Published December 07, 2011
Emmy-winning character actor Harry Morgan, whose portrayal of the fatherly Col. Potter on television's "M*A*S*H" highlighted a show business career that included nine other TV series, 50 films and the Broadway stage, died Wednesday. He was 96.
His daughter-in-law, Beth Morgan, told The Associated Press the actor died at his home in Brentwood, California, after having pneumonia.
On television, he was more the comedic co-star, including roles on "December Bride," its spin-off "Pete and Gladys," as Sgt. Joe Friday's loyal partner in later "Dragnet" episodes and on CBS-TV's long-running "M*A*S*H" series, for which he earned an Emmy award in 1980.
Yet acting wasn't Morgan's first career choice.
Born in Detroit in 1915, Morgan was studying pre-law at the University of Chicago when public speaking classes sparked his interest in the stage. Before long, he was working with a little theater group in Washington, followed by a two-year stint on Broadway in the original production of "Golden Boy," with Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.
Morgan made his way to Hollywood in 1942 "without any assurance that I would find work," he said in a 1976 interview with The Associated Press.
"I didn't have enough money to go back East, so I stayed around finding jobs mainly out of friendships."
He signed a contract with 20th Century Fox after a talent scout spotted him in the one-act play, "Hello, Out There."
One of his earliest films was "The Ox Bow Incident" in 1943 with Fonda. Other films included: "High Noon," "What Price Glory," "Support Your Local Sheriff," "The Apple Dumpling Gang" and "The Shootist."
Morgan began his television career in 1954 when the medium was in its infancy.
"Television allowed me to kick the Hollywood habit of typing an actor in certain roles," Morgan said, referring to his typical sidekick or sheriff portrayals on the big screen
In "December Bride," his first TV series, Morgan played Pete Porter. The CBS series lasted from 1954-1959, when he went on to star in his own series, "Pete and Gladys," a spinoff of "December Bride."
Demonstrating his diversity as a character actor and comedian, Morgan also starred in "The Richard Boone Show," "Kentucky Jones" and "Dragnet."
But it was his role as Col. Sherman Porter on "M*A*S*H" for which Morgan became best known.
"M*A*S*H was so damned good," Morgan told the AP. "I didn't think they could keep the level so high."
His acting career didn't stop after the popular series left the air in 1983 after 11 years -- one of television's most successful prime-time runs. Morgan went on to appear in several made-for-TV movies and other television series, such as "AfterM*A*S*H" and "Blacke's Magic."
When he was not on the set, Morgan enjoyed reading books about the legal profession and poetry. He also liked horses, which he once raised on his Northern California ranch.
Morgan is survived by his second wife, Barbara, and four sons from both marriages: Chris, Charlie, Paul and Danny.