Emmy-winning actor Harry Morgan, who played the exasperated but endearing Col. Sherman T. Potter on “MASH,” died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. He was 96 and had recently been treated for pneumonia.
Morgan appeared as a character actor in more than 100 films beginning in the late 1930s but did so in relative obscurity until television came along. He played Sgt. Joe Friday’s partner, Bill Gannon, on “Dragnet” in 1967-70, and played Pete Porter on two series, “December Bride” (1954-59) and its spinoff “Pete and Gladys” (1960-62). He drew an Emmy nom for supporting actor in 1959 for his role on “December Bride.”
After “MASH” ended in 1983 (Morgan had been on the show for eight of its 11 years), he and several “MASH” cohorts appeared in a spinoff series, “After MASH,” which lasted a single season.
Billed as Henry Morgan (he would eventually change his credit to Henry “Harry” Morgan and then to Harry Morgan in the early ’60s), the actor made his screen debut in 1942’s “To the Shores of Tripoli.” He co-starred with Henry Fonda in “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943) and had supporting roles in many other notable films, including “Wing and a Prayer” (1944), “A Bell for Adano” (1945), “Dragonwyck” (1946), “The Big Clock” (1948), “All My Sons” (1948), “Madame Bovary” (1949) and “High Noon” (1952). During the 1950s he appeared in a number of films directed by Anthony Mann and starring Jimmy Stewart, including the Westerns “Bend of the River” (1952) and “The Far Country” (1955) as well as “Thunder Bay” (1953), “The Glenn Miller Story” (1954) and “Strategic Air Command” (1955).
Morgan and Jack Webb were both side players in the films noir “Dark City” (1950) and “Appointment With Danger” (1951); the pair had established a relationship while Morgan was a member of Webb’s acting company on the “Dragnet” radio show in the late 1940s, and after the “Dragnet” TV show ended in 1970, Morgan appeared in two other Webb productions: “The D.A.” (1971) and Western “Hec Ramsey” (1972-74).
Morgan’s later films included “Inherit the Wind” (1960), “How the West Was Won” (1962), “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home” (1965), “Frankie and Johnny” (1966), “Support Your Local Sheriff!” (1969), “Support Your Local Gunfighter!” (1971), “Snowball Express” (1972), “The Shootist” (1976) and the 1987 film comedy version of “Dragnet,” in which he had a cameo. In “How the West Was Won,” he played Ulysses S. Grant.
Morgan first appeared on “MASH” in 1974 not as Col. Potter but as a deranged general who believes the unit should be moved (dangerously) close to the front lines. He was Emmy nominated for this guest role and impressed the show’s producers, who chose him to replace the departing McLean Stevenson the next year as the 4077th’s commanding officer.
He was Emmy nominated for his role as Potter eight times, winning once, in 1980. He also received a nomination for directing an episode of “MASH” that same year.
Morgan remained quite busy after his “MASH” activities ended. He not only guested on the likes of “The Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote,” he was a regular on a couple of series that had brief runs: 1986’s “Blacke’s Magic,” a show about a magician who also solves unusual crimes, in which he co-starred with Hal Linden, and 1987’s “You Can’t Take It With You,” a TV series adaptation of the Kaufman and Hart play.
He returned to the “Dragnet” franchise in 1987 for a role as Captain Bill Gannon in the bigscreen comedy version that starred Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks.
During the 1990s, Morgan played Judge Stoddard Bell in a series of telepics starring Walter Matthau: “The Incident,” “Against Her Will: An Incident in Baltimore” and “Incident in a Small Town.” He reprised his role of “Dragnet’s” Bill Gannon once again in an episode of “The Simpsons,” and he recurred on “3rd Rock From the Sun” as Professor Suter. He guested on “The Jeff Foxworthy Show”and “Grace Under Fire”
In addition to “MASH,” Morgan directed episodes for several other TV series, including “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”
His last TV appearance was in a 1999 episode of CBS’ sitcom “Love and Money.”
Born Henry Bratsburg in Detroit, Morgan was a statewide debate champ in high school and attended the U. of Chicago in pursuit of a legal career, but courses in speech sparked an interest in performing. He did summer stock before a 1937 Broadway debut in the original Group Theater production of Clifford Odets’ “Golden Boy” with Lee J. Cobb, John Garfield and Frances Farmer; other Broadway roles in Group efforts followed. After relocating to California in 1939, he starred in William Saroyan’s play “Hello, Out There,” where he was discovered by a talent scout from 20th Century Fox.
Morgan was married for 45 years to first wife Eileen Detchon until her death in 1985; a son died in 1989. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Bushman, whom he married in 1986; three sons; and eight grandchildren.