Veteran character actor Harry Morgan, best known for his work as Col. Sherman Potter on the sitcom M.A.S.H., has died. He was 96.
Born in 1915, Morgan had a career in film (“To The Shores of Tripoli“) and television that stretched from the dawn of the medium to as recently as the late 1990s (“Love & Money“). His resume on IMDB.com seems to stretch on forever, a good sign for a career that lasted more than 60 years. If you’re working right up until the end, you’re probably doing something right.
Writing in USA Today, Robert Bianco rightfully suggests that there was never really a “Harry Morgan Movie” or a “Harry Morgan TV Show.” He was never the star, never the center of attention in the way say, the late Jack Webb was for “Dragnet” or Alan Alda was for M.A.S.H.
But like most great character actors, Morgan brought something to every role he played. And every film and show in which he appeared was richer for his presence.
For viewers of my generation and those a bit older, Morgan is still best-known for his turn as the irascible Col. Sherman Potter on M.A.S.H..
Even as a kid, I loved Morgan in that role. His Sherman Potter had a solid Midwestern decency to him. He was devoted to his wife, Mildred, and like the rest of the cast, he couldn’t wait to get home. But even in the midst of it, Potter, as a career Army officer, brought a sense of both gravitas and irreverence to the bizarre routines of military life.
I was 13 years old when M.A.S.H. went off the air in 1983. And my most pronounced memory of it is of a tear-streaked Potter saying goodbye to his doctors, saddling up his beloved horse, and literally riding into the sunset.
Here’s one of Morgan’s most powerful moments from that classic show.
It was only a few years later that I became aware that Morgan had also starred opposite Jack Webb in both the 1960s TV incarnation of “Dragnet“ and in its earlier life on the radio. In both cases, Morgan played Detective Bill Gannon, once again the level-headed counterweight to Webb’s by-the-book Joe Friday.
If you’re looking for the DNA of every police procedural that’s made its way to the smallscreen, “Dragnet” is the place to start your search. I sometimes wonder whether “Law & Order” maven Dick Wolf was taking notes when he dreamed up his seemingly indestructible franchise.
Like a lot of the early TV actors, I lost track of Morgan over the years. He was old — even when I was a kid — and I just assumed that he’d quietly shuffled off this mortal coil years ago and I’d missed it. Instead, I was surprisingly shocked and saddened to learn of his passing today.
It may have been compounded by the fact that I spent part of the day today in the company of veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack who were the same age that Morgan was when he passed. Like the actor, they are living links to a time in our history we will never get back. And I felt happy and lucky to have been able to spend a few minutes in their company and to hear their stories.
Morgan, I now realize, gave us a similar gift.