Harry Morgan shaped the Col. Potter character

Details from Morgan's life helped flesh out his character.

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M*A*S*H MAYDAYS presents Colonel Potter
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1975 was a critical year for M*A*S*H. The show had some personnel shakeups that could have ruined its momentum going into its fourth season. But, actors are people, and people move on to other things. Wayne Rogers, M*A*S*H's Trapper John, left the show due to a contract dispute with the producers. In addition, McLean Stevenson, who'd led the 4077th as Lt. Col. Henry Blake, was out as well. Stevenson was tired of not being the show's star and cited systemic issues within 20th Century Fox for his departure.

M*A*S*H is frequently lauded as the greatest ensemble comedy in American television history. That is attributable to the chemistry of the actors on set. The interplay between the characters was critical; sure, Hawkeye was arguably the main character, but only because he had the best jokes. The stories depended on a web of lives. M*A*S*H was only as good as its ensemble, so what would they do when that group was reshuffled in '75? One answer, of course, came in an episode from the previous year, "The General Flipped at Dawn." That season three show saw Harry Morgan tagging in for just one episode, in which he confirmed the producers' inkling that he'd make a great addition to the cast.

So, in season four of M*A*S*H, a new character played by Morgan, Colonel Sherman T. Potter, is seamlessly integrated into the 4077th. Morgan had the benefit of being a bonafide TV commodity; he'd already been a regular on six other shows dating back to the '50s. The writers knew what he was capable of and built the character of Col. Potter around Morgan's strengths. They even took input from Morgan's real life to give the Colonel a realistic feel.

Col. Potter was a cavalryman, partly due to Harry Morgan's love of horses. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, M*A*S*H's writers implored Morgan for such details. Those particulars were crucial to shaping a character that felt real. Where Henry Blake's fishing gear once hung, now there is Col. Potter's "Black Jack" Pershing cavalry hat. Morgan's fondness for animals also influenced the dialogue, with Col. Potter often reminiscing about old horses.

Morgan's affability was definitely to thank for the casual rapport between Col. Potter and Gary Burghoff's Radar O'Reilly. Radar was pretty tight with Lt. Col. Blake and frequently finished the commanding officer's sentences and predicted his needs. It should follow, then, that Radar would be hesitant around this new character in Col. Potter. However, Harry Morgan quickly hit it off on set with Burghoff, and that trust also came through onscreen.

The role was more fun for Morgan to play too. On a previous show, Dragnet, Morgan had been instructed to act with an unwavering monotone, befitting an authoritative law enforcement officer. But with M*A*S*H, Morgan was able to really play, and have fun and laugh as Col. Potter, allowing for a much more enjoyable experience. 

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16 Comments

Runeshaper 10 months ago
I always enjoyed seeing Harry Morgan in anything. Great actor!
tsgabel 10 months ago
I adored Harry Morgan. He played a great crook in Film Noir movies, his dragnet character was so monotone that he was actually believable. But his Colonel Potter was my very favorite. He was brilliant in the role. He could be solemn, touching, sentimental, silly, impish, loving, hilariously funny, tender, and extremely human. He created a delightful character who fit in perfectly with the rest of the cast. He did so many wonderful episodes - the April Fools joke with Pat Hingle, the episode where he gave away his beloved horse Sophie to an elderly Korean general so the old fellow could keep self respect, the Christmas episode where they all sang "give us peace" in Latin - he had a wonderful base voice. There were so many episodes that I loved - I could never list them all. One of my favorite lines, delivered with an incredible facial expression was: "You just HAD to put BE STUPID on your list of things to do today!" He was a genius; I wish had known him.
musicman37 10 months ago
Col. Potter was so much more loveable than Henry Blake - if only because he was the administrator Henry was not, and saw almost immediately that being "regular army" wasn't going to cut the mustard at the 4077th. He fit there like a glove, and his witticisms and reflections on life endeared him, not to mention his exclamations ("Horse Hockey!!)" were priceless.
Coldnorth 10 months ago
Col. potter had no idea what the 4077 had in store for him when got there. He tried to be rough and tough but found that underneath the horse hockey, they were a talented unit so he could loosen up too
JHP 10 months ago
there's a long long trail a winding

enuf said
CurtisP70 10 months ago
I especially enjoyed all of Col. Potters witticisms.
Andybandit 10 months ago
I liked when Harry Morgan came on to MASH. When Mclean Stevenson left the show. I liked how he was a father figure to the characters on MASH. Especially Radar.
LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Details from Morgan's life helped "flesh."
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JHP LoveMETV22 10 months ago
that sun will take the hide off of you - or something like that
LoveMETV22 JHP 10 months ago
I can hear him saying it too. I'll take a look and see if there are any clips of it.
JHP LoveMETV22 10 months ago
aok - I got it on DVR already - the scene with potter and klinger
is priceless (both of them:))
ma2lyssa JHP 10 months ago
Radar: "stick that horn in your ear" 😄
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