Friday, October 28, 2011

What's Harry Morgan really like?

Still recovering from last night's World Series game.  As Colonel Potter might say, "It was the oyster's iceskates!"  Speaking of Colonel Potter, here are Friday Questions with the first one being about him.  And you can still tell us which scary movie traumatized you most.  Thanks.

Becky is up first.

I was wondering what Harry Morgan was like in real life?

Becky, you’ll be happy to learn he’s a wonderful guy. Harry has a wicked sense of humor. Very droll. And is a great storyteller. During breaks he would regale us with stories of doing movies with Spencer Tracy and Elvis. And there were a lot of tales about DRAGNET and how, uh… “frugal” Jack Webb was. You’ll notice he and Jack were always in the same suits, every week. That’s because they filmed exterior shots of them entering and exiting buildings, their car, etc. and were able to use the same shots every week.

Harry is the ultimate pro. Could scan a page of dialogue once and have it perfectly memorized. Would lock in on a performance and do it perfectly the same way every time, every take. He was courteous to every member of the staff and crew and knew everyone’s name.

I saw him last at a tribute to MASH producer, Gene Reynolds a couple of years ago. Harry hadn’t seen me in ages. But he was still as sharp as ever. Remembered my name, that I was now involved with baseball. And he must’ve been only 93.

What few people don't know is that Harry is also an excellent director. Once a season he would direct an episode of MASH. During our tenure we made sure Harry got to direct one of ours. If he wasn’t such a terrific actor he would have had a great career behind the camera.

Harry has one of those faces and voices that even when he was 20 he was able to play 60. So it’s no surprise he’s a young 96. He’s been a young senior citizen for 70 years.

From Chris:

Here's a Friday question: why do some shows give the same writer a consulting producer and a written by credit in the same episode?

Those are two different assignments. Consulting producer is a staff position. A written by credit means he wrote the script for that week’s episode.

DyHrdMET asks:

Have you ever worked a playoff game?

Yes, with the Padres in ’96.  We lost.  But I never worked a game as magnificent as last night's.  Very ever have. 

From Mark:

This is a question for Friday and you may not want to answer it but I bet that tons of your readers are wondering the same thing, so what the heck, I'll be the guy who asks:

You come across as a very modest, self-effacing, middle-class (okay, upper middle class) kind of guy, and yet you've been involved at a very high level with several extremely successful TV shows. Are you collecting fat (or thin) royalties from those programs, or is that money ancient history?

I am still collecting royalties but not enough to allow me to finally become a dick. Seriously, though, since the 1977 WGA Basic Agreements residuals are into perpetuity (God bless you, Writers Guild). The amounts have dwindled down through the years but royalties are still dribbling in. Even more exciting at this point is that shows I wrote 30 years ago are still being shown and enjoyed today.

And finally, from John based on a post about Charles Winchester of MASH:

There was an episode early in Season 6 written by Laurence Marks entitled "Change Day" in which Charles' scheme to scam people out of their script comes across more like something Frank Burns would do. Was the writing staff still trying to get a handle on who Maj. Winchester was at the time, or was this an idea thought up earlier, when Frank Burns was still the show's main foil, and then reworked to try and fit David Ogden Stiers' new character?

You were right the first time, John. We were still trying to nail down Charles. This was one of the first stories broken with that character. It came from an actual incident we discovered in the research. Unfortunately, it’s confusing as hell. If I’m being honest, it was one of our worst episodes that year, and it was not Laurence Mark’s fault. It was ours.

What’s your Friday question? And movie that sent you into therapy?


Richard Y said...

Regarding residiuals. Does the obtaining of that fee trickle down to the crew of all these programs that are listed in the credits or at least sometimes listed. Such as stunt people, camera persons, lighting, etc. Or is it reserved for just the actors, writers and producers?

Peter M. said...

Recently I was watching an episode of "Dexter" and noticed that Michael Hall is now listed in the opening credits as an executive producer? I've seen this happen with other shows. Is this just a vanity title for the stars of a successful show, or do they actually take a larger role in the day-to-day running of the show?

Ed Dempsey said...

Hi Ken,

Here' s a Friday question about a Cheers episode from season 1 that I came across on Netflix. The episode is"Friends, Romans, Accountants". At the end of the episode Norm's co-workers, delighted that he actually stood up to his boss, carry him out of the bar on the shoulders. As he's being carried off, it looks like he mouths "WTF". Did you and David write this into the script or did this truly catch George Wendt off guard?

Anonymous said...

I'm a Texas Ranger fan so I'm feeling pretty bummed this morning. If they come back and win tonight, last night's game will be a wonderful memory of the Roller Coaster ride of this post season. If they lose....

I would love to read your thoughts about the series once it's done.

Go Rangers.

GregN said...

I'm not saying how old I am, but I've been a Harry Morgan fan since December Bride!
Thanks for the info!

Dan Tedson said...

I can't imagine Texas coming back from that multiple-inning heartbreak. If they do, truly, all the respect in the world, but it reminds me of the Cubs in '03 with the whole Bartman thing in Game 6. I knew they were done despite everyone saying, "It's okay! Kerry Wood's pitching Game 7!" Things like that can break the spirit of a team and once that happens, the rest of the series is just a formality.

Anonymous said...

As a life long Cardinal fan, I have to say my heart broke a little for the Rangers. The Cards really have no business being in the position they are...they played horribly most of the season. But they have played over their head (except for game 5) since the end of August, that you can't help but wonder if it is in I won't say it...stars for them to win.

I love Ron Washington. He's fun to watch and he seems to have a great rapport with his players. I can't hate the Rangers (like I hate the Yankees or Red Sox) like a good Cardinal fan probably should, but I do want the Cards to win.

Pam aka SisterZip

John said...

The Rangers should have activated their owner by the 10th inning. Nolan couldn't have done any worse.

Other than there being no one Bill Buckner, last night's game is the closest thing you're ever going to get to Game 6 of the 1986 Series between the Mets and the Red Sox. I'm actually expecting tonight's game to be something like Game 7 of the '85 World Series between the Cards and the Royals, when St. Louis was emotionally crushed after the blown call by Don Deckinger at first base and proceeded to get routed by the Royals in the deciding game, 13-0.

Anonymous said...

I've been a fan of Harry Morgan since he was named Henry and changed his name so not to be confused with the other Henry Morgan...

My favorite Harry Morgan role was his turn as Art Croft in The Ox Bow Incident (people forget he was in a lot of movies prior to Dragnet and MASH).

My Friday Question: Other than your own work, which series do you wish you had created and why?

Rob said...

A great in-joke of later MASH was the gang trying to get a print of "The Moon Is Blue" but ending up with "State Fair", which co-starred Harry Morgan.

"Change Day" had the great subplot of Klinger taking the West Point exam. What was your favorite Klinger Section-8 scheme, and did Jamie Farr come up with any of those?

SeattleDan said...

I'm old enough to remember Harry Morgan on December Bride, playing the next-door neighbor and telling stories about his wife, Gladys, whom we never saw.

The scariest movie I've ever seen? Easily, Jack Clayton's The Innocents, based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw and starring Deborah Kerr. The screenplay was by Truman Capote. Still sends chills down my spine.

Loosehead said...

Who was the C.O. before Col. Potter? I still remember the single funniest line I have ever seen on TV:

Visiting officer, wanting to leave the 4077: "Get me a driver"

MASH C.O., very drunk, reaches into his golf bag.

No words, and it mostly went unnoticed by the rest of the cast, but it had me in stitches.

Scariest movie? Night of the Hunter. The Robert Mitchum one.

Mike Barer said...

Colonol Henry Blake was CO before Col Potter. Played by the late Mclean Stevenson. If memory serves me right Stevenson died around the time the actor who played Blake in the movie died.

Phillip B said...

I'm old enough to think of Harry Morgan as the "new guy" on Dragnet...

And a fan since the ancient "Richard Boone Anthology" series in the early 1960s. The show was unique - it had a set of actors doing an entirely different story each week. Sometimes Harry would be the lead, and sometimes had only a cameo - but he and the other actors always seemed to enjoy it.

That show gave me a 10 year old's view that acting was fun, rather than the emotional torture portrayed in virtually every actor's biography or autobiography...

mcp said...

"Mike Barer said... If memory serves me right Stevenson died around the time the actor who played Blake in the movie died."

Roger Bowen - Movie
February 16, 1996 (age 63)

McLean Stevenson - TV
February 15, 1996 (age 68)

D. McEwan said...

"SeattleDan said...
The scariest movie I've ever seen? Easily, Jack Clayton's
The Innocents, based on Henry James' Turn of the Screw and starring Deborah Kerr. The screenplay was by Truman Capote. Still sends chills down my spine."

Seattle Dan, I don't mean to terrify you, but I played the ghost of Peter Quint in The Innocents onstage at South Coast Repertory back in 1972. The movie is based on the play based on the book. (William Archibald wrote the play, and co-wrote the film afterwards with Capote. John Mortimer is credited with additional dialogue for the film.)

There was a moment each performance when I would step forward into a green light appearing at the window that, when I did it each performance, got a SCREAM from the audience.

And it is the greatest haunted house movie ever. I saw a double feature of it and The Haunting in a theater once, and while both are great movies, The Innocents provoked more screams from the audience.

I played the role just as the prequel, The Nightcomers, where Marlon Brando plays Peter Quint, was about to come out. I got a lot of comic mileage out of playing the same role Brando was playing, claiming of course, that Brando was basing his whole performance on mine, despite my not playing it until after his movie had wrapped.

Harry Morgan. So great. Leave us not forget him in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, as he judge in the magnificent Inherit the Wind, with Brando in Teahouse of the August Moon, and with Gary Cooper in in High Noon. What a career!

BigTed said...

"Blue Velvet" would have sent me into therapy if it wasn't so damn good.

Actually, if you really want to end up in therapy, I recommend "Parents," a little-seen film directed by the great character actor Bob Balaban. It's about a kid who becomes increasingly convinced that his folks (Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt) are cannibals, and that they're cooking up people on the backyard barbecue.

Cap'n Bob said...

My favorite Harry Morgan movie is APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER, starring Alan Ladd. Harry and Jack Webb are a pair of killers. A far cry from their DRAGNET characters.

Tom Mason said...

My favorite Harry Morgan role: The mayor in Support Your Local Sheriff.

"She's had some terrible shocks this year. She got wealthy almost overnight - I think maybe it unhinged her a little bit. Then she was always kind of big for her age and 'pooberty' hit her hard - that'll do it you know." - written by William Bowers.

James said...

On the subject of Forgotten sit-coms (e.g. Barney Miller)--do you have anecdotes about SOAP? I was a kid during first-run. I remember the huge controversy, that it was admired for being smart and funny, and it's just *gone*. Nobody talks about it. I never hear anything about it, except that it was the parent series of BENSON and it was one of Billy Crystal's first jobs.

DyHrdMET said...

I have to say I like the Harry Morgan question better than my own.

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

The first time I ever stayed home alone we went to see the Exorcist and I was to scared to go upstairs. I slept on the couch with the TV on all night for four days until my family came home. Still get shivers if I here the music.

D. McEwan said...

The cable channel that calls itself "Anteanae TV" currently runs Soap.

jbryant said...

D.: Harry Morgan isn't in SHADOW OF A DOUBT. I reckon you're thinking of Hume Cronyn or maybe Henry Travers. Morgan did direct two episodes of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, however.

Nicole said...

Hi Ken,

I was wondering what the atmosphere was like on the nights when some of the “momentous” episodes of sitcom history where filmed, for example the episode where Sam and Diane got together at the end of season 1 of Cheers, or when Niles and Daphne finally admitted their feelings to each other in season 8 of Frasier?

D. McEwan said...

"jbryant said...
D.: Harry Morgan isn't in
SHADOW OF A DOUBT. I reckon you're thinking of Hume Cronyn or maybe Henry Travers. Morgan did direct two episodes of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, however"

You are correct. My brain short-circuited, and transplanted Morgan's character from All My Sons over into Shadow of a Doubt, replacing Hume Cronyn. I'm getting old.

DwWashburn said...

I have a lot of problems with "Change Day". Hawkeye (rightfully) tears Charles a new one for gypping the village people out of their money. However when Hawkeye gets in trouble he has not problem paying the same amount for old script. The village people are still screwed but Hawkeye is free and clear. And no one seems to think that Hawkeye buying old script at 10% face value is bad although Charles did the same thing and was villafied (sp). Such a double standard.

Casey Mahoney Brad P said...

Wow--Harry Morgan 93 years old.Did he ever do any other shows after Mash?

Casey Mahoney Brad P

Chrispy said...

Yes - AfterMASH.