Harry Morgan, Age 96, Wonderful Actor, Wonderful Life.
I know that Frank Capra’s eternal Hollywood classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is about a guy named George Bailey as impersonated by Jimmy Stewart, but this week, after reading about the passing of actor Harry Morgan at the age of 96, I couldn’t help but wonder if it shouldn’t have been about him.
Even Morgan understood what kind of life he had led as a working actor, not of the Jimmy Stewart star standing, but of the every-day-working-kind, who periodically sparkled a little larger than life, especially late in his life
That’s when Morgan, a thin-faced jack-of-all-roles who appeared in over 100 films and numerous television series, got a gift that merely made him a forever memory. From 1975 to 1983, he played the part of Colonel Sherman Potter, the last commander of the irreverent Korean War combat medical unit in the long-running series “MASH, joining Alan Alda and Mike Ferrell and other stalwarts of the hugely popular sitcom .
Potter, as MASH commanders went, was endearing, a life-time military officer who knew he was out of his element among the crassly irreverent surgeons and noncoms of this unit, operating in a war nobody understood except that they always had work patching up and trying to save the many wounded and not always succeeding.
Morgan’s Potter was old-school, he rode a horse, he had empathy and humor and took his values, but not himself, seriously. Potter, as played by Morgan, was always funny, but he had a gift, he managed to maintain his dignity and grace in the middle of a chaotic, violent, messy environment.
As an actor, he could play just about anybody, and probably had, going back to the 1943 western classic “The Ox Bow Incident.” Much much later, he would be remembered as the stoic sheriff in a changing Colorado town visited by a dying gunfighter played by John Wayne in “The Shootist”, Wayne’s last film. Jimmy Stewart was also in and a young ‘un named Ron Howard. Morgan was also Jack Webb’s sidekick in a color revival of the popular cop procedural “Dragnet.”
According to one story, when they finished with the last episode of MASH, which became the most watched episode on television ever, Morgan cried. He said that the show made him “a better person.”
In the Archive of American Television, referenced in a Dawn.com story on Morgan, he’s quoted as saying “I’d like to be remembered 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. I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”
Exeunt Colonel Potter, age 96, wonderful actor, wonderful life.