday Affair (1949) to Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) and TV shows from December Bride to M*A*S*H, died today at the age of 96. A prolific actor, Mr. Morgan appeared in over 100 movies.

Harry Morgan was born Harry Bratsberg on 10 April 1915 in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Muskegon High School with plans to become a lawyer, but while attending the University of Chicago he developed an interest in theatre. He made his debut on Broadway in the play Golden Boy in 1937. From the late Thirties into the early Forties he appeared in such plays as The Gentle People (1939), Thunder Rock (1939), Heavenly Express (1940), and The Night Before Christmas (1941).

In 1942 Harry Morgan moved to California. He was discovered by a talent agent in a production of Hello Out There by William Saroyan in Santa Barbara. He was signed to 20th Century Fox. In his early years he used "Henry Morgan" as his stage name, but he later changed it to "Harry Morgan" to avoid confusion with radio satirist Henry Morgan. Mr. Morgan made his film debut in To the Shores of Tripoli in 1942. His big break would come in 1943 when he appeared as Art Croft in The Ox-Bow Incident. During the Forties he appeared in such films as Wing and a Prayer (1944), State Fair (1945), Dragonwyck (1946), All My Sons (1948), The Saxon Charm (1948), Madame Bovary (1949), Holiday Affair (1949), and Dark City (1950).

In the Fifties Harry Morgan would expand into television, making his debut in an episode of The Amazing Mr. Malone  in 1951. He was a regular in the role of Peter Porter on the sitcom December Bride and its spin off Pete and Gladys. He guest starred on such shows as Cavalcade of America, The 20th Century Fox Hour, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He continued to appear in films, including Scandal Street (1952), High Noon (1952), Thunder Bay (1953), The Glen Miller Story (1954), Strategic Air Command (1955), Inherit the Wind (1960), and Cimarron (1960).

In the Sixties Harry Morgan was a regular on The Richard Boone Show, Kentucky Jones, and Dragnet. He guest starred on Ensign O'Toole, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Untouchables, The Virginian, Dr. Kildare, and Love American Style. He appeared in such films as How the West Was Won (1962), John Goldfarb Come Home (1965), Frankie and Johnny (1966), What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), The Flim-Flam Man (1967), and Support Your Local Sheriff (1970).

In the Seventies Mr. Morgan played the regular role of Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H, as well as  a regular role on Hec Ramsey. He guest starred on such shows as Night Gallery, The Partridge Family, and Gunsmoke. He appeared in the films The Barefoot Executive (1971), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), Scandalous John (1971), Charley and the Angel (1973), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), The Shootist (1976), and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.

In the Eighties Harry Morgan reprised his role as Sherman Potter on the spin off After M*A*S*H and he had a regular role on Blacke's Magic. From the Eighties into the Nineties he guest starred on such shows as You Can't Take It With You, Murder She WroteThe Twilight Zone, The Simpsons, and 3rd Rock From the Sun. He appeared in such films as Dragnet (1987), Family Plan (1997), and Crosswalk (1999).

If Harry Morgan is best known for his role as Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H, it is perhaps because he was so good at playing such characters, characters who were acerbic and firm, yet ultimately kind hearted. Indeed, among the best scenes in Holiday Affair from 1949 is one in which Mr. Morgan played a police lieutenant very similar to Colonel Potter. His roles in Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter would also be similar. Even his television roles were similar--Pete Porter of December Bride and Pete and Gladys was essentially a younger version of Sherman T. Potter. While Harry Morgan had a gift for playing such characters, it must be pointed out that he played a wide variety of roles in his career that were often very different from Colonel Potter. In The Big Clock (1951) he convincingly played a quiet but nonetheless threatening bodyguard. In Inherit the Wind (1960) he played a small town judge forced to hear what could have been the trial of the century. In The Shootist he played an understandably nervous marshal who must deal with a gunfighter played by John Wayne. Harry Morgan played a variety of roles, not all of them sarcastic yet soft hearted characters. Indeed, although now best known for his comedy roles, it must be pointed out that Mr. Morgan was equally adept at drama. Very few actors had as diverse a career as Harry Morgan, a man who played in both notable films and notable TV shows. If he had a long, prolific, and diverse career, it was simply because Mr. Morgan was a man of very great talent.

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