Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Harry Morgan, R.I.P.
From USA Today --
Harry Morgan, best known to television audiences as M*A*S*H's Col. Sherman Potter, was never what you'd call a star. Yet he was almost never out of work — which is as good a sign of his talent and our enduring affection as any.
Morgan, who died Wednesday at 96 in his L.A. home, had a career in TV and film that stretched from 1942 (To the Shores of Tripoli) to 1999 (the sitcom Love & Money). In all that time, there was never anything you'd really call a "Harry Morgan film" or a "Harry Morgan show" — though his breakthrough co-starring role in the popular early '60s December Bride spinoff Pete and Gladys came very close.
But it didn't matter. You knew what you would most often get from a Morgan TV appearance: a wry, honest, sometimes cranky everyman. And you were almost always happy to get it.
His early movie roles — there were more than 100 in all — were more varied, playing good guys and bad guys, and sidekicks to everyone from James Stewart to Henry Fonda (in 1943's The Ox-Bow Incident, one of Morgan's best film roles).
But the TV die was cast with Pete, the loving but put-upon husband often exasperated by his scatter-brained wife, Gladys — a character who was much-discussed by Pete but never seen in the original show, December Bride.
That was the Morgan we would come to know and love on the small screen, dryly funny and a bit sarcastic on the outside, but warm and mushy on the inside. You got more dry than warmth in his second big TV role, as Jack Webb's equally staccato partner in the late-'60s revival of Dragnet.
But the whole package shone again in not only his best-known, but probably also his best, TV role. Stepping into M*A*S*H in 1974 for the departed McLean Stevenson, Morgan as Potter created one of TV's most-loved authority figures, a man firmly in charge who held sway by being the smartest (and sometimes only) adult in the room. It would win him an Emmy and a permanent place in TV lore, and it no doubt helped save the show and extend its 11-season run.
Was Harry Morgan a big star? No. But sometimes our fondest memories are reserved for actors who burn a bit less brightly and a bit off from the center — and sometimes, those are the lights that last.