One of the most familiar faces on television has gone to the great dressing room in the sky:
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 Wednesday morning at his home in Los Angeles. He was 96. His son Charles confirmed his death, saying Mr. Morgan had been treated for pneumonia recently.
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.
On television, he played Officer Bill Gannon with a phlegmatic but light touch to Jack Webb’s always-by-the-book Sgt. Joe Friday in the updated“Dragnet,” from 1967 to 1970. He starred as Pete Porter, a harried husband, in the situation comedy “Pete and Gladys” (1960-62), reprising a role he had played on “December Bride” (1954-59). He was also a regular on “The Richard Boone Show” (1963-64), “Kentucky Jones” (1964-65), “The D.A.” (1971-72), “Hec Ramsey” (1972-74) and “Blacke’s Magic” (1986).But to many fans he was first and foremost Col. Sherman T. Potter, commander of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit in Korea. With a wry smile, flat voice and sharp humor, Mr. Morgan played Colonel Potter from 1975 to 1983, when “M*A*S*H” went off the air. He replaced McLean Stevenson, who had quit the series, moving into the role on the strength of his performance as a crazed major general in an early episode.
In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Mr. Morgan said of his “M*A*S*H” character: “He was firm. He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humor. I think it’s the best part I ever had.” Colonel Potter’s office had several personal touches. The picture on his desk was of Mr. Morgan’s wife, Eileen Detchon. To relax, the colonel liked to paint and look after his horse, Sophie — a sort of inside joke, since the real Harry Morgan raised quarter horses on a ranch in Santa Rosa. Sophie, to whom Colonel Potter says goodbye in the final episode, was Mr. Morgan’s own horse.
In 1980 his Colonel Potter earned him an Emmy Award as best supporting actor in a comedy series. During the shooting of the series’ final episode, he was asked about his feelings. “Sadness and an aching heart,” he replied.