Height: 5' 6" (1.68 m)
Young Harry was a popular
classmate at Muskegon High School, being named class president in his
senior year (1933). His specialty was debating and
in his junior year he and and fellow debaters went all the way to a
state championship, defeating Oxford in the finals at the University of
Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. Curiously, the boy who would become the
high school's most accomplished thespian did not even participate in
plays produced at the school.
After graduating from JC in 1935, he joined the sales dept. at Shaw-Walker Company and soon relocated to Washington D.C. He was selling (or not selling, as he clarifies) office equipment making $20 a week selling office supplies, in 1937. "I only made $10 a week as an actor" he recalled bitterly, "and the week after I quit my job a fellow I was working with made $200,000 - selling all the filing cabinets to the Social Security office." He tried out for some summer stock parts with local theater groups. This led to roles and try-outs with more important companies, and then to summer stock companies outside New York City.
He successfully auditioned for a part in The Petrified Forest (1937), a play with Frances Farmer, and she helped him get an interview with The Group Theater, comprised of a great many of the finest dramatic talents ever in U.S. history: Clifford Odets, Howard Clurman, Elia Kazan, Lee J. Cobb, Sanford Meisner, John Garfield, Karl Malden. Morgan was accepted into the Group, and appeared in a very successful Odets play called Golden Boy (Nov 1937), in which he played a boxer, Pepper White. (he used to have a nasty family dog by that name.) It played Broadway for a year and then another six months in London, where the cast spent some time with Paul Robeson and met Winston Churchill. A host of successful Broadway roles followed. Morgan also did summer stock at the Pine Brook Country Club located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut.
Frances Farmer was from Seattle, where she had grown up with Eileen Detchon, another aspiring Broadway actress, the latter met Harry while working together in a William Saroyan play called My Heart's in the Highlands. They were wed in 1940 and Harry found work in small theater and in radio. Frances Farmer persuaded the newlyweds to relocate to the West coast. Hollywood soon beckoned and in 1941 he was signed with 20th Century Fox.
Upon his return to Muskegon, Michigan, his mother, Hannah Olsen, passed away in January 1942.
Morgan made his screen debut (originally using the name "Henry Morgan") as contract actor in the 1942 movie To the Shores of Tripoli. His screen name later became "Henry 'Harry' Morgan" and eventually Harry Morgan, to avoid confusion with the popular humorist of the same name.
Morgan served in the US Army during WW2 where he joined other actors making training films. One of his works, The Rifle Platoon made in 1942 is available on YouTube.
Between 1942 and 1946 the family celebrated the birth of four sons, all were born in Los Angeles, the last two being twins. "There was an entire year in there early on when my dad didn't get a single day's work, and he had four young mouths to feed." (3)
Morgan hosted the NBC radio series Mystery in the Air starring Peter Lorre in 1947.
One memorable role was in The Big Clock (1948) in which he plays a very menacing bodyguard/henchman to Charles Laughton. His lines were perfunctory and so he suggested that they just have the character be a mute — a touch that works very well.
He had a sort of breakthrough in another Saroyan play called Hello, Out There! (1949) (a very charming one-act work with just two characters, the other part played by Jennifer Jones), which was staged in a playhouse in Santa Barbara. The film was a paring of Hello, Out There! with another one-act work, but it was never released and there is no known surviving print (according to the UCLA Theater Arts archive). Hello, Out There! did lead to a contract with Fox Studios and a few years of security, with Harry appearing as Henry Morgan in a few dozen films, often as comedic character or a heavy — not much in between.
In 1950, Morgan appeared as an obtrusive, alcohol-addled hotel clerk in the Dragnet radio episode "The Big Boys".
Harry Morgan's hobbies included photography, horseback-riding, handball and bicycling. He also loves to cook and is a collector of fine symphonic music recordings. When television became an everyday reality in the '50s, Morgan was ready.
On CBS, he played Pete Porter in Pete and Gladys (1960–1962), with Cara Williams as wife Gladys. Pete and Gladys was a spin-off of December Bride (1954–1959), starring Spring Byington, a show in which Morgan had a popular recurring role.
In 1964, he directed the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, "Who needs an enemy?".
He was an active opponent of the anti-communist campaign in Hollywood. Enjoyed golfing, traveling, dining, fishing, spending time with his family, reading, raising quarter-horses, horseback riding, animals, painting and poetry.
In 1966 Harry played opposite Elvis Presley in Frankie and Johnny (see below left), for Ellery Queen fans the picture has more familiar cast members: Eddie Quillan as cashier (uncredited) and the 'faux' Robert Strauss.
He received the Gold Award of Purple Heart Veterans Rehabilitation Service in the 1970s.
In Ellery Queen Don't Look Behind You (1971) Morgan, well-suited as the long-suffering Dad, was rewritten as a long-suffering uncle. Thus resolving not only the difference in accents between the two actors, but also the small age difference.
Morgan appeared on several famous TV-shows including The Partridge Family and Gunsmoke.
Morgan's biggest role was that of a tough-talking,
commanding, fun-loving, serious Army Officer, "Col. Sherman T. Potter"
on M*A*S*H (1972), when he replaced
McLean Stevenson, who left the show to unsuccessfully star in his own
sitcom. For the third time, the show was still a hit with fans, and at
60, he was nominated for Emmys eleven times and won his first and only
Emmy in 1980, for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or
Music Series. By 1983, M*A*S*H's
series was getting very expensive, as well as with the cast, hence, CBS
reduced it to 16 episodes. Despite M*A*S*H's finale in 1983,
Morgan went on to star in a short-lived spin-off series After
(1983), co-starring Jamie Farr and William
Christopher, from the original M*A*S*H
(1972) series, without series'
star Alan Alda. (1) Col.
Potter was a heavy drinker and a smoker, as was Morgan, in
real-life (Picture above bottom left). In various episodes of M*A*S*H
his real-life wife, Eileen Detchon (see picture below
left), stood in for his character's wife,
Mildred's portrait on his character's desk.
In a business in which friendships / often end at a series wrap party, Morgan is pleased to have an important carry-over from the M*A*S*H - days. "Loretta Swit called me from London," Morgan once said on the day before Christmas. "I think she's probably my best friend. She didn't even call collect".
Eileen died in 1985. He then married Barbara Bushman Quine (see picture above right), granddaughter of silent film star Francis X. Bushman) on December 17, 1986. The marriage lasted until his death. In July 1997, Morgan was charged with abusing his wife a year earlier, an argument that began during a dinner party earlier in the evening continued when the couple returned home, then turned violent leaving her with injuries to her eye, foot, and arm. Prosecutors dropped the charges after the 82-year-old actor completed a six-month domestic violence counseling program (2)
Towards the end of his acting career, as he reached 80, he had a recurring role as the older college professor on 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996), opposite John Lithgow (see picture above right). Afterwards, he retired from show business and lived with his family.
His latest appearance on television was in the M*A*S*H: 30th Anniversary Reunion in 2002.
Was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2006.
Morgan died peacefully in his sleep at 3:00 am in Los Angeles, on December 7, 2011, 10 days before his 25th wedding anniversary, at the age of 96. His son, Charles, said he recently had been treated for pneumonia. His body was cremated and his remains were given to his family.
Additional video & audio sources
|This actor profile is a part of the Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above played Richard Queen in the Ellery Queen TV pilot.|
Page first published on Dec 18. 2017
Last updated Dec 18, 2017
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