Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dear Harry

Dear Harry,

First off, I hope you don't mind me calling you "Harry"; though we never met I feel as though I knew you. You see, in your role as Col. Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H, you were like the grandfather I never had (both of them having long since passed away before I was born)--a wise but impish, authoritative yet kind soul who believed in discipline and order but also had the brains and generosity of spirit to allow those around you to be who they were.

I firmly believe that the character you played was the show's greatest creation (Dr. Sidney Freedman a close second), in that Col. Potter's presence flipped M*A*S*H's established--and popular--dynamic on it's head: as your character said in Season Eight's 'Period of Adjustment', you were no Henry Blake, and never tried to be. While Henry was pliable, Potter was firm. While Henry wanted no more than to be one of the gang, Potter knew the best commander he could be involved keeping a slight distance between himself and his people.

You took what could have been a stock character--the Regular Army commander--and gave it so many sides that it only made sense that when the show ended, you became the main character of the unfairly-maligned AfterM*A*S*H spin-off. You once said in an interview that you would have kept going on M*A*S*H forever if you could have; it was "That kind of role, that kind of show." I agree; I could have kept watching forever, too.

I have never served in the military, and never will. Growing up, I worried if I would be drafted into service for some as-yet-unknown war. And while that thought horrified me, I secretly hoped that if that came to pass, I would end up with a commander like Col. Potter: someone I could have turned to with a problem, and would have tried his best to understand me and what I needed to be able to do my best.

When you're a kid (which is when I first discovered M*A*S*H), the line between actor and role is blurred. Intellectually, you know that the two are different yet you can't help be interested when an actor you like appears in some other TV show or movie. I distinctly remember going with Mom to see Disney's The Cat From Outer Space (which featured you and McLean Stevenson, quite a treat for a seven-year-old M*A*S*H fan!), watching old episodes of Dragnet, and being utterly delighted to see you appear in Inherit The Wind, one of my all-time favorite movies (playing a judge, appropriately enough). Deep down, I knew that it was you, Harry Morgan the actor, in those roles, yet some small part of me was just happy to see Col. Potter again, even if he never uttered anything resembling "Horse Hockey!"

When I started this blog, as I usually do, I start to imagine if I'll be able to contact some of the people who actually worked on the thing I'm blogging about. Thankfully, I've been fortunate enough to do just that with M*A*S*H, which has been an amazing thrill for me. I knew the chances of ever talking to you were probably slim to none; but I held out that hope that maybe, someday, I'd find a way to get in touch with you--maybe not for an interview, but just to have the chance to say "Thank you" for all your work and for giving me a role model that helped guide me through life. You may be gone but Col. Sherman T. Potter always will be with me, whenever I need him to be, and for that I cannot thank you enough.

If God has any taste at all, I imagine He/She has already started commissioning new M*A*S*H scripts from Larry Gelbart; and now Col. Potter can join Henry Blake and Frank Burns back at the 4077th.

Rest in peace.


Dr. Eric said...

Rob, I couldn't have said it better myself. To paraphrase Billy Crystal in "Mr. Saturday Night," "You were 96, and you went too soon."

rob! said...

Thanks Eric. Once someone hits 90, you tend to start thinking in those terms, so writing the piece was fairly easy. But of course I had hoped not to have to write it for many, many more years!

Rob As Well said...

Beautifully written, rob!.

Harry Morgan episodes are on a loop this evening.

megan stemm-wade said...

This was lovely. Thank you for telling Harry exactly what I would have said.

dr. eric, I love the "Mr. Saturday Night" quote. Perfect.

Radar Hat said...

Well done, Rob.
I've been watching a few episodes every day this week while I've been home with a cold. I'll pick out some Potter-centric episodes tonight.

Brian said...

Beautifully done, Rob. I only recently discovered the interview he did with the Emmy folks a few years back. His mind was pretty sharp for a guy in his late 80's!

I also want to thank you for this site; there are other fine M*A*S*H sites online, but yours is truly great and a perfect gathering place for those of us that remember the 4077 fondly. Cheers!

What the Parrot Saw said...

I knew that you would be commenting on Harry's passing, Rob. I shouldn't have been surprised that you would wax so eloquently. Beautiful tribute to the man.

rob! said...

Thanks everyone. Let's hope this is the last MASH obit I have to write for a long, long, long time.

Fan of the Just King said...

Don't forget that Col. Flagg will be popping in from time to time up there to keep Potter, Blake and Burns on their toes ;)

R.I.P Harry Morgan; you were, and will always be, an incredible actor who brought so much life to the screen, and especially as Col. Sherman Potter on M*A*S*H. Fans worldwide won't soon forget you!

rob! said...

Gah, I should have mentioned Flagg! And Sgt. Zale, while we're at it.

Russell said...

Wow, I just happened to stop in here and I was shocked to get the news that Harry Morgan had passed away. Beautifully written obituary, Rob.

RIP Harry Morgan

Andrea said...

What a beautiful tribute Rob and one which mirrors my own sentiments. I also remember being delighted at seeing him in Inherit the Wind ( a favourite of mine).
Harry always gave such mesmerizing performances. He was a class act.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Rob.

Potter was a great character brought to life by a great actor.

Potter had a lot of layers - seasoned vet, one of the guys, and father figure all come to mind immediately.

He could be grumpy and goofy, and he was always a loyal friend. He always reminded me of my Dad, even when my Dad was in the same room watching the same episode!

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