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Actor Harry Morgan, M*A*S*H’s Colonel Potter, dead at 96

The Emmy Award-winning actor, Harry Morgan, who played Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) and LAPD officer Bill Gannon opposite Jack Webb in TV’s “Dragnetdied Wednesday at the age of 96. Morgan also appeared on the Broadway stage and in over 50 films. Morgan died after a bout with pneumonia at his home in Brentwood, according to his daughter-in-law, Beth Morgan. Harry Morgan began his eight-year run on M*A*S*H in 1975 at the age of 60, three years after the show’s debut. His role in M*A*S*H was the pinnacle of his acting career. The 2 1/2-hour finale of M*A*S*H drew 77% of those watching TV at the time, making the show the most widely watched TV show in history.

Harry Morgan was born Harry Bratsberg, the son of an auto mechanic, in Detroit, MI on April 10, 1915. Growing up in Muskegon, MI, he played high school football and was on the school debate team. Morgan attended the University of Chicago (where he started acting, as a junior) but left in the 1930’s during the Depression to sell office equipment in Washington, D.C. He joined a theater group and had early success with “The Front Page” and “The Petrified Forest.”

Morgan quit the office equipment job to work in summer stock and, in 1937, appeared in several Broadway productions using the name Harry Bratsburg. Morgan was quoted, from a 1983 book about M*A*S*H, in the L.A. Times:

“In my ignorance, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, this acting business is a great life!’ Little did I know! Things got rougher from then on. If I had had to struggle at the beginning like most actors … I’d never have stuck it out. But having such complete success at the beginning, I was stuck with being an actor for life,” Morgan said in the 1983 book ” ‘MASH’: The Exclusive, Inside Story of TV’s Most Popular Show.”

When he and his actress wife, Eileen, went to Hollywood in 1941, he did not work for five months. However, after he appeared in a one-act play entitled “Hello Out There,” in Santa Barbara, Morgan was offered a contract with 20th Century Fox and made six movies under the name Henry Morgan, starting with “To the Shores of Tripoli.”

Morgan went on to appear in such films as “High Noon” (1953), “The Glenn Miller Story” (1954), “Inherit the Wind” (1960), “Support Your Local Sheriff!” (1969) and his personal favorite, 1943’s “The Ox-Bow Incident.”

Morgan worked in television on several shows and started to use Harry as his first name to avoid confusion with the comedian Henry Morgan. In 1967, he replaced Ben Alexander as Officer Bill Gannon, opposite Jack Webb in the show “Dragnet.” Morgan had appeared in the radio version of “Dragnet” in the 1940s. Morgan later had a cameo appearance in the 1987 “Dragnet” spoof with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, and provided the voice of Gannon for an episode of “The Simpsons” in 1995.

I think that Morgan will always be Colonel Sherman T. Potter to many of us, though. And I know that all of us will miss him….

-Bill at

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