Wednesday, December 07, 2011

R.I.P. Harry Morgan

How ironic and bittersweet that Colonel Potter should pass away on Pearl Harbor Day.

Harry Morgan died today at age 96.

As noted elsewhere on this blog, I loved the man.

Knowing Harry, the last thing he would want is a long gushy eulogy.   "Just get on with it, son!" I'm sure he would bellow in that rich deep voice.

So I'll just touch on a few remembrances.   His wit.   Harry had a thousand stories.   That of course comes from appearing in over 100 movies, and probably 10,000 television programs.    He once compared the acting styles of two of his co-stars, Spencer Tracy and Elvis Presley.   He made several movies with Elvis and once said, "it was just my luck to not be in the really good ones."

All it took to get him talking about Jack Webb and his days on DRAGNET was to say, "How's that?"  I'd ask if he ever slept with Spring Byington and he would launch into DECEMBER BRIDE tales.  (No, he never did, and yes, I know, most of you have never heard of DECEMBER BRIDE or Spring Byington but it was a treat hearing about the very early days of television from one its true pioneers).

Harry was very much like Colonel Potter.   He raised horses, and in fact, in the final episode when he says goodbye to Sophie, that really was one of Harry's horses.    The picture on Potter's desk was of Harry's real wife, Eileen.   And the only difference in personalities between Harry and Sherman is that Harry held his liquor better.

He could read a scene once, have it completely memorized, and perform it perfectly take after take.  And then compliment a callow 26 year-old writer who wrote it and couldn't believe the great Harry Morgan was even in the same room, much less reading his words.

That he died on the Day of Infamy feels somehow right.   Colonel Potter symbolized the best of the American soldier -- dedication, sacrifice, compassion, and dignity.

In lieu of tears I give you a salute.

And thanks to television and the MASH reruns that hopefully will play forever, we will always Remember Harry Morgan.  

Update:  I just posted a lovely note about Harry written by Gary Burghoff.  You can find it here.

86 comments:

Ref said...

That was a good eulogy, Ken. I think those of us fifty and older remember him fondly for a lot of his work. It's nice to know, having read this and things you wrote before about him, that the nice guy we saw in his characters was a reflection of the nice guy he was.

GregN said...

Thanks, Ken. As a fan since December Bride, he always seemed a genuine, down to Earth guy. Extremely funny too.

But you should have asked him if he ever slept with Frances Rafferty!
But not Verna Felton.

Tom Mason said...

To me, he'll always be the mayor of Calendar, CO in Support Your Local Sheriff.

Rich said...

Great eulogy.

I not only remember "December Bride," I remember "Pete and Gladys", the follow up.

And he played the Judge in "Inherit the Wind"

Forget Kevin Bacon. Harry Morgan is 3 degrees away from everyone in film history.

Baylink said...

<hand salute>

<two>

Barry Traylor said...

Sad, sad news.

Mr. Hollywood said...

Another legendary character actor passes and it saddens me. A shame that so many of today's so-called "actors" never got a chance to meet Harry and just observe a pro in action. They've probably never even heard of him and that makes me even sadder.
You are so right Ken ... Harry is gone but that massive body of work lives on for generations to enjoy.
RIP Harry

Johnny Walker said...

Nice eulogy, Ken.

Jon said...

As a young child of the 60s who grew up in his pre-teen years watching Morgan on Dragnet, it was a revelation to see him play the crazy general in Season 3 on M*A*S*H. His Col. Potter role allowed the show to become more grounded in the style that allowed for more serious stories (yea, killing off Col. Blake was pretty serious, but M*A*S*H with McLean Stevenson always had an inmates-in-charge-of-the-asylum feeling to the set-up. Great for comedy, more problematic when you're trying to show a little bit of the reality of war. Morgan provided more depth and allowed the show to work better in mixing comedy and drama, even if I still feel the final three seasons kind of lost the tone of the former a bit).

Michael said...

Marvelous eulogy for a wonderful actor who really became part of everyone's family.

Paul Duca said...

His headstone should read "A radish can not stand in the way of victory".

Mike Doran said...

Charlton Heston told the story of how he found himself doing a TV miniseries that was produced by Christopher Morgan, Harry's son.

Heston asked Christopher to pass along a greeting to Harry, ading that Harry had been in Heston's first picture.

Next day, Christopher told Heston that he mentioned to Harry that he'd been in Heston's first picture, and Harry replied:
"Son, I was in everybody's first picture."

Anybody got a bootleg DVD of Blacke's Magic around? (Harry always made a great con man.)

Kevin Rubio said...

My condolences Ken, to you and his family.

Anonymous said...

I literally bumped into him one night at a party in L.A. He couldn't have been nicer. I've always been a huge fan.

Paul Duca said...

I pulled out my DRAGNET 1967 DVD and I realized...while "Mildred Potter" was actually Eileen Morgan, "Eileen" was the name of Bill Gannon's wife.

Mildst said...

There's a tendency to remember him as the crusty Colonel Potter but I hope people make an effort to look at his earlier work. Many years ago I was channel surfing when I ran across a young Harry Morgan in the 1948 film version of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons". I picked out his distinctive voice immediately but it took me a few minutes to realize that was watching a very youthful looking Harry Morgan. If you get the time, make an effort to watch the movie.

gottacook said...

Any fan of Harry Morgan who hasn't seen him in Support Your Local Sheriff! should do so. The late Joan Hackett plays his daughter, and they're a hoot together.

Andrea said...

Such sad news. As I child, I loved watching Dragnet on Nick at Nite with my dad. He was even better on M*A*S*H, one of my all-time favorites. Great actor. I'm glad he had a long life full of success.

Anonymous said...

Rich, you are so right. In almost every old b&w movie, you can find Harry Morgan.

Condolences to you, Ken, and to his family & friends. But a great big thank you from all of his fans for his lifetime of work. If anyone should get a tv/film lifetime achievement award, it is he.

Pam aka SisterZip

Janet T said...

"I like to go swimming with bow legged women and swim between their legs, hey, swim between their legs.”

RIP Harry

Weston said...

It will forever ring out in my ears...the immortal words...."HORSE HOCKEY!!"

R.I.P. Mr. Morgan.

Amazing to not know someone yet feel the loss.

rob! said...

Col. Sherman T. Potter was the show's greatest creation, played to utter perfection by Mr. Morgan.

I run a MASH blog and have had the chance to talk to some of the people who worked on the show; I knew it was extremely unlikely but I always held out some sort of crazy hope I would get to meet Mr.Morgan, if only to say "Thank you" for Col. Potter and his other work. I'm so sorry I'll never get that chance.

I wrote a tribute to him for my blog, entitled "Dear Harry"

http://aftermash.blogspot.com/2011/12/dear-harry.html

Brian said...

sGood stories Ken. As soon as I saw the AP story that Harry had died, I immediatley came here to see what you had to say. Also, sorry to report that the AP story mentioned AfterMash.

rob! said...

AfterMASH was not a bad show, no matter what even Ken himself may say!

I am sure right now God is telling Larry Gelbart to rewrite the new MASH scripts he's been working on so they can now include Col. Potter and not just Frank and Henry.

willieb said...

Terrific actor. I even loved watching him in the second go-round of "Dragnet," which I HAD to watch with my parents back in the day when there was one TV in the house showing only three networks.
To baseball: I see where MLB has instituted a dress code for you shabby broadcasters. Did you guys really dress THAT badly?

Anonymous said...

Rest in peace harry, I'll never watch another an episode of M*A*S*H and not be sad!

Anonymous said...

R.I.P. Harry Morgan

We will miss you,your one of the best I seen on TV shows..

My your family fine peace and happiness.

DanTedson said...

I'm sorry to hear it. He seemed like a nice guy. Accessible despite his long and impressive portfolio, which is how I'd describe you in ten words or less as well. Nice to see decent people in the business demonstrating to other decent people just starting out in the business that it's okay to be... well, decent.

NEWSBOY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NEWSBOY said...

With us, throughout our television lives....
A true pro...
Glad you could work with him, Ken.

Jeff Prescott

KYPie said...

Thank you, Ken, for the wonderful words about Harry. I was so upset reading about his death this morning. He was a beloved person and he played a beloved character. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Truely a legend on the screen and in life. They don't make 'em like that anymore. R.I.P.

jbryant said...

What a career. I love how he excelled at both minimalist "Webb-speak" and broader styles of acting.

Note: I'm pretty sure that by the time of DECEMBER BRIDE, Spring Byington was only playing for 'the other team,' if you know what I mean. Reportedly, Marjorie "Ma Kettle" Main was more her type, so Harry would've had his work cut out for him.

RL said...

I LOOKED UP TO HIM, A GREAT MAN.
RIP
RL

Anonymous said...

The word I always think of with Harry Morgan is "pro." A long-time working, can do comedy or drama, professional actor. From OXBOW INCIDENT to DECEMBER BRIDE to SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF to MASH. I think most actors would settle for that kind of career.

WriteBrain said...

I spent a lot of time on your set during the last five years of the show; was even there when the last scene was filmed. Harry was always the kindest of Gentlemen. No matter your status on the Totem Pole, Harry treated everyone with respect. R.I.P., Mr. Morgan.

Trace said...

This news has saddened me beyond belief... I watched the reruns of Dragnet with my grandparents & then watched M*A*S*H with my mother while growing up. I love the show so much, that both of my boys (5 & 17) have enjoyed watching it with me. (Okay, my 5 yr. old mostly likes the theme song, but, I'll take it!) I, too, hoped to one day meet Mr. Morgan to thank him for all the joy he's brought into my life, through the wonderful characters he's portrayed. I'll be looking forward to shaking his hand one day in Heaven. Rest in peace, Harry, you were one of the great ones & you'll truly be missed.

mickey said...

I remember him vaguely from Pete & Gladys and clearly from Dragnet, and I felt sort of sad that he had to be part of the Jack Webb Wooden Thespian Troupe. I viewed his memorable portrayal of Col. Potter as karmic payback--it was a great character that wiped away the stink of Dragnet and endeared him to millions of fans.

Travis Rogers said...

Wonderful eulogy. Bad blogs about great actors "are as common as cooties in your skivvies!"

This was a splendid exception, Ken.

So long, Harry. We miss you already.

Sir David Haddon said...

Thank You Harry Morgan for all the years of great Television. From your younger years on Dragnet to the great years on M*A*S*H. Thank God for giving you a great 96 years and we will be watching you forever on reruns of some of your greatest work.
I Salute You Harry Morgan.
Rest in Peace

Leo said...

His portrayal of a colonel may not have been realistic, but if it wasn't, it was how we WANT our colonels to be.

I guess it's our turn to drink the tontine toast.

Farewell Harry

Jim said...

Harry Thank you so much for all the hours of pleasure watching you on TV. You will be deeply missed by all who knew you and watched you. RIP Colonel Potter you will never be forgotten.

Beth Ciotta said...

I was so sorry to read of Harry Morgan's passing. What a wonderful actor. He will always hold a place in my heart as Colonel Potter. I just knew you'd write a touching tribute, Ken, and you did. Thank you for sharing. R.I.P, Mr. Morgan.

Mac said...

He played a great character - nice to hear he was a good guy as well.

R Bracho said...

I loved him as Jimmy Stewarts (Glenn Millers) friend and band mate in The Glenn Miller Story....and Mash, and Dragnet. What a funny guy! Great comedic delivery that Mash revealed to me. I never saw the TV show before Dragnet.

Anonymous said...

I always loved Harry Morgan. I have so many of his films. I remember one where him & Spencer Tracey & Kathrine Hepburn were in it as well. I think it was he was renting a house and unbeknown to him Katherine Hepburn still lived there. But Harry & Spencer were hidding something in the basement. I can't remember it all but I do remember some of it. It was very funny to me. Also on Support Your Local Sheriff James Gardner was in it as well. I love Harry Morgan. I always wished he could have been in our more modern day shows. Like Betty White. And as some of you say I can still hear his voice yelling at Howkeye or one of the other cast members. GREAT MEMORIES FOR SURE. I wish I could have been born more yearlier so I could Have enjoyed more or already gone actors. We are losing to many that is for sure.
Well REst In Peace My friend

Jack W said...

such a sad note to hear about Harry==he will be so missed. my favorite MASH episode is "38 Across" RIP Harry

Diane Webster said...

There are so many, but one most memorable episode with Col. Potter was the 1st one when he arrived at the 4077 Mash unit to be greeted by Radar "sunning himself" with a reflective piece of metal. Last Christmas when my 23 yr old daughter asked me what I wanted, I said some MASH dvds. She got them, I've watched them and will again tonight! I agree w/the other comment that "Horse Hockey!" sticks in my head and comes to my mind at times. RIP Col. Potter and thanks for the years! Diane

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

He once compared the acting styles of two of his co-stars, Spencer Tracy and Elvis Presley.

I'd've loved to have heard that, preferably over a couple of jars. My favorite Colonel Potter moment was when the TV crew (was it with Walter Cronkite?) asked him if there was anyone he'd like to say a word to at home, and he answered,"Yes, but I don't think it's dignified, so I won't," and turned back to his painting. Harry Morgan conveyed perfect, low-key dignity in that scenes.

Also, too, the tontine episode, Sentimental Journey, his flirtation with a nurse, "Horse Hockey!", finally reaming out the newly arrived Winchester ("Your face is finished!")..... I liked McLean Stevenson and Henry Blake, but Harry Morgan and Col Sherman Potter was one of MASH's best moves.

and from his first appearance as another character: "There are no atheists in foxholes!"

Joe Wilson said...

It is seldom, when an Actor can penetrate thru the lens of a camera, thru actions and voice to create an everlasting impression of his charactors roles, to the multitudes of Movie and Television veiwers and leave us with generations of pleasure, admiration and love as did Harry Morgan. May God hold Harry close and comfort his Family and may we never forget.

Michael R. said...

Abyssinia, Harry

An said...

What a wonderful tribute to a true legend.

Goodbye, farewell and amen.

diane said...

Thank you, once more Ken, for a wonderful tribute. You are a craftsman of great skill and so was Harry Morgan. I feel as if he was family, having watched him in so many movies and TV shows. My favorite part of his Col Potter character was the colorful way he substituted innocent phrases for swear words. If you are the one who wrote "My Aunt Fannie's Petunias!" then I am grateful for both the delivery and the written words as that is my go to for frustration. RIP Harry Morgan and thanks for sharing a wonderful career with us.

Anonymous said...

The MASH episode where Harry played the bat-shit General Steele is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Mike said...

I just loved him in The Shootist with John Wayne, getting right in his face.

He must have had a great friendship with Richard Boone, seems Harry was in every TV series Boone did.

What a history. Just going through his credits one sees he worked with Henry Fonda, Brando, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, et al.

96 is a good run. RIP Harry.

And thank you, Ken.

Mike said...

Oh, and my favorite line of his from The Shootist is when he tells Wayne (whose character was dying of cancer as was Wayne himself) --

"What I'll do on your grave won't pass for flowers."

I hope I have that right. Anyway, very funny.

DyHrdMET said...

i came home from work today, had heard this news earlier, and TV Land had just started the M*A*S*H episode "Potter's Retirement". It seemed a fitting, unplanned tribute to him.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget his role in the Shootist with John Wayne. He and his acting ability will be missed

ELLIE GROSSMAN said...

TO THE FAMILY OF HENRY MORGAN, MY CONDOLENCES TO HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS. HE WAS A GREAT ACTOR ON MASH, HE WILL BE MISSED. PEACE GO WITH YOU . LV ELLIE

wholeearthblog.com said...

He was such a great actor. One of my favorite episodes of M*A*S*H is "Old Soldiers." Morgan gave Potter a depth that really came through to the viewer. Besides acting, "Old Soldiers" also displayed his talents as a writer and director.

RIP Harry Morgan

Frank said...

Well said Ken.

Beau Weaver said...

Belated thanks for the gig voicing the bumpers on AfterM*A*S*H*........where I had the trill of sharing the ADR stage at 20th with Harry Morgan and Jamie Farr, who were looping some difficult lines. They let them have a break and slid me in to do the line, "Don't Go Away, We'll be right back." The ADR supervisor was happy with take One. But Harry would have none of it. "Just a God Damn Minute.....I work and slave in here all day, and you let this kid get away with one take?! Make him do it again! Then he turned to me, "No offense son, but I think actors should work for their money." So the ADR director meekly requested another take. The residual income stream came at a good time for me. But most of all I appreciated getting to share the ADR stage with Col. Potter.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

We were just watching an episode of Dragnet on Antenna TV yesterday and I wondered what fun it had to be to shoot Harry's B-roll reaction as Jack Webb went into his long-winded pontifications.

"Okay, dart your eyes. Now look agreeable. Now sorry. Now some empathy for the room. Let's try an 'Oh boy I'm glad I'm not THAT guy.' And for good measure, another more agreeable. Do that thing again with the eyebrow! Okay, cut."

He was an amazing second banana (not easy) and a terrific front character. We'll really miss his kind.

Kirk said...

Nice tribute.

Goodbye Harry.

SkippyMom said...

This gave me goose bumps Ken. Such a nice eulogy Ken - and I like the personal touches about Sophie and especially his wife's picture. So sweet.

When we heard he had passed my 14 year old daughter said "Wow. That's so sad. I am going to miss him. Wasn't "Dragnet" and "Mash" just great Mom?"

Thank you Mr. Morgan - you touched so many generations, as I am sure you will for years to come. :)

Andy Kaiser said...

I'm 35, and missed the era of M*A*S*H and Dragnet, but I wanted to mention that my first exposure to the man was from his co-starring role (alongside James Earl Jones and John Ritter) in the animated movie "Flight of Dragons". This movie was my first entertainment-based exposure to critical thinking and scientific thought, and the many rewatchings through my childhood influence me yet today.

I loved him in it. A unique and wonderful voice, and from all accounts just as wonderful of a person.

Michael said...

In a book about MASH that came out while the series was on, Harry Morgan said the cast teased him about the monotone on Dragnet, but he said that was actually very difficult to do. I would imagine, if you think of some of his wonderful blow-ups as Potter.

Recently, TVLand reran the reunion special, and they told the story of the episode where Morgan had one of his greatest moments: falling down drunk and asking Hawkeye and B.J., "Did I fall down?" They told him no. He said, "I didn't think so," and staggered off. It turned out the day after it aired, he went to the Motion Picture Actors' Home and saw Mary Astor coming out. She said the night before, that scene made her wet her pants.

Which brings me to the story David Ogden Stiers, who worships Morgan, told. One day he was spinning a yarn about the old days and building to the punch line when the director yelled, "Lights, camera," and Morgan stopped in mid-sentence, turned and did the scene, which was very dramatic, perfectly. Before the director even yelled, "Cut," he turned back to Stiers to finish the story. That, Stiers said, was a reminder of what an incredible actor he was.

Rob said...

I knew this day would come eventually, but it still hurts. I also thought of you as soon as I saw the headline - I'm glad you got to know him. I loved him meeting Klinger, dressing down Winchester, saluting his fallen friends and hurriedly saying goodbye to Radar.

William R. Withycombe said...

As a Vietnam veteran,Mash brought me back to many of the feelings I had forgotten, both good and bad. A real soldier never dies. Since I take in abused horses, the story of Sophie touched me greatly. Thank you Harry and rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

I never knew Harry Morgan personally, but watched many of his movies and tv shows, wii aiways rememger him with fondness for the many jours of entermaintment he shared with all of us, thank you Harry.

Mike said...

My favorite Harry Morgan role was as the judge in Inherit the Wind. He brought just the right tone to the role.

chalmers said...

I think in that same MASH reunion, they asked several cast members their favorite memory from the show.

Naturally, the actors brought up moments where they shone, until David Ogden Stiers said it was Morgan's tontine speech in "Old Soldiers." To me, it said a great deal about both actors.

One not-yet mentioned moment that I loved was in the episode where the elderly Korean ex-cavalry soldier steals Sophie. The way he portrayed the various emotions swelling within Potter was magnificent.

RIP Harry Morgan, and thanks, Ken, for sharing your thoughts on a difficult day.

chalmers said...

I think in that same MASH reunion, they asked several cast members their favorite memory from the show.

Naturally, the actors brought up moments where they shone, until David Ogden Stiers said it was Morgan's tontine speech in "Old Soldiers." To me, it said a great deal about both actors.

One not-yet mentioned moment that I loved was in the episode where the elderly Korean ex-cavalry soldier steals Sophie. The way he portrayed the various emotions swelling within Potter was magnificent.

RIP Harry Morgan, and thanks, Ken, for sharing your thoughts on a difficult day.

Anonymous said...

great actor say no more

John Fox said...

I thoroughly respect the fact that Harry Morgan never did the talk show circuit. He had the class to let his work say it all.

He was such an a**hole in "The Shootist". Loved it.

Might have known you'd have the best eulogy for him. Don't know why I didn't come here first.

The Milner Coupe said...

Damn. I just got home and learned of his passing here. I suppose at 96 years of age we can't be surprised, but since he's always been there, you kinda always expect him to be. He was truly a unique character and I'm thankful for all the TV shows and films we can look back on and watch again. Damn.

Ken, I was never in the military so in lieu of that salute I think I'll shed a tear.

Aloha Harry Morgan

Cap'n Bob said...

I've seen Harry Morgan play a teenager in knickers and an old man in a bathrobe, a kindhearted cop and an emotionless killer, and he was always perfect. A great actor, and it's nice to know he was a fine gentleman, too.

Jack Eason said...

I for one will always remember him as the long suffering boss in MASH.

Rest in Peace Harry.

Davey M said...

Wonderful eulogy for a wonderful actor. For those of us who grew up in the 60's and 70's, he was one of those rare actors that worked his way into the psyche and became like a distant family member. Always enjoyable to watch, regardless of the role he played. RIP.

brian said...

one of the best. i got all my mash taps out taking the day off to wath.them all..brian..

Michael said...

Chalmers, if I am correct, the "Tontine" speech required 23 takes because one of the cast members would start blubbering and then, when they finally got under control, Harry Morgan started crying. The take that we see in the episode is still off--Stiers missed clinking his glass because he was so overcome. A beautiful scene, indeed.

Ron said...

Governor Mike Huckabee quoted you, Ken, on his brief radio comment show regarding Harry Morgan and his life and passing.

Kirk said...

Here's a favorite Colonel Potter moment. It happened early in Colonel Potter's tenure as commander of the 4077. Radar had been having a difficult time establishing any kind of rapport with his new boss. Realizing it was Potter's birthday, and knowing he was a horse lover, Rader went and got him Sophie as a gift. Potter is in near tears when he sees the horse. "She's beautiful" he says.

OK, now some humor along with the warmth. As Potter aproaches the Sophie, he stumbles over something.

Frank Burns (looking down at the ground): That's disgusting!

Radar: Sorry about that, sir.

Potter (laughing): Oh, don't worry, son. To me, that's just a tiptoe thru the tulips!

Anonymous said...

Seattle Weekly picked up on your post, with a TV clip of some memorable Morgan MASH outtakes...

http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2011/12/ken_levine_tv_comedy_writer_an.php#more

Jake Mabe said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Ken.

I never will forget the episode in which Radar brings Col Potter Sophie.

I love it when he steps in the manure, Frank says it's disgusting and Col. Potter says, "Son, to me, that's a tiptoe through the tulips."

RIP, Harry Morgan. You were the greatest.

carding said...

Awesome eulogy, Ken. Thanks. I remember Harry on a Dragnet series with Jack Webb. I can never forget the lines...Just a facts, ma'am, just a facts. In fact, I still watch Dragnet on TV (THIS channel). It just brings back memories. R.I.P. thanks for the memories. You'll surely be missed.