Harry Morgan was a prolific character actor who starred in over 100 films and was a stage performer. Known to a younger generation of fans as "Col. Sherman T. Potter" on "M*A*S*H" (1972). Also known for his commanding personality throughout his career, he tackled movies and television in a way no other actor would do it.
Born Harry Bratsberg in Detroit, Michigan, to parents Henry Bratsberg, who immigrated from Norway, who was a mechanic, and Anna Olsen, a housewife who immigrated from Sweden. After graduating from Muskegon High School in Muskegon, Michigan, he took on a job as a salesman, before becoming a successful actor.
In the many films, several of his most memorable movies, he appeared in were: in one of his firsts, The Omaha Trail (1942), in the next quarter of a century, he would also appear in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Wing and a Prayer (1944), State Fair (1945), Dragonwyck (1946), All My Sons (1948), Red Light (1949), Outside the Wall (1950), Dark City (1950) where he met future "Dragnet 1967" (1967) co-star Jack Webb, who would be best friends until Webb's death, late in 1982, along with Appointment with Danger (1951). His films credits also include: High Noon (1952), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), Strategic Air Command (1955), among many others. He also co-starred with James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and its sequel Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971).
On television, he is fondly remembered as Spring Byington's jokingly, henpecked neighbor, "Pete Porter" on "December Bride" (1954), where he became the show's scene-stealer. It was also based on a popular radio show that it transferred into television. The show was an immediate success to viewers, which led him into starring his own short-lived spin-off series, "Pete and Gladys" (1960), which co-starred Cara Williams, who met Morgan in the movie, The Saxon Charm (1948).
Morgan began his eight-year association with old friend, Jack Webb, and Universal, starting with "Dragnet 1967" (1967), which he played Off. Bill Gannon. For the second time, like "December Bride" (1954) before this, it was an immediate hit, where it tackled a lot of topics. Dragnet was canceled in 1970, after a 4-season run, due to Morgan's best friend and co-star (Jack Webb) leaving the show to continue producing other shows, such as: "Adam-12" (1968) and "Emergency!" (1972). Morgan would later work with Webb in both short-lived series, "The D.A." (1971), opposite Robert Conrad and "Hec Ramsey" (1972), opposite Richard Boone. After those roles, Morgan ended his contract with both Universal and Mark VII, to sign with 20th Century Fox.
Morgan's biggest role was that of a tough-talking, commanding, fun-loving, serious Army Officer, "Col. Sherman T. Potter" on "M*A*S*H" (1972), when he replaced McLean Stevenson, who left the show to unsuccessfully star in his own sitcom. For the third time, the show was still a hit with fans, and at 60, he was nominated for Emmies nine times and won his first and only Emmy in 1980, for Outstanding Supporting Actor. By 1983, M*A*S*H's series was getting very expensive, as well as with the cast, hence, CBS reduced it to 16 episodes. Despite M*A*S*H's finale in 1983, Morgan went on to star in a short-lived spin-off series "After MASH" (1983), co-starring Jamie Farr and William Christopher, from the original "M*A*S*H" (1972) series, without series' star Alan Alda.
He also co-starred in 2 more short-lived series, as he was over 70, beginning with "Blacke's Magic" (1986) with Hal Linden and his final role with "You Can't Take It with You" (1987). That same year, he reprised his role, for a second time as "Off. Bill Gannon" in the film, Dragnet (1987), which starred Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. Then, he guest-starred in several shows such as: "The Twilight Zone" (1985), "Renegade" (1992), "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" (1995), for the third time, he also reprised his "Off. Bill Gannon" role, supplying his voice on "The Simpsons" (1989). Towards the end of his acting career, as he reached 80, he had a recurring role as the older college professor on "3rd Rock from the Sun" (1996), opposite John Lithgow. Afterwards, he retired from show business and lived with his family. Harry Morgan died on December 7, 2011, at age 96. On confirming his death, his son Charles, said that he had been recently treated for pneumonia. Morgan was also one of the oldest living Hollywood male actors.
|Barbara Bushman||(17 December 1986 - 7 December 2011) (his death)|
|Eileen Detchon||(1 September 1940 - 4 February 1985) (her death) 4 children|
His commanding voice
Frequently played bad guy or cowardly roles
His gray hair.
Often played roles whose characters spent time in the military.
Once belonged to the Group Theater in New York.
Of Norwegian descent, his grandparents were immigrants from Scandinavia.
In the episode "Murder, She Wrote: The Days Dwindle Down (#3.21)" (1987), he played an LAPD Detective named Webb. In 1967, he had starred as a member of the LAPD in "Dragnet 1967" (1967) which was created by and costarred Jack Webb.
Once said that he enjoyed playing Colonel Potter on "M*A*S*H" (1972) so much that he felt that he could have "gone on forever" playing that character.
In several episodes of "M*A*S*H" (1972), Col. Potter was seen painting portraits, mainly of the other characters. These portraits were actually painted by Morgan.
Prior to joining the cast of "M*A*S*H" (1972) in the fourth season as the stern but decent Colonel Potter, he appeared in the third season episode "M*A*S*H: The General Flipped at Dawn (#3.1)" (1974) as a crazed general who wanted to move the 4077 unit closer to the front line.
Had four sons by his first wife: Charles and Paul are both attorneys, Christopher Morgan, a TV producer, and Daniel, who died in 1989.
Graduated from Muskegon High School in Muskegon, Michigan, in 1933.
He was an active opponent of the anti-communist campaign in Hollywood.
Grandfather of Spencer Morgan (son of Charles and Charlotte Morgan) of Los Angeles, California.
Started using Harry rather than Henry when comedian Henry Morgan became popular on radio and TV in the early 1960s. Ironically, they were only born 11 days apart.
Was good friends with: Julie London, Bobby Troup, Jack Webb, Alan Alda, Gavin MacLeod, Shirley Jones, Robert Horton, Angela Lansbury, Robert Conrad, Larry Manetti, Desi Arnaz, Gale Gordon, Cara Williams, James Arness, Anne Baxter, Kathleen Freeman, Richard Widmark, Dana Andrews, James Stewart, Richard Boone, Rory Calhoun, Norman Lloyd, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan, Jonathan Winters, McLean Stevenson, Walter Matthau, Gene Reynolds and Jack Elam.
His parents were Henry Bratsberg, a mechanic born in Norway, and Anna Olsen, a housewife born in Sweden.
Before he was a successful actor, he worked as a salesman.
Began his career as a contract player with 20th Century Fox in 1942.
His "M*A*S*H" (1972) character was a heavy drinker and a smoker, as was Morgan, in real-life.
Was a Democrat.
Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Muskegon, Michigan, 42 miles west northwest of Grand Rapids.
Was a spokesperson for both ERA real estate and Toyota in the 1980s.
The last original cast member of "December Bride" (1954) to die.
Despite high ratings, his second series "Dragnet 1967" (1967) was canceled at the end of the fourth season, due to Jack Webb's planning on leaving the show, to continue producing both successful series: "Adam-12" (1968) and "Emergency!" (1972). Later, Morgan would work with Webb again on both short-lived series: "The D.A." (1971) and "Hec Ramsey" (1972).
One of his sons was the friend of one of James Arness's children. One of Morgan's sons spent the night at Arness' ranch.
By the time Morgan was a junior in high school at Muskegon High School, he won the Debate Championship at the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
He and Jack Webb were best friends from 1949 to Thursday, December 23rd, 1982, when Jack Webb lost his life.
Attended University of Chicago with a major of pre-law, but a lack of finances dropped him out.
After his last guest-starring role on "Love & Money" (1999), he retired from acting at age 84.
Despite not being an original cast member, next to Mike Farrell, he appeared in each and every episode of "M*A*S*H" (1972), with the exception of 2, after he joined the cast in 1975, until its series cancellation in 1983.
Upon his death he was cremated, his ashes are in possession of family.
Upon his return to Muskegon, Michigan, his mother, Anna Olsen, passed away in 1942.
Was regarded as one of the busiest actors on television, who had continuing roles in at least 10 series, which, combined with his guest appearances, amounted to hundreds of episodes.
Enjoyed golfing, traveling, dining, fishing, spending time with his family, reading, raising quarter-horses, horseback riding, animals, painting and poetry.
In various episodes of "M*A*S*H" (1972), his real-life wife, Eileen Detchon, stood in for his character's wife, Mildred's portrait on his character's desk.
Died 10 days before his 25th Wedding Anniversary to Barbara Bushman.
Despite not appearing in the same seasons of "M*A*S*H" (1972) with McLean Stevenson, though Morgan guest-starred for one episode, they both starred in The Cat from Outer Space (1978). Morgan played the general, Stevenson played the doctor.
According to his son, Charles, he suffered pneumonia, at the time of his death.
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 Morgan completed a six-month domestic violence counseling program. [2 July 1996].
The older of three children.
Was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2006.
Survived by his wife, Barbara, of nearly 25 years, his 3 children and 8 grandchildren.
Was supposed to reprise his role as Off. Bill Gannon, on the revival of the third incarnation of "Dragnet" (1951), in 1982, but was unavailable, because he was under contract with 20th Century Fox, hence Kent McCord was supposed to play Jack Webb's new partner in the series. Unfortunately, those two plans have been scrapped when Webb passed away, late in 1982.
Was a very popular student at Muskegon High School, where he played varsity football, and by his senior year, he was class president.
Was the first actor to have starred in 3 successful TV series that lasted 4 years or more.
His first wife, Eileen Dutchon, died on February 4, 1985, just 7 months before they would have celebrated their 45th Wedding Anniversary.
Actor Jamie Farr bestowed him a Toledo Mud Hens baseball cap for him to wear.
His widow, Barbara Bushman, was 11 years Morgan's junior.
On "M*A*S*H" (1972), his character rode horses, in real-life, he raised quarter horses on a ranch in Santa Rosa, California.
Starred in a pilot of a 1971 TV show alongside E.G. Marshall that did not sell.
Met future wife, Eileen Detchon, in the play 'My Heart's in the Highlands'. They have been married for nearly 45 years.
His father and 2 uncles worked on the Erie Canal, after his parents moved to Michigan.
Had a photographic memory.
When the Writer's Guild went on strike, he and "M*A*S*H" (1972) co-star, Loretta Swit, were both presented on stage for their own Emmies, when there was no ceremony. Morgan had the award on his desk for over 30 years.
Had wanted to be a lawyer.
Had received the Gold Award of Purple Heart Veterans Rehabilitation Service in the 1970s.
Had never listened to the radio show "December Bride" (1954), until he auditioned for Pete Porter.
Between 1959 and 1983, he received 11 Emmy nominations. He won his only Emmy in 1980 for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series.
Took acting classes with Elia Kazan.
Was one of the actors to have had the longest acting career than anybody else in the business, between movies and television; behind Mickey Rooney, Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, Eddie Albert and Jane Wyman; but in-front of Karl Malden and Ernest Borgnine.
Attended the funeral of best friend and actor, Jack Webb, when the actor passed away in 1982.
Traveled to New York City in 1937, where he appeared in several Broadway stage plays.
Made his stage debut in Ben Hecht's "The Front Page," and "The Petrified Forest.".
When he was working as a salesman, he joined the theater group in Washington, D.C.
Through Elia Kazan, he met classmate Eileen Dutchon, where the two would eventually wed in 1940 until her death in 1985.
His father, Henry Bratsberg, worked for war hero, Eddie Rickenbacker, who was also a car designer.
Traveled to Mt. Kisco, New York's Summer Stock Theater Company, where he met and acted frequently with Frances Farmer.
Used to play handball with Elia Kazan.
He did summer stock at the Pine Brook Country Club in Nichols, Connecticut.
Morgan's popularity on "M*A*S*H" (1972) led him to a trip to Muskegon, Michigan, where he was the spokesperson for Lifesavers Candy.
All of his children were born in Los Angeles, California.
His brother, Arnold Bratsburg, died on January 4, 2001. He lived to be age 81.
Attended Muskegon Community College in Muskegon, Michigan.
Former neighbor of Lionel Stander.
Appeared on the front cover of TV Guide six times.
Two of his grandchildren, by Christopher Morgan, are in the film business.
Met Karl Malden in the play of 'Golden Boy.' They would later be friends for over 70 years until Malden's death in 2009.
Often enjoyed reading poetry.
Neighbor of Loretta Swit.
Had a dog named Sterling, who died in 2008.
Became best friends with McLean Stevenson from 1974 until his death in 1996.
His favorite movie was The Ox-Bow Incident (1943).
His acting mentor was the late Spring Byington.
Stepfather of Katherine Quine and Victoria Quine.
His son, Daniel Morgan, died in 1989.
A cowboy buff.
According to his ex-"M*A*S*H" (1972) co-star, Mike Farrell, he said in an interview, Morgan would never boast about the famed actors whom he had worked with and befriended, but, if prompted, would happily share memories.
When Morgan's father Henry registered at junior high school, the registrar spelled it Bratsburg instead of Bratsberg. His father did not demur.
When Morgan guest-starred on an episode of "Murder, She Wrote: The Days Dwindle Down (#3.21)" (1987), they used that footage from his movie Strange Bargain (1949).
Acting ran in his family.
His second wife Barbara Bushman had said prior to Morgan's arrest, the argument that began during a dinner party earlier in the evening continued when the couple returned home, then turned violent.
I didn't have enough money to go back east, so I stayed around, finding jobs mainly out of friendships. I played a lot of sheriffs in those years.
I could never afford to go back to New York and the theater, what with a big family. I didn't really start out to be an actor. I just sort of fell into it. I've had a good career, a lot of laughs. I don't know if that's enough, but it beats coal mining.
[on "M*A*S*H" (1972) co-star Larry Linville] We were all fond of Larry, but when we moved onto the set, no one was fond of Frank Burns. He was nothing like Larry in the flesh. He was brilliant in that part.
[In 1976] A lot of people live much more simply than in the old days. That doesn't bother me. Keeping busy is the problem. Television guest shot fees are going down. You can do a dozen guest shots a year, but you're not making that much money.
[In 1977] It might be good for a holiday show, but I don't imagine it will be a real ratings-getter.
[on his popularity while playing the 60-something Col. Sherman T. Potter on "M*A*S*H" (1972)] Two guys just waved to me and said, "Hi, Colonel", as I was coming to the hotel lobby.
[about the cast of "M*A*S*H" (1972)] It's amazing how attached we've become.
[Asked if he felt that "M*A*S*H" (1972) had started to suffer in later months] No one connected with it will be able to stand its being less than it was. I'm sure they'd rather leave than hang around and watch quality go down.
[About his years on series in TV before he got "M*A*S*H" (1972)] Television allowed me to kick the Hollywood habit of typing an actor in certain roles. "M*A*S*H" was so damned good, I didn't think they could keep the level so high, but they have. I think this season's shows have been outstanding.
[on the death of Jack Webb] Jack had a lot of affection in him. He'd always throw his arms around me. My God, off-screen he was the most garrulous person you ever met - full of life and laughs. We had a ball . . . I loved him very much.
Loretta Swit called me from London, I think she's probably my best friend. She didn't even call collect.
[In 1979, after having spent a few seasons on "M*A*S*H" (1972)] I think I'm a lot looser now, less military. There's much more of a flow between me and the other characters now. It's good. We have so much fun sitting around off-camera that it really doesn't change when we get on-camera. There's a lot of affection flowing around there.
[Of his "M*A*S*H" (1972) character] He was firm. He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humor. I think it's the best part I ever had. I loved playing Colonel Potter.
An actor's most important responsibility is to know lines well.
[In 1986] The only ones in town who were moving office equipment in the teeth of the Depression were the people selling filing cabinets to the Social Security Administration.
[in 1985, about something he once told President Ronald Reagan] I once lived in the White House for four days in the Presidential quarters. Well, before I get arrested, I had better tell you that NBC did sort of a maxi-series called "Backstairs at the White House" (1979) and I played President [Harry S. Truman]. We didn't have a Rose Garden. But then, they never promised us a rose garden.
[on how he got along with the other actors on "M*A*S*H" (1972)] They weren't fearful of competition, and they handed you some of the juiciest things in the show.
[in 1983, about his wife Eileen Dutchon and his "After MASH" (1983) co-star, Barbara Townsend] Eileen looks a lot like Townsend, and the two women get along pretty well, but I sit between them so as not to take any chances.
I don't care about the money. I'm just interested in the perks. I'll do a series if I am picked up by a limo, work only until 4, and the show is shot in Hawaii.
I've never been more comfortable in a part than with Colonel Potter.
[Of Jack Webb, who worked with him on "Dragnet 1967" (1967)'s very first episode, which Webb's character did psychedelic drugs]: He's been taking them, the pills, all day. He kept saying he wants to get even farther out.
[on the cancellation of "M*A*S*H" (1972)] I think it broke all the listening, the tuning in records of "You doing it", it was a wonderful show. At the end of the show, we all said farewell to one another. I rode off on my horse, and they all stood up and saluted me, which was very unusual, it didn't have that kind of visible respect for the colonel . . . although it was there, but it wasn't demonstrated formally. It was touching, and it was more than just a film, this was it. So, I mean, what you were doing was really happening, going to happen, because it was a very profound moment. I think we all felt that because it was hard to say goodbye to "M*A*S*H". I could've done it for another 10 years, but I think most of the people felt the same way, maybe not Alan [Alan Alda]. He had other fish to fry. Most of us have gone on to anything after "M*A*S*H" . . . I don't think Alan has his. All he's done is nature shows, that's natural.
[In 1978, of his "M*A*S*H" (1972) co-star Gary Burghoff's talking about leaving the show] I'm sure he means it, even though CBS doesn't. And I think it'll be harder to replace him than it was to replace McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers or Larry Linville. Gary's character is special. And, also, he's the only true original among us, since he's the only one from picture [MASH (1970)]. He'll sorely be missed.
[on Ron Howard]: He's never hired me. I guess I didn't treat him well. He's very good, incidentally.
[on Alan Alda]: Alan came back to the set like a real basket case. Though he always doesn't fly home to his family in New Jersey on weekends anymore, doesn't go when he's writing. I'd think he'd be exhausted. He must be, I guess.
[In 1980, about joining "M*A*S*H" (1972) in its fourth season] I've always been with a show from the beginning, but this was easier than starting some of those shows from the beginning.
I was particularly fond of Dick Boone [Richard Boone]. I started to direct with him.
[When his role as "Col. Sherman Potter" ended] I'm feeling very sad and sentimental. I don't know if "M*A*S*H" (1972) made me a better actor, but I know it made me a better human being.
[Who vehemently responded in 1996 of his arrest]: I didn't batter my wife!
[In 2004]: 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. And for having a wonderful life and for having enjoyed practically every minute of it, especially in the picture business and on the stage. I think I'm one of the luckiest people in the world.
[on his on- and off-screen chemistry with Hal Linden, who played Alex Blacke]: They tell me there's good chemistry, between us, and that's important - witness "M*A*S*H" (1972). They even had a chemist from UCLA come over to test the show.
[Who compared "Blacke's Magic" (1986) with "Murder, She Wrote" (1984)]: The endings where all the pieces fall into place, are hard to make consistent. It's true on "Murder, She Wrote" (1984), and it's true on our show, too.
[on the death of his dog, Sterling]: He was a very special dog.
(May 2008) He is attending his grandson Spencer's wedding in Houston, Texas.
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