Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Harry Morgan (1915-2011)
Harry Bratsburg made his Broadway debut in the original cast of The Group Theatre production of Clifford Odets' boxing drama Golden Boy on Nov. 4, 1937. His co-stars included Lee J. Cobb, Howard da Silva, Frances Farmer, Jules Garfield (who would later act under the first name of John) and two men who would become better known later as directors: Elia Kazan and Martin Ritt. Of course, Bratsburg would change his name as well. After appearing in a total of eight original Broadway plays through 1941 (all but two Group Theatre productions) with up-and-comers such as Burl Ives, Sidney Lumet (when he started out as an actor), Karl Malden, Sylvia Sidney, Franchot Tone, Shelley Winters and Jane Wyatt, Bratsburg headed West for the start of a lengthy film and television career where he'd become much better known as Harry Morgan. Morgan died Wednesday at 96. Actually, when he made his film debut in 1942's To the Shores of Tripoli, he was credited as Henry Morgan as he was well into the 1950s when he started frequently being cited as Henry (Harry) Morgan because of the comedian Henry Morgan who was popular on radio prior to Harry's career, so his screen credit eventually became just Harry Morgan.
It didn't take long for him to land in a classic film once he left the stage for Hollywood. His sixth film was William A. Wellman's masterful 1943 warning against lynch mobs, The Ox-Bow Incident, where he played Henry Fonda's trail companion. His career kept him busy, not always in classics, but always working. Some of his other notable films:
Morgan's greatest fame came from his roles as a regular on several television series throughout his career, beginning with his role as Pete Porter on the comedy December Bride from 1954-1959, which earned him an Emmy nomination. The role was spun off into its own series Pete & Gladys, which lasted from 1960-1962. The first series that probably garnered Morgan the most recognition was when he took the role of Officer Bill Gannon in Dragnet 1967, Jack Webb's resurrection of his early '50s police drama, that in my mind may well be the funniest show ever to appear on network television. Watching Sgt. Joe Friday square off (pun intended) with spaced-out hippies is hysterical. Morgan reprised his Gannon role in Dan Aykroyd's 1987 spoof movie and merely vocally on an episode of The Simpsons. Morgan also did many guest appearances on other series, TV movies and miniseries, most notably playing another Harry, President Truman in the miniseries Backstairs at the White House. However, the role that will hold his place in TV viewers' hearts is as Col. Sherman T. Potter, the second commanding officer of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the last eight seasons of M*A*S*H. (We'll not talk about AfterMASH.) The role earned him eight consecutive Emmy nominations as outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series and he won once. He also received a nomination for directing an episode. For me though, I'll always love the performance he gave the year before on M*A*S*H in an Emmy-nominated guest appearance as Maj. Gen. Bartford Hamilton Steele in "The General Flipped at Dawn." Steele appears to be a by-the-book, high-ranking officer but everyone soon realizes, especially Alan Alda's Hawkeye who he tries to court-martial, that he's a raving loon. Morgan's hysterical performance was a thing of beauty. He could be just as funny as Potter but in a completely different way. Potter also frequently touched your heart as he drank a toast when the last of his old comrades died.
We drink a toast to you, Harry Morgan. RIP.