Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Harry Morgan (1915-2011)
The last surviving performer, in all likelihood, from many a classic Hollywood film of the 1940s, Harry Morgan could have drunk many a tontine toast like Col. Potter did in one episode of M*A*S*H. Morgan, who died today, long outlived even the memory of the radio humorist Henry Morgan, whose claim on the name obliged the younger actor fresh from Broadway to adopt the more familiar Harry to avoid confusion. He'll be remembered for his television work, particularly for the Dragnet role he re-created for Dan Aykroyd's travesty and his second role on M*A*S*H following an early guest turn as an insane racist last seen singing "Mississippi Mud." But his runty intensity made him an attraction throughout the Forties, whether as Henry Fonda's sidekick in The Ox-Bow Incident, Charles Laughton's unlikely yet mutely menacing bodyguard in The Big Clock, the easily-turned simpleton bandit in Yellow Sky, or the lame idiot conscience of Dark City. Others could name many more memorable performances in film and TV alike. They'd be enough to merit mourning for the actor even had Morgan never been promoted to Maclean Stevenson's replacement on the beloved service sitcom. He was a great character actor who might have been lost to posterity in an era thick with greatness had not his later TV success led people to recognize him in movies and discover his full range. With his passing, the golden age of Hollywood seems just a little further away.