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Harry Morgan, 1915 - 2011

Best known as Colonel Potter in M*A*S*H, Morgan also performed in more than 100 movies, including The Ox-Bow Incident.
The DailyHarry Morgan

"Harry Morgan, the prolific character actor best known for playing the acerbic but kindly Colonel Potter in the long-running television series M*A*S*H, died on Wednesday morning at his home in Los Angeles," reports Michael Pollak in the New York Times. "In more than 100 movies, Mr Morgan played Western bad guys, characters with names like Rocky and Shorty, loyal sidekicks, judges, sheriffs, soldiers, thugs and police chiefs…. In The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), which starred Henry Fonda, he was praised for his portrayal of a drifter caught up in a lynching in a Western town…. He went on to appear in All My Sons (1948), based on the Arthur Miller play, with Edward G Robinson and Burt Lancaster; The Big Clock (1948), in which he played a silent, menacing bodyguard to Charles Laughton; Yellow Sky (1949), with Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter; and the critically praised western High Noon (1952), with Gary Cooper. Among his other notable films were The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), with Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford, and Inherit the Wind (1960), with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, in which he played a small-town Tennessee judge hearing arguments about evolution in the fictionalized version of the Scopes 'monkey trial.' In How the West Was Won (1962), he played Gen Ulysses S Grant."

A scene in The Ox-Bow Incident immediately leaps to Farran Nehme's mind.

"The role of Col Potter in M*A*S*H came along when the fictional surgical unit needed a new commanding officer after McLean Stevenson left the show in 1975," notes Stephanie Stassel in the Los Angeles Times. "The antiwar comedy, based on the 1970 film starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, debuted in 1972. The TV series, starring Alan Alda, had already won an Emmy for outstanding comedy series and had long been declared a 'smash' by The Times. Even so, Morgan was nervous about replacing Stevenson's Lt Col Henry Blake, who was 'one of the boys.' Morgan's Col Potter was much more spit and polish, yet had a sentimental side that was evident in his oil paintings and interactions with others at the base outside Seoul at the height of the Korean War. He received eight Emmy nominations for the role and won once, in 1980, the same year he was nominated for directing an episode of M*A*S*H."

"Morgan had a vast and varied career," writes Time's television critic, James Poniewozik, "and viewers with a longer memory will also recall him from the 1967 relaunch of Dragnet or his dozens of other roles. Possibly the best tribute one can give to the skills of a TV character actor is that a series casts him in a role, then brings him back in an entirely different one simply because his work is so good. In Morgan’s case, he came on the Korean War sitcom in an early episode, 'The General Flipped at Dawn,' in which he played a gung-ho, bigoted and comically unhinged general who sweeps into the 4077th to move it closer to the front and closer in line with standard military operating procedure. To this day, his dancing off the episode while singing 'Mississippi Mud' is one of the M*A*S*H scenes I can see and hear most clearly in my mind."

In 2004, Henry Colman interviewed Morgan for the Archive of American Television.

Update, 12/8: "Those who knew Morgan from films alone might have been surprised by his warm and authoritative performance as Potter," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, as a supporting actor, he played runtish bad guys and worms that seldom turned. He gradually began to reveal a more likable side, as a musician buddy of Glenn Miller (James Stewart) in The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and in the typically bland 50s TV sitcom December Bride (1954-58)." Not so much in The Shootist, "John Wayne's final film. When Morgan hears that Wayne's ex-gunfighter has cancer, he starts to whoop and laugh. 'The day they lay you away, what I do on your grave won't pass for flowers!' he yells."

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