Harry Morgan in 1975
April 10, 1915
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||December 7, 2011 (aged 96)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Chicago|
|Occupation||Actor, director, writer|
(m. 1940; died 1985)
Barbara Bushman (m. 1986)
Harry Morgan (born Harry Bratsberg; April 10, 1915 - December 7, 2011) was an American actor and director whose television and film career spanned six decades. Morgan's major roles included Pete Porter in both December Bride (1954-1959) and Pete and Gladys (1960-1962); Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet (1967-1970); Amos Coogan on Hec Ramsey (1972-1974); and his starring role as Colonel Sherman T. Potter in M*A*S*H (1975-1983) and AfterMASH (1983-1985). Morgan appeared in more than 100 films.
Morgan was born Harry Bratsberg in Detroit, the son of Hannah and Henry Bratsberg. His parents were of Swedish and Norwegian ancestry. In his interview with the Archive of American Television, Morgan spelled his Norwegian family surname as "Brasburg". Many sources, however, including some family records, list the spelling as "Bratsburg". According to one source, when Morgan's father Henry registered at junior high school, "the registrar spelled it Bratsburg instead of Bratsberg. Bashful Henry did not demur."
Morgan was raised in Muskegon, Michigan, and graduated from Muskegon High School in 1933, where he achieved distinction as a statewide debating champion. He originally aspired to a J.D. degree, but began acting while a junior at the University of Chicago in 1935.
He began acting on stage under his birth name, in 1937, joining the Group Theatre in New York City formed by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg in 1931. He appeared in the original production of the Clifford Odets play Golden Boy, followed by a host of successful Broadway roles alongside such other Group members as Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan, John Garfield, Sanford Meisner, and Karl Malden. Morgan also did summer stock at the Pine Brook Country Club located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut.
Morgan made his screen debut (originally using the name "Henry Morgan") in the 1942 movie To the Shores of Tripoli. His screen name later became "Henry 'Harry' Morgan" and eventually Harry Morgan, to avoid confusion with the popular humorist of the same name.
In the same year, Morgan appeared in the movie Orchestra Wives as a young man pushing his way to the front of a ballroom crowd with his date to hear Glenn Miller's band play. A few years later, still credited as Henry Morgan, he was cast in the role of pianist Chummy MacGregor in the 1954 biopic The Glenn Miller Story.
Morgan continued to play a number of significant roles on the big screen in such films as The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Wing and a Prayer (1944), A Bell for Adano (1945), Dragonwyck (1946), The Gangster (1947), The Big Clock (1948), High Noon (1952), and several films in the 1950s for director Anthony Mann, including Bend of the River (1952), Thunder Bay (1953), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), The Far Country (1955), and Strategic Air Command (1955). In his later film career, he appeared in Inherit the Wind (1960), How the West Was Won (1962) (as Ulysses S. Grant), John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965), Frankie and Johnny (1966), The Flim Flam Man (1967), Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), Support Your Local Gunfighter! (1971), Snowball Express (1972), The Shootist (1976), The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979), and as Captain Gannon in the film version of Dragnet (1987) with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks.
Morgan hosted the NBC radio series Mystery in the Air starring Peter Lorre in 1947. On CBS, he played Pete Porter in Pete and Gladys (1960-1962), with Cara Williams as wife Gladys. Pete and Gladys was a spin-off of December Bride (1954-1959), starring Spring Byington, a show in which Morgan had a popular recurring role. In 1950, Morgan appeared as an obtrusive, alcohol-addled hotel clerk in the Dragnet radio episode "The Big Boys".
After Pete and Gladys ended production, Morgan guest-starred in the role of Al Everett in the 1962 episode "Like My Own Brother" on Gene Kelly's ABC drama series, Going My Way, loosely based on the 1944 Bing Crosby film of the same name. That same year, he played the mobster Bugs Moran in an episode of ABC's The Untouchables, with Robert Stack. In 1963, he was cast as Sheriff Ernie Backwater on Richard Boone's Have Gun - Will Travel Western series on CBS, then worked as a regular cast member on the 1963-64 anthology series The Richard Boone Show.
Morgan had also appeared with Dragnet star Jack Webb in three film noir movies, Dark City (1950), Appointment with Danger (1951) and Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), and was an early regular member of Jack Webb's stock company of actors on the original Dragnet radio show. Morgan later worked on two other shows for Webb: 1971's The D.A. and the 1972-1974 Western series, Hec Ramsey. Morgan also appeared in at least one episode of Gunsmoke ("The Witness" - aired 11/23/1970).
Morgan's first appearance on M*A*S*H was in the show's third season (1974-1975), when he played eccentric Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele in "The General Flipped at Dawn", which first aired on September 10, 1974.
The following season, Morgan joined the cast of M*A*S*H as Colonel Sherman T. Potter. A fan of the sitcom, Morgan replaced McLean Stevenson, who left the show at the end of the previous season. Unlike Stevenson's character Henry Blake, Potter was a career Army officer who was a firm yet good-humored, caring father figure to those under his command.
In 1980, Morgan won an Emmy award for his performance on M*A*S*H. When asked if he was a better actor after working with the show's talented cast, Morgan responded, "I don't know about that, but it's made me a better human being." After the end of the series, Morgan reprised the Potter role in a short-lived spinoff series, AfterMASH.
Morgan also appeared in several Disney movies throughout the decade, including The Barefoot Executive, Snowball Express, Charley and the Angel, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Cat from Outer Space (opposite McLean Stevenson) and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.
In 1986, he co-starred with Hal Linden in Blacke's Magic, a show about a magician who doubled as a detective solving unusual crimes. The series lasted only one season. Morgan's character, Leonard Blacke, was a semiretired con artist.
In 1987, Morgan reprised his Bill Gannon character, now a captain, for a supporting role in another film version of Dragnet, a parody and homage to the original series written by and starring Dan Aykroyd and costarring Tom Hanks and Christopher Plummer.
In 1987-1988, Morgan starred in the one-season situation comedy series You Can't Take It with You as family patriarch Martin Vanderhof.
In the 1990s, Morgan starred alongside Walter Matthau in a series of television movies for CBS as Stoddard Bell, a judge who is an acquaintance/nemesis/partner of Matthau's Harmon Cobb, an attorney (The Incident; An Incident in Baltimore, and Incident in a Small Town). He also lent his voice to an episode of The Simpsons from season seven, where he once again played Bill Gannon; in the episode "Mother Simpson", Gannon and Joe Friday (voiced by Harry Shearer) are FBI agents trying to track down Homer's mother, who is a fugitive from justice.
Morgan also had a recurring role on 3rd Rock from the Sun as Professor Suter, a colleague of Dick Solomon's. Morgan directed episodes for several TV series, including two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, two episodes of Hec Ramsey, one episode of Adam-12, and eight episodes of M*A*S*H. Morgan had a guest role on The Jeff Foxworthy Show as Raymond and a guest role on Grace Under Fire as Jean's pot-smoking boyfriend.
Morgan's first marriage was to Eileen Detchon from 1940 until her death in 1985. During Morgan's time on M*A*S*H, a photograph of Detchon regularly appeared on the desk of his character. A drawing of a horse, seen on the wall behind Potter's desk, was drawn by Morgan's grandson, Jeremy Morgan. In addition, Eileen was the name of the wife of Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet. Morgan had four sons with his first wife: Christopher, Charles, Paul, and Daniel (who died in 1989).
He then married Barbara Bushman Quine (granddaughter of silent film star Francis X. Bushman) on December 17, 1986. The marriage lasted until his death. In July 1997, Morgan was charged with abusing his wife a year earlier, after a beating left her with injuries to her eye, foot, and arm. Prosecutors dropped the charges after the 82-year-old actor completed a six-month domestic violence counseling program.
Morgan had two siblings, Marguerite and Arnold (both deceased).
Morgan was close friends with bandleader Glenn Miller, whom he met while filming Orchestra Wives in 1942, until Miller's death two years later. Morgan was later cast in the 1954 movie about his friend, The Glenn Miller Story, playing Chummy MacGregor. Morgan's son led the Glenn Miller Orchestra for some years.
Morgan died peacefully in his sleep at 3:00 am in Los Angeles, on December 7, 2011, at the age of 96. His son, Charles, said he recently had been treated for pneumonia. His body was cremated and his remains were given to his family.
He was a wonderful man, a fabulous actor and a dear and close friend since the first day we worked together. As Alan [Alda] said, he did not have an unadorable bone in his body. He was a treasure as a person, an imp at times, and always a true professional. He had worked with the greats and never saw himself as one of them. But he was. He was the rock everyone depended on and yet he could cut up like a kid when the situation warranted it. He was the apotheosis, the finest example of what people call a 'character actor'. What he brought to the work made everyone better. He made those who are thought of as 'stars' shine even more brightly. The love and admiration we all felt for him were returned tenfold in many, many ways. And the greatest and most selfless tribute to the experience we enjoyed was paid by Harry at the press conference when our show ended. He remarked that someone had asked him if working on M*A*S*H had made him a better actor. He responded by saying, 'I don't know about that, but it made me a better human being.' It's hard to imagine a better one.