RIP Harry Morgan

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Prolific character actor Harry Morgan has left us after a brief bout with pneumonia. Depending upon your age, you might remember Morgan as Pete Porter, the next-door neighbor on December Bride (a role that he played so well he was given a spin-off series, Pete and Gladys) or as the comic foil to straight-laced Jack Webb on Dragnet. Or perhaps you've only ever seen him in his Emmy Award-winning role as Col. Sherman Potter on M*A*S*H. If that's the case, it would behoove you to consult IMDb and check out Morgan's vast body of work over the years, both in film and on television. In the meantime, here are a few fast, fun facts about the actor born Harry Bratsburg 96 years ago:

Old School

Morgan was born in Detroit but grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, on the western coast of the Mitten. He graduated from Muskegon High School in 1933 and then left the state to attend college in Chicago. He only returned to Muskegon once, in 1978, to film a TV commercial for Lifesavers candy. It was part of a series of ads showing stars returning to their home towns (Suzanne Somers was featured in one) and reminiscing. For whatever reason, Morgan's commercial only aired once, during an episode of Happy Days.

(COOL PERSONAL ANECDOTE: A friend of mine was a senior at Muskegon High in 1978 and was lucky enough to have been chosen to appear briefly with Morgan in the commercial.)

Homey Touches

Harry Morgan was married to actress Eileen Detchon for 45 years, until her death in 1985. That photo that Col. Potter kept on his desk of his wife "Mildred"? It was really a photo of Eileen. Bill Gannon's oft-mentioned wife on Dragnet was named "Eileen." On the wall in Col. Potter's office are many paintings and drawings, one of which is a child's sketch of a horse. The artist of that piece was Jeremy Morgan, Harry's eldest grandchild. And the steed on which Potter trotted off on in the "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" M*A*S*H finale was one of Morgan's own, brought in from the Santa Rosa ranch where he raised quarter horses.

Loosening Up Ol' Stoneface...Almost

Morgan landed the role of Officer Bill Gannon when Jack Webb resurrected Dragnet for yet another run in 1967. Much like Sgt. Friday's previous partner, Frank Smith, Gannon lightened the mood with monologues about his favorite (sometimes stomach-turning) foods and his takes on current fads. Morgan was a natural comic and story-teller, so Webb occasionally let him ad-lib a few lines (previously unheard of on the Dragnet set) and would bounce off of him with a patented Joe Friday stare or gesture. Webb and Morgan got along off the set as well, partially because Webb knew that Morgan didn't "need" this job; if he ever decided he'd had a belly full he could easily quit and find another, better-paying role the same day. Only one time did Webb ever blow up at Morgan on the set; Harry had told a humorous story to the extras around 9AM while waiting for the "Action!" call. At 4:30PM that day, Jack (who also served as director on many episodes, and was used to filming going like clockwork) was particularly cranky because he was having trouble getting a scene "in the can." During a break Harry joked around a bit with some stagehands, whereupon Jack loudly rebuked him: "[Expletive] it, maybe if you'd stop horsing aroud we'd get this!"

Morgan wasn't always simply the lighthearted sidekick; watch Sgt. Friday and Officer Gannon in one of Dragnet's more serious moments and see if many of their points aren't still valid some 40+ years later:

Major Coolness Credits

Not only did Harry Morgan co-star in a movie with the King himself, Elvis Presley, he also appeared twice on The Partridge Family, which meant he shared the stage with '70s heartthrob (*sigh*) David Cassidy. Oh, and also a very young and brassiere-less Farrah Fawcett.

For the love of Annie's argyles, don't be shy – please feel free to post your favorite Harry Morgan memories, be they a Col. Potter quote or a moment from one of his umpteen other screen appearances.

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December 8, 2011 - 5:45pm
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