Harry Morgan: 1915-2011

Harry Morgan, the steely actor known for such memorable television roles as Detective Bill Gannon on “Dragnet” and Colonel Sherman T. Potter on “M*A*S*H,” died today at his Los Angeles home after a bought with pneumonia. He was 96.

A native of Detroit, Morgan (né Bratsberg) got his professional start in a 1937 production of Golden Boy by New York City’s Group Theater. The actor would go on to appear in hundreds of stage, film, and television productions, ranging from cowboy dramas like The Ox-Bow Incident and High Noon to lighter fare such as The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Cat From Outer Space.

There’s no question, though, that Harry Morgan’s stints on late ’60s detective show “Dragnet” (opposite the similarly no-nonsense Jack Webb) and ’70s Korean War dramedy “M*A*S*H” were his most famed. Morgan earned an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy in 1980 for his work on the wildly popular latter program, in which he portrayed crotchety commanding officer Sherman Tecumseh Potter. Following the conclusion of “M*A*S*H” in 1983, Morgan reprised the role of Potter for two seasons in the maligned spin-off series “AfterMASH.”

Harry Morgan continued acting into the ’90s, appearing on sitcoms such as “Grace Under Fire,” “Third Rock From The Sun,” and “The Jeff Foxworthy Show.” A 1995 episode of “The Simpsons” found Morgan visiting Springfield as his Bill Gannon character from “Dragnet” to investigate the alleged criminal activities of Homer Simpson’s mother. Morgan’s final film credit came in the 1999 Lance Larson short Crosswalk.

Harry Morgan was one of Hollywood’s most lovable curmudgeons, a gifted grump with a foghorn voice that cut its way into our hearts over the course of so many addictive performances. He will be missed many times over.

In searching for the quintessential Harry Morgan YouTube clip, I came across this humorous snippet wherein the actor discusses working with Elvis Presley on the 1966 musical Frankie & Johnny. Apparently, Morgan “never met a more polite kid” in his life, and his outstanding memory from the shoot concerned an unsuccessful attempt to dissuade the King of Rock n’ Roll from formality (“He called me ‘Mr. Morgan,’ and I said, ‘For Christ’s sake, Elvis, call me Harry!'”).

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