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Harry Morgan, who was best known for his long-running portrayal of the fatherly Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H*, died at his Los Angeles home Wednesday morning at 96 years old. Morgan won an Emmy in 1980 for his performance as the unflappable medic.
A veteran of more than 50 years in films and TV, Morgan starred or co-starred in 11 TV series. He was an appealing Everyman whose calm manner and wry delivery were widely popular. In M*A*S*H*, his steady ways and sense of humor tempered the more high-keyed natures of his co-star’s characters, Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicutt. He went on to co-star in its spinoff, AfterMASH (1983-84).
His other most recognized role was on the vintage TV series Dragnet (1967-70), in which he played Jack Webb’s businesslike partner Bill Gannon. He reprised the role of Gannon in the 1987 movie remake.
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Of Norwegian descent, he was born Harry Bratsberg on April 10, 1915 in Detroit. He attended the University of Chicago, where he developed an interest in acting. During a summer vacation, Morgan joined a small theater group and became hooked. He made his professional acting debut in summer stock. He graduated to Broadway, appearing in Golden Boy, alongside Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. Eventually, he was spotted by a 20th Century Fox talent scout while appearing in a one-act play.
Morgan excelled at playing low-key characters with a wisecracking side to them. He was a household figure with his portrayal of Pete Porter in the Spring Byington series December Bride (1954-59), and reprised the role in the spinoff Pete and Gladys (1960-62). He had a folksy, next-door-neighbor way about him, which led to guest appearances in numerous TV shows, including Cavalcade of America, The Richard Boone Show, Have Gun — Will Travel, The Virginian, Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, The Jeff Foxworthy Show, Love & Money, Blacke’s Magic and many others.
He also appeared in many movies, including The Big Clock, All My Sons and Inherit the Wind. He also performed in such films as A Bell for Adano, State Fair, What Price Glory, Torch Song, The Glenn Miller Story, The Teahouse of the August Moon, How the West Was Won, Frankie and Johnny, Support Your Local Sheriff, Support Your Local Gunfighter, Charley and the Angel and The Shootist, John Wayne’s last film. He brought his comedic skills to Disney film hits, such as The Apple Dumpling Gang, with Don Knotts and Tim Conway, and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.
Asked by the Archive of American Television in 2004 how he’d like to be remembered, Morgan said: “For being a fairly pleasant person and for having gotten along for the most part with a lot of the people I’ve worked with. And for having a wonderful life and for having enjoyed practically every minute of it, especially in the picture business and on the stage. I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”
He had been married to Barbara Bushman since 1986, and had four children, including producer Chris Morgan, from an earlier marriage.
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