American character actor Harry Morgan, who played Col. Sherman T. Potter in the TV version of MASH, has died at his Los Angeles home.

Morgan died Wednesday morning after having pneumonia, according to his family.

Morgan had a prolific TV and film career, including playing:

  • Officer Bill Gannon in the 1967 TV version of Dragnet.
  • A harried husband on the 1960s sitcom Pete and Gladys.
  • Willie Larkin on The Partridge Family.
  • Various small roles on Gunsmoke.

However, Morgan considered Col. Potter his best role. It earned him an Emmy in 1980 and he greeted the end of MASH, the long-running series about a Korean War medical unit, with sadness. The Col. Potter character was acerbic, but kind-hearted.

"He was firm. He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humour. I think it’s the best part I ever had," Morgan said in a 1983 interview as MASH drew to a close.

Morgan played a series of Western bad guys, loyal sidekicks, judges, sheriffs, soldiers, thugs and police chiefs in dozens of films, including High Noon, Torch Song and The Forty-Niners. In How the West Was Won, he played Ulysses S. Grant.

He was also a regular on The Richard Boone Show (1963-64), Kentucky Jones (1964-65), The D.A. (1971-72), The Love Boat (1978-85) and Murder She Wrote (1987). He appeared in the 1990s series such as Grace Under Fire and 3rd Rock from the Sun.

harry-morgan-250

Harry Morgan said Col. Sherman T. Potter of MASH fame was the best role he ever had. (Associated Press)

Morgan was born Harry Bratsburg on April 10, 1915, in Detroit. He entered university intending to be a lawyer, but became interested in theatre while still an undergraduate.

He made his professional acting debut in a summer stock theatre and moved on to Broadway in 1937 in the original production of Golden Boy, playing in a cast that also included Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.

Changes name to avoid confusion

Morgan moved to California in 1942, where he took a theatre role before being signed by 20th Century Fox. He originally used the screen name Henry Morgan, but changed Henry to Harry in the 1950s to avoid confusion with the radio and television comedian Henry Morgan.

He attracted attention beginning in 1943 with The Ox-Bow Incident in which he played a drifter caught up in a lynching in a Western town. He also appeared in the 1948 movie version of All My Sons, with Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster, and 1949’s Yellow Sky with Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter.

Morgan’s first wife, Eileen Detchon, died in 1985 after 45 years of marriage.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Bushman, whom he married in 1986; three sons from his first marriage, Christopher, Charles and Paul; and eight grandchildren. A fourth son, Daniel, died in 1989.