By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON | Wed Dec 7, 2011 5:30pm EST
(Reuters) - Prolific character actor Harry Morgan, who appeared in more than 100 films but was best known for television roles including Colonel Sherman Potter in the popular series "M*A*S*H," died on Wednesday at his Los Angeles home, age 96.
His son, producer Christopher Morgan, confirmed the actor's death in an e-mail to Reuters.
Morgan in 1980 won an Emmy award, honoring the best in U.S. TV, for his work on the anti-war comedy series "M*A*S*H" playing the upstanding commanding officer of a U.S. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. Morgan appeared in "M*A*S*H" from 1975 to 1983.
He also appeared as Officer Bill Gannon on television crime series "Dragnet" from 1967 to 1970, alongside Jack Webb.
Morgan's ability to play a variety of roles, dramatic and comedic, made him an actor in demand for half a century. He starred in about a dozen U.S. TV series starting in the 1950s and appeared in movies with some of Hollywood's biggest stars.
He appeared in "The Ox-Bow Incident" in 1943 with Henry Fonda, "High Noon" in 1952 with Gary Cooper, "The Glenn Miller Story" in 1954 with Jimmy Stewart and "Inherit the Wind" in 1960 with Spencer Tracy.
But it was his role on "M*A*S*H," the long-running series on the CBS network, that earned him his most fame. The series was adapted from the successful 1970 feature film of the same name, presenting an anti-war theme at the same time the United States was extricating itself from the Vietnam War.
Morgan was not one of the original cast members. The series began in 1972 but his first appearance came in a guest-starring role during its third season. He signed on as a full-time cast member in 1975 after actor McLean Stevenson, who had played the fictional unit's commanding officer, left the show.
"ONE OF THE LUCKIEST"
The actor played Colonel Potter as a disciplined, sometimes cantankerous, but ultimately upright and good-hearted officer and capable surgeon. He was surrounded by a colorful cast including Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Mike Farrell, Gary Burghoff, David Ogden Stiers and Jamie Farr.
Morgan cried during a 1983 news conference after taping the final episode of "M*A*S*H," which became the most-watched show in the history of U.S. television.
He told reporters, "I'm feeling very sad and sentimental. I don't know if 'M*A*S*H' made me a better actor but I know it made me a better human being."
Morgan went on to play Potter in a short-lived TV sequel to M*A*S*H entitled "Aftermash." "I'm playing a character I'm awfully fond of," he told the Miami Herald in 1983. "I knew nothing was going to come along that was better than this."
Before the popular comedy, Morgan was perhaps best known for his role as the sidekick policeman, Officer Bill Gannon, to the no-nonsense Los Angeles investigator Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) on popular crime drama "Dragnet."
His TV and film credits ranged widely, starting in the early 1940s and including movies such as "Wing and a Prayer" (1944) and "High Noon" (1952). His TV work began in the 1950s and included numerous guest-starring and series regular roles up to his turn on "Dragnet" (1967-1970).
In 2004, he told the Archive of American Television: "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."
Morgan was born Harry Bratsberg in Detroit in 1915, and worked on stage before making his way to Hollywood. In his early work, he is credited as Henry Morgan. He was married twice and had four children with his first wife, Eileen, who died in 1985 after the pair had been together 45 years.
One son, Daniel, died in 1989. He is survived by three other sons, eight grandchildren and his second wife, Barbara Bushman.
(Additional reporting by Bob Tourtellotte in Los Angeles; Editing by Jill Serjeant)