December 07, 2011

A #MASH RIP for Harry Morgan


I'm a huge fan of the TV show, which was possibly the greatest sitcom ever, and certainly the most popular. In terms of audience share, the two-hour farewell TV movie still tops all Super Bowls as the most-watched broadcast ever.

And, so, with sadness, I see that cast standout Harry Morgan, also famous from Dragnet, "Inherit the Wind," B-movie Westerns and many other roles, has died at 96.

Of course, MASH was really about Vietnam, and he as Col. Potter gave an anchor of Regular Army reality to his role that the Col. Blake/Maclean Stevenson role just didn't do. MASH was a solid show, but it took off when Morgan joined, along with Mike Farrell as BJ Hunnicutt replacing Wayne Rogers as Trapper John and playing more of a straight man role. Speaking of:
He was one of the “foundational pieces of the industry,” said “M-A-S-H” star Mike Farrell, who tried to gain Morgan a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild. Such honors routinely go to stars but also belong to Morgan and other character actors who provide “the grit and the substance and the context” for so many films and TV shows, Farrell said Wednesday.
Indeed. That "grit" made him a good character actor.
And Morgan knew what counted in life, as he proved at a news conference held when “M-A-S-H” ended in 1983. He was asked if working with the show’s cast had made him a better actor, and Farrell recalled Morgan’s reply: “I don’t know about that, but it’s made me a better human being.”
I listed just a few of his roles; the New York Times obit notes many others.
On television, he played Officer Bill Gannon with a phlegmatic but light touch to Jack Webb’s always-by-the-book Sgt. Joe Friday in the updated “Dragnet,” from 1967 to 1970. He starred as Pete Porter, a harried husband, in the situation comedy “Pete and Gladys” (1960-62), reprising a role he had played on “December Bride” (1954-59). He was also a regular on “The Richard Boone Show” (1963-64), “Kentucky Jones” (1964-65), “The D.A.” (1971-72), “Hec Ramsey” (1972-74) and “Blacke’s Magic” (1986).
Col. Potter was, in a way, without a "Leave it to Beaver" saccharine edge, a kind of father figure, or uncle figure, or grandfather figure. His goodbye to Radar scene was one of many that showed that.

And, from other character roles he had played, that were generally no-nonsense types, MASH let Harry Morgan show a new side of himself, too, to us.

In other words, "simple without being simplistic," even as, with all of our technology, many of us would like occasional increases in simplicity and slowness in our lives.

Now, the word "son," nuanced by voice in many, many different ways, will never be quite the same.

And, the L.A. Times has more on that "focal point" angle that I mentioned above.
(In MASH), he was the still point amid the pandemonium, a flinty corrective both to its silliness and its sentimentality. In (Dragnet), he was the subtly comical sidekick to Webb's very straight straight man, a little licking flame of human warmth to animate the overarching deadpan.
I'll have to give a MASH DVD a watch at home tonight. And perhaps shed a tear or two.

As for my fandom? I've been to Hannibal, Mo., Potter's hometown, as well as that of Mark Twain, and also to Mill Valley, Calif., Toledo, Ohio, Fort Ord, Calif. and other characters' hometowns, all real life except for Hawkeye's Crabapple Cove, Maine. And, Alan Alda's Hawkeye and Groucho Marx are far and away the top two bad-pun influences in my life.

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