Monday, September 23, 2013

M*A*S*H



Between 1972 and 1983 the TV viewing public was treated to a unique new sitcom.  Set during the Korean conflict,  M*A*S*H appeared in millions of homes becoming a household word while enlightening us about the horrors of war.   And it was shot exclusively at the 20th Century Fox Studios and the Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas, California.



The brilliantly talented Alan Alda was the show’s anchor.   While much of M*A*S*H’s longevity can be attributed to Alda’s contributions as the character of Hawkeye Pierce, I must credit the production’s casting prowess for reinforcing that longevity.   The supporting cast members filled out the series masterfully … especially one in particular.

If you were born in the1990s or later, then the name Harry Morgan may mean nothing (or little) to you.  He simply was one of the most versatile and prolific film actors of the 20th and 21st centuries.  Though he passed away in 2011 (at the age of 96), many of his film appearances can still be seen in re-run.   In 1915 he was born Henry Morgan, but in the 60s he wisely changed his name from Henry to Harry because of the great popularity of then comedian Henry Morgan.

Several weeks ago I tuned in to cable’sTV Land and was treated to the closing episode of M*A*S*H entitled  “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”  What a great treat!  I had never seen that episode and for years I regretted having missed it until this chance viewing on TV Land.  Seeing it brought back memories of when I met  Harry Morgan in 1977 while portraying a policeman opposite Morgan's character in a made-for-TV thriller entitled MURDER AT THE MARDI GRAS.  It was filmed almost exclusively in the SUPERDOME.  Morgan was every bit the Col Sherman Potter character he portrayed in M*A*S*H.  He was warm, friendly and very personable.

God how I would have loved to have been a part of that series!

Before transforming into his Potter character, Morgan was introduced to the show via a cameo role as Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele.  His portrayal of Gen Steele was so well received, that the producers would bring Morgan back in 1974 as the M*A*S*H unit’s new commander, Colonel Sherman T Potter.  He would be replacing the outgoing character of Lt. Col Henry Blake played by McLean Stevenson who departed from M*A*S*H in March of 1975 to begin his own show.    McLean’s decision to leave  M*A*S*H was met with great sadness throughout the show’s cast and crew. 

Here’s an interesting footnote to Stevenson’s departure:  the producers purposely withheld from the cast the final script page of McLean’s exit episode which was entitled “Abyssenia Henry”.  They did this in order to capture a genuine look of shock among the continuing cast members when Cpl Radar O’Reilly (played by Gary Burghoff)  tearfully comes into the O.R. to read a wire revealing that Colonel Blake’s plane had been shot down and had crashed into the sea of Japan.  There were no survivors.  The shock that registered on the cast was indeed genuine.   Though his death was fictional, they knew that that announcement signaled McLean’s permanent departure from the show. That was one of the most moving scenes I had ever seen.   

McLean’s replacement would be Col Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan) who was very aware that he had a powerful act to follow.   But the Potter character as portrayed by Morgan won the day.   He delivered.   He fit right in.

I asked Morgan what role in his lengthy career did he most enjoy portraying.   Without any hesitation he said Col Sherman Potter from M*A*S*H.  He said of all the characters he had ever played, Col Potter most met his personal standard as a decent, loveable, charming and witty human being.  Sadly at that time I was not yet a fan of M*A*S*H and was embarrassed that I was not able to expand our conversation any further regarding M*A*S*H.  

When I told my now late son, Jerry III, that I had worked with Harry Morgan, he said “Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H”?  I said yes, then he insisted that I should become a M*A*S*H fan, which I did.  Gloria and I both became fans.  We look forward to any future re-runs.  


And God how I would have loved to have been a part of that series!


But I can at least enjoy the memory of having worked with two M*A*S*H cast members:  Harry Morgan and G.W. Bailey who played Supply Sgt Rizzo (See my May 2012 Dennis Hopper post).

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