Harry Morgan: From Before Broadway to After-M*A*S*H

For someone who performed under three professional names, Harry Morgan (1915-2011) achieved the near impossible by becoming a household word. On stage he went by his given name Harry Bratsburg; in radio and early films he was known as Henry Morgan, but then he changed it to Harry to avoid confusion with the radio humorist. 

I remember being fairly flabbergasted to learn that his Midwestern Bantam rooster of a man had started out with the Group Theatre, which I always assumed was composed pretty much entirely of New York Socialist Jews, most of them the literal children of immigrants. But, nah, that’s where Harry Morgan started out somehow, when he was in his early 20s. He was in the original production of two Clifford Odets plays, Golden Boy (1937) and Night Music (1940). As Harry Bratsburg, he was also in another half dozen Broadway productions been 1937 and 1942.

With that incredible voice, like the honking of a bass saxophone, Morgan was a natural for radio. But he was also in tons of classic movies, often in terrific supporting roles, including The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), State Fair (1945), Dragonwyck (1946), Yellow Sky (1948), All My Sons (1948), High Noon (1950), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), The Far Country (1954), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), Inherit the Wind (1960), Cimarron (1960), How the West was Won (1962), The Shootist (1976), and the obligatory comedy westerns Support Your Local Sheriff (1969), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979). Not to mention Dragnet (1987).

Which brings us to his TV work, probably what he is best known for, since he was a regular on no less than 9 TV series, most of them popular. There were December Bride (1954-59) with Spring Byington, and its spin-off Pete and Gladys (1960-62) with Cara Williams, Kentucky Jones (1964-65) with Dennis Weaver, Dragnet (1967-70) with Jack Webb, Hec Ramsey (1972-74) with Richard Boone, M*A*S*H (1975-83), After M*A*S*H (1983-85), Blacke’s Magic (1986) with Hal LInden, and a sitcom version of Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take it With You (1987-88), naturally as Grandpa. The last of his 165 screen credits was a 1999 episode of the TV series Love & Money.