FILE - In this 1976 handout photo, Harry Morgan poses on the set of his television show "MASH," The Emmy-winning character actor whose portrayal of the fatherly Col. Potter on television's "M*A*S*H" highlighted a show business career that included nine other TV series, 50 films and the Broadway stage, died Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. He was 96. Morgan appeared in mostly supporting roles on the big screen, playing opposite such stars as Henry Fonda, John Wayne, James Garner, Elvis Presley and Dan Aykroyd. On television, he was more the comedic co-star, including roles on "December Bride," its spin-off "Pete and Gladys," as Sgt. Joe Friday's loyal partner in later "Dragnet" episodes and on CBS-TV's long-running "M-A-S-H" series, for which he earned an Emmy award in 1980. (AP Photo)
Updated: January 9, 2012 9:17AM
LOS ANGELES — Harry Morgan, who died Wednesday at 96, never planned to be an actor, yet he spent 10 years on one of the top TV series of all time, made 50 films and appeared on Broadway.
But it was Mr. Morgan’s portrayal of the fatherly Col. Sherman Potter on “MASH” for which Morgan became most famous. His wry humor, which helped net him an Emmy for the CBS hit, carried onto the show.
“He was an imp,” said Mike Farrell, who starred as B.J. Hunnicutt alongside Mr. Morgan and Alan Alda. “As Alan once said, there’s not an un-adorable bone in the man’s body. He was full of fun, and he was smart as a whip.”
Morgan died Wednesday at his Brentwood home after having pneumonia, said his daughter-in-law, Beth Morgan.
“He was side-splittingly funny, a very gent and loving father-in-law,” she said. “He was very humble about having such a successful career.”
Mr. Morgan appeared in mostly supporting roles on the big screen, playing opposite such stars as Henry Fonda, John Wayne, James Garner, Elvis Presley and Dan Aykroyd.
On television, he was more the comedic co-star, including roles on “December Bride,” its spin-off “Pete and Gladys” and as Sgt. Joe Friday’s loyal partner in later “Dragnet” episodes. Yet acting wasn’t Mr. Morgan’s first career choice.
Born in Detroit in 1915, Mr. Morgan was studying pre-law at the University of Chicago when public speaking classes sparked his interest in the stage. Before long, he was working with a theater group in Washington, D.C., followed by a two-year stint on Broadway in the original production of “Golden Boy,” with Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.
Mr. Morgan made his way to Hollywood in 1942 “without any assurance that I would find work,” he said in 1976.
“I didn’t have enough money to go back East, so I stayed around finding jobs mainly out of friendships.”
He signed a contract with 20th Century Fox after a talent scout spotted him in the one-act play “Hello, Out There.”
One of his earliest films was “The Ox-Bow Incident” in 1943 with Fonda. Other films included “High Noon,” “What Price Glory,” “Support Your Local Sheriff,” “The Apple Dumpling Gang” and “The Shootist.”
Mr. Morgan began his television career in 1954 when the medium was in its infancy.
“Television allowed me to kick the Hollywood habit of typing an actor in certain roles,” Mr. Morgan said, referring to his typical sidekick or sheriff portrayals on the big screen
In “December Bride,” his first TV series, Mr. Morgan played Pete Porter, a perpetually henpecked neighbor. The CBS series lasted from 1954-1959, when he went on to star in the spinoff.
Demonstrating his diversity as a character actor and comedian, Mr. Morgan also starred in “The Richard Boone Show,” “Kentucky Jones” and “Dragnet.”
His acting career didn’t stop after the “MASH” left the air in 1983 after 11 years, one of television’s most successful primetime runs. Mr. Morgan went on to appear in several made-for-TV movies and other television series, such as “AfterMASH” and “Blacke’s Magic.”
When he was not on the set, Mr. Morgan enjoyed reading books about the legal profession and poetry. He also liked horses, which he once raised on his Northern California ranch.
Mr. Morgan is survived by three sons, Charles, Paul and Christopher; eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
No services have yet been planned.