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Harry Morgan Wanted to Be Remembered as a 'Pleasant Person' after 'M*A*S*H' Made Him a 'Better Human'

Esther NJeri
Apr 04, 2022
12:30 P.M.
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After a successful film career, Harry Morgan wanted his legacy to live on, but unlike most, his wish was for people to always remember him as a "pleasant person" who got along with many people.

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Viewers and fans worldwide recognize Harry Morgan as the no-nonsense yet fair Army Colonel Sherman. T. Potter on the war comedy-drama M*A*S*H. His other groundbreaking role is playing Bill Gannon on the "Dragnet" TV series.

For his many leading roles, Morgan remains one of the most famous actors of his generation. Those who worked with him loved him, as did his millions of viewers. However, more than anything, Morgan wanted to leave behind a legacy, not for his numerous acting credits, but as a "pleasant person."

Actor Harry as Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H in 1977 [Left] Morgan at Matteos Restaurant on May 28, 2000 in Westwood California [Right] | Source: Getty Images

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EMERGENCE OF HARRY MORGAN

Morgan was born Harry Bratsberg in Detroit, Michigan, on April 10, 1915, to parents Anna Olsen, a housewife who immigrated from Sweden, and Henry Bratsberg, a Norwegian immigrant. He attended Muskegon High School in Muskegon, Michigan, where he excelled in debate.

Hoping to one day become a lawyer, he began taking oratory classes at the University of Chicago, where his interest in acting became definite. He, however, dropped out due to the Great Depression and became a furniture salesman in Washington.

As a hobby, Morgan began acting in theatre groups and became hooked. As of 1937, he had become part of The Group Theatre in New York, alongside Karl Malden, John Garfield, and Elia Kazan. With the group, he appeared in the Broadway plays "Golden Boy," "Night Music," "The Gentle People," and "Thunder Rock." 

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American actor Harry Morgan poses in the 1950's. | Source: Getty Images

Before settling on "Harry Morgan," the actor underwent several name changes. It all began after his school logged him in as "Bratsburg," and rather than complain, the good-natured Morgan just went along. 

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But even as he began performing on stage, some plays credited him as "Harry Bratsburg." In 1942, during his appearance as Mouthy in "To The Shores of Tripoli," he used the credit "Henry Morgan," but because the name already belonged to a panelist on "I've Got A Secret," Morgan finally settled on "Harry Morgan."

TWO LONG-LASTING MARRIAGES

Morgan married his first wife, Eileen Detchon, in 1940 and went on to have four sons, Christopher, Charles, Paul, and Daniel. For the duration of his time on M*A*S*H, Morgan kept a photograph of his wife on his character's desk and often spoke lovingly to it. Unfortunately, after 44 years of marriage, Detchon passed on in 1985. 

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Actor Harry Morgan with his first wife Eileen Detchon | Source: Getty Images

"The Love Boat" actor soon found love with Barbara Bushman, and the two tied the knot on December 17, 1986. Their union lasted 25 years before Morgan waved the world goodbye. Like her husband, Bushman is an actress, recognized for her role in "The Last Frontier."

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Despite not having kids with Morgan, Bushman is a mom to two daughters, Katherine and Victoria, from her marriage to Richard Quine. And while Morgan and Bushman's marriage lasted decades, it was not always a perfect one.

Like any other couple, Morgan and Bushman had their rough moments. One such instance happened when the couple got into a disagreement, and Morgan reportedly left his wife bruised and bloodied. 

Actor Harry Morgan and his wife Barbara Bushman attend the Los Angeles chapter of Death Penalty Focus'' 10th Annual awards banquet April 4, 2001 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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She reportedly called 911, and on July 2, 1997, Morgan was charged with spousal battery. But after undergoing a six-month violence counseling program, the judge dropped the charges. The attorney's office stated through their spokesman, as reported by AP News:

"Harry Morgan completed a six-month counseling program for domestic violence and anger management, so the charge was dropped."

 'M*A*S*H' MADE HIM A 'BETTER HUMAN BEING'

Jamie Farr, Loretta Swit, David Ogden Stiers, Harry Morgan, Mike Farrell, Alan Alda, and William Christopher [Left to Right] in publicity portrait for the film 'M*A*S*H', Circa 1978 | Source: Getty Images

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Known for his numerous roles in TV and film, Morgan's most recognized part was playing the crusty cavalry veteran Colonel Potter on the war comedy-drama M*A*S*H, which he took over after McLean Stevenson left the show. He would later disclose he had no idea why the show wanted to cast him, saying:

"I don't know just why they called me, to be perfectly frank. In the third year, I played a sort of crazy general in one episode, and they liked me."

The role ended up bagging the actor several Emmy nominations and a win in 1980, with the final episode garnering "the largest audience to watch a single TV program." After the show ended, Morgan reprised the Colonel Potter character in the sequel, "AfterMASH," set at the veterans' hospital in Missouri. 

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Portrait of American actors, Alan Alda, as Captain Benjamin Hawkeye Pierce, Mike Farrell, as Captain B.J. Hunnicut, and Harry Morgan, as Colonel Sherman T. Potter [Left to Right] on a scene of the television show, "M*A*S*H" in 1981 | Source: Getty Images

Throughout his time at M*A*S*H, Morgan loved keeping mementos of his loved ones on set. Besides the photograph of his wife on his desk, Morgan also hung a hand-drawn picture of a horse, done by his grandson Jeremy Morgan.

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His role on M*A*S*H did not only make his career but also built him as a person. Asked whether the part made him a better person, he had this to say:

"I don't know about that, but it made me a better human being."

Harry Morgan during Press Conference for the Final Taping of "M*A*S*H*" on January 14, 1983 in Los Angeles, California, United States. | Source: Getty Images

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Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, said Morgan "did not have an unadorable bone in his body." But Morgan also had nice things to say about his character, who was loved by viewers far and wide:

"He was firm. He was a good officer, and he had a good sense of humor. I think it's the best part I ever had. I loved playing Colonel Potter."

DEATH AND LEGACY

Sadly after a long, fulfilling life, the actor met his death on December 7, 2011, aged 96. He died in his Los Angeles home after suffering from pneumonia. But the legend wanted to be remembered for more than just being an actor. 

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Actor Harry Morgan as Col. Sherman Potter on M*A*S*H in the later 1970s | Source: Getty Images

He wanted everyone to remember him: "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."

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Those he worked with had nothing but good to say about the actor throughout his career. Mike Farrell — who played Captain B.J. Hunnicutt — said Morgan "was a wonderful man, a fabulous actor and a dear and close friend since the first day we worked together."

Veteran writer-producer Ken Levine, who also worked on M*A*S*H, remembers Morgan as an actor who could quickly memorize his lines and perform the scenes perfectly. Later, he would compliment the scene writers, who were always thrilled by his mere presence.

Actor Harry Morgan attends 34th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards on March 13, 1982 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California | Source: Getty Images

He was also fully appreciated by his family, and his daughter-in-law, Beth Morgan, would later say that despite having such a successful career, Morgan remained humble. 

Upon his demise, Morgan left behind his second wife, Bushman, and three sons from his first marriage, Paul, Charles, and Christopher, as his son Daniel passed on in 1989. He was also a grandfather of eight.

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