Sunday, December 25, 2011

Harry Morgan Tribute

This sweet tribute to the late Harry Morgan is by Loretta Swit, and ran in the year-end issue of Entertainment Weekly.

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.

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