Harry Morgan, "M*A*S*H"'s Colonel Potter, Dies at 96

Obituaries   Harry Morgan, "M*A*S*H"'s Colonel Potter, Dies at 96
Harry Morgan, who played the salty but kindly career army man Col. Sherman T. Potter, in the long-running television show "M*A*S*H," and was a familiar Hollywood character actor, starring in more than 100 movies, died Dec. 7 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 96.

Mr. Morgan was beginning the fifth decade of his endlessly productive acting career when he was asked to join the cast of "M*A*S*H." He was cast as Col. Potter, a disciplined, by-the-book and plain-spoken commander of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit in Korea as the character's predecessor, Col. Henry Blake (played by McLean Stevenson), had been wishy-washy, befuddled and utterly secular. Mr. Morgan played the role from 1975 to 1983, imbuing the character with wisdom, good humor and an all-American common sense that even the show's resident rebel, Alan Alda's Hawkeye Pierce, came to respect. He won an Emmy Award for the role in 1980 and was nominated eight other times. The actor called it "the best part I ever had."

And, he had played a lot of parts by that time. Born Harry Bratsburg, of Norwegian and Swedish descent, on April 10, 1945, in Detroit, he developed an interest in acting after participating in debating classes in his pre-law major at the University of Chicago. He made his professional acting debut in a summer stock production of At Mrs. Beam’s in Mount Kisco, NY. Under the name Harry Bratsburg, he made his Broadway debut in the Group Theatre's production of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy in 1937. He moved to California in 1942, and never returned to New York, later telling journalists that he couldn't afford to at the time. After appearing in a Santa Barbara production of a Saroyan play, he was signed to a contract with 20th Century Fox. Soon after he changed his professional named from Henry Morgan to Harry Morgan.

Mr. Morgan became a ubiquitous character actor, a familiar wiry, folksy presence to movie audiences. He was particularly at home in Westerns, police dramas and war pictures. He played a drifter in "The Ox-Bow Incident" (1943), an M.P. in "A Bell for Adano" (1945), a townsperson in the classic "High Noon" (1952) and General Grant in "How the West Was Won." Other credits included "All My Sons," "The Big Clock," "The Teahouse of the August Moon," "Inherit the Wind," "The Glenn Miller Story" and "The Apple Dumpling Gang." Early in his career, he played a lot of heavies. But as he got older, his characters more commonly signified integrity and a tender-hearted grit.

He was no less busy on television, tirelessly working as a guest player and regular on countess shows. His most famous television role outside of "M*A*S*H" was Officer Bill Gannon on the late-'60s police series "Dragnet." He later reprised the role in both the film version of "Dragnt" and in an episode of "The Simpsons." But he also played characters in the situation comedy "Pete and Gladys" (1960-62), "December Bride" (1954-59; Emmy nomination), "The Richard Boone Show" (1963-64), "Kentucky Jones" (1964-65), "The D.A." (1971-72), "Hec Ramsey" (1972-74) and "Blacke's Magic" (1986).

He reprised the role of Sherman Potter in "AfterMASH," (1983-85) a spinoff of "M*A*S*H." One of his guest appearances was as a delusional major general in an early episode of "M*A*S*H." He was so good in the part that he was later offered the role of Potter. Throughout his life, Mr. Morgan exhibited a healthy and grateful attitude toward his profession. He never seemed to complain about the parts he didn't get, or the peculiarities of his colleagues. "I’d like to be remembered for being a fairly pleasant person and for having gotten along for the most part with a lot of the people I’ve worked with," he told the Archive of American television in 2004. "And for having a wonderful life and for having enjoyed practically every minute of it. Especially in the picture business and on the stage and I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world."

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