Harry Morgan had trouble finding the right personality for Col. Potter when he joined M*A*S*H

He wanted to make Potter ''more wacky'' and keep an iconic piece of Henry Blake's costume.

Season four was a time of change for M*A*S*H. The real Korean War lasted three years, so perhaps it was unsurprising that the television show would have to get creative after the same amount of time. The dramedy kept things fresh by shaking up the cast. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) left the series. Enter Mike Farrell as B.J. and Harry Morgan as Col. Potter.

The one-hour, two-part "Welcome to Korea" introduced B.J. Hunnicutt to kick off the fourth season. "Chain of Command" welcomed Sherman T. Potter to the 4077th as its new commanding officer.

In August 1975, a syndicated UPI column introduced Morgan as the newest M*A*S*H cast member to the newspaper readers of America. "Morgan is low-key. He exudes warmth and dry humor," the writer observed. "His soft sell, unobtrusive quality probably is the reason he holds the record for most series as a star performer."

That's right — at that point in television history, Morgan had starred as a lead in more TV shows than any other actor. That list of series on his resume included December BridePete and GladysThe Richard Boone ShowKentucky Jones, Dragnet, The D.A., and Hec Ramsey… all packed into the span of 20 years. The actor born Harry Bratsberg was no stranger to replacing beloved characters, either. He had done just that as Sgt. Friday's partner in the 1967 Dragnet reboot.

Pete and Gladys — in which Morgan played straight-man husband Pete Porter to scatterbrained wife Gladys Porter (Cara Williams) — came the easiest to him.

"My favorite was Pete in Pete and Gladys because I just played myself," Morgan admitted to the UPI journalist.

"Until now Morgan has found it easy to slip into his characterizations," the writer noted. "But he's having trouble fitting himself inside the skin of Colonel Potter." What was the obstacle? For starters, the still-looming shadow of McLean Stevenson hung over the Morgan. 

Morgan even considered using an iconic piece of Henry Blake's costume.

"I wanted to keep that fish hook hat he wore," Morgan admitted, "but McLean took it with it him."

"I'd like to make the colonel a little more wacky," he added. "It's taking me time to find the right niche for this guy."

Morgan explained that he preferred comedy to drama, but he appreciated that M*A*S*H was not "typical fluffy situation comedy," perhaps a slight dig at his roots on December Bride and Pete and Gladys — or, at least, an admission that he was ready to try something different.

To his credit, he nailed the persona of Colonel Potter. Without making him "wacky" or wearing a leftover fishing hat.

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52 Comments

Xsquid 8 months ago
BJ hunnicutt was perfect as the walking post that hawkeye could bounce his monologue off of. Mash was originally similar to the movie but changed into preaching by a sanctimonious hypocrite.
WilliamJorns 8 months ago
By having Potter show a strong sense of self-confidence, coupled with the common sense not to run the 4077th like a military academy (like Frank Burns tried to do), Harry Morgan made his character fit in perfectly on M*A*S*H. Col. Potter thus had a firm grip on the reins of command, yet he was wise enough to let the personnel run loose every now and then in order to let off some steam.
Phooey13 16 months ago
If I were to grade M A S H By the season ..it would go like this ..Season 1-3 A Season 4 B Season 5-6 C Season 7 D Season 8-11 F .The Final Episode B
sputnik_57 37 months ago
I saw Harry Morgan last night (1am) on Hitchcock Presents "Anniversary Gift" (1959). It was an "ok" episode but not one of the more outstanding ones.
lmahabhashyam 37 months ago
I thought Henry Blake was funny but definitely not a leader but he wasn’t supposed to be, he was an exceptional doctor who like the other doctors just happened to get caught in the draft, and their rank was determined by the length of time they had been doctors in the civilian population. Potter was a career man he had started as an enlisted man in the Calvary as a fifteen year old who felt the romance of World War I and wanted to be a part of it. So to have made Potter a comical character would have been a mockery to the US Army and the men who made it their career. Plus if you go back to the episode Sometime’s you here the bullet you hear Henry Blake tell Hawkeye that he was taught in command school that in war rule #1 soldiers die and rule #2 that doctors can’t change rule #1 and this would hold true for doctors as well.
dangler1907 37 months ago
I think it was good that Potter played it more "straight". Blake was a real "goofball" as CO, but it wouldn't make sense to replace him with another goofball. That's not how real life works. We all have to deal with different types in our work lives, as people come and go. Turning the whole position of CO into one only occupied by goofy guys would have been a mistake I think.
Grizz 37 months ago
What I really hated about the shows creaters...come to find out (years later of course) was the fact that they killed McLean Steven's character because he chose to leave the show. They made sure he couldn't come back or spinoffs etc. If I had known that then I would've never continued watching.
dangler1907 Grizz 37 months ago
They could have come up with countless reasons to make him disappear, but MASH was as much a condemnation of war as it was a comedy. For Blake to die was a clear message - in wars, good people die. Totally consistent with the whole theme of MASH. Good people who die don't get to come back.
Grizz dangler1907 37 months ago
Point well made... But that was straight from McLean Steven's not to a couple of other mash characters... Also after the show ended.
Grizz 37 months ago
The only time I liked Morgan was his first appearance as Gen Steel the nut. Love him on Dragnet but he should've been funnier he's great at comedy.
dangler1907 Grizz 37 months ago
If he had been funnier on Dragnet, Jack Webb's face would have cracked beyond repair. ;)
ToddLeBaron Grizz 24 months ago
I think Harry Morgan made the role his own. He never wanted, or tried, to be Hanry Blake. He set his own tone for the role of Potter, and made him believable and likeable. And in later episodes,we really saw a more human side of many of the 4077th's characters, especially Margaret and Charles dealing with certain situations. The characters all manged to grow and become family to the viewers. In the final episode, Margaret calls Col. Potter a "dear sweet man", and she has said that's exactly what Harry Morgan was. There was never a TV show or film I saw him in that I didn't enjoy.
Wiseguy 37 months ago
"That list of series on his resume included December Bride, Pete and Gladys, The Richard Boone Show, Kentucky Jones, Dragnet, The D.A., and Hec Ramsey… all packed into the span of 20 years."

Then after M*A*S*H there was AfterMASH, Blacke's Magic and You Can't Take It with You. And he didn't spend more than one season between any of those series from 1954-1988. In addition, he guested on several series in between those, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Partridge Family and the 1980s Twilight Zone.
ToddLeBaron Wiseguy 24 months ago
And let's not gorget he appeared in the Dan Aykroyd-Tom Hanks 1987 update of Dragnet as well...
Wiseguy 37 months ago
"The real Korean War lasted three years, so perhaps it was unsurprising that the television show would have to get creative after the same amount of time."

What does one have to do with the other? Are you saying if the Korean War lasted another year, they would have had to get creative in the fifth season?

"The dramedy kept things fresh by shaking up the cast. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) left the series."

It wasn't a "dramedy" at that point. The actors left on their own, the producers didn't fire them to shake things up.

"The one-hour, two-part "Welcome to Korea..."

It's either a one-hour broadcast or a two-part episode. Can't be both at the same time.
Moverfan Wiseguy 37 months ago
It can...sort of. When it first aired on CBS, it was a one-hour episode. In syndication, it's generally broken down to a pair of half-hour episodes.
mjk3mjk3 37 months ago
The true spirit of MASH died when McLean Stevenson's character was killed. They should have changed the name of the show. One thing I liked about Cheers was that the characters, who were grown adults, were the same basic characters at the end of the show as they were at the start. I continued watching MASH for a couple of more years but, as I say, it simply wasn't the same show.
ToddLeBaron mjk3mjk3 37 months ago
I think the show grew into something even better. Certainly deeper as far as character development was concerned. As much as I thought Trapper and Henry were funny, Potter and BJ brought more believability to the show, at least where I was concerned. The first three seasons were more slapstick comedy. But as time went on, we got deeper inside the individual characters, resulting in episodes like "Morale Victory" in which Major Winchester showed a very compassionate side of himself when his patient, a concert pianist, had to face the prospect of being able to continue his career with diminished use of his right hand. Charles got him the sheet music to prove to him that he could still play. We got to see Margaret's compassionate side in several episodes around that time as well. Yes, the first three seasons were funny, but it was the later episodes that not only made for laughter but could be thought-provoking as well "Old Soldiers", where Col. Potter invites the officers to his tent to drink a toast to his World War I buddies, is very moving and touching, and it's been said by many of the actors in the series that all of them loved working with Harry Morgan. No, it wasn't the same show without Rogers and Stevenson. It became more than what it was when it began, and I appreciate the fact that they didn't try to bring in "carbon-copy" characters that would have been "just like Henry or Trapper". And Klinger made the role of company clerk his own after a time. It's been said by some that Me TV should just run the first three seasons. I didn't buy the whole series on DVD just to watch the first 70 or so episodes, and i don't think real fans of the show would want that either.
MaryNasvik ToddLeBaron 37 months ago
Right 👍 on!!
mjk3mjk3 36 months ago
This comment has been removed.
WilliamJorns ToddLeBaron 8 months ago
I agree wholeheartedly. What started out as a regular situation comedy turned into a humorous, yet thoughtful look at the horrors and wastefulness of war.
Jon 37 months ago
Harry Morgan got his chance to play "wacky" as Gen. Steele in the Season 3 premiere, so I figure he liked getting to play a chance a different character. I've heard & noticed that when he played Bill Gannon in the "Dragnet" movie, he played the part not as Gannon but more as Col. Potter. Gannon never acted as angry in the DRAGNET series as he did in the movie.
Greg Jon 37 months ago
Jack Webb demanded a very dry non-emotional style from actors. He gave an auditioning actor a news paper and told him to read it out load. Then he said that's the way you read your lines you aren't making a "ham sandwich" meaning over acting.
Katch 37 months ago
I hated that they killed Henry Blake off - instead of letting him get home. I understand (no coming back after quitting and to hit the heartstrings of the audience) - but still didn't like it. I LOVED that he showed up on Sonny & Cher or Cher (can't remember which) and they show him in a lifeboat yelling - Hey guys, I'm okay!! or something to that effect. So, I always think of him as having made it home! Of course I feel the same way about the guy in Red October who wanted to go to Montana and raise rabbits - I'm sure he made it!! He didn't die - he was just unconscious, right?
Jon Katch 37 months ago
He appeared on CHER. The clip wasn't found for years because people thought he instead appeared on Carol Burnett's show.
Greg Katch 37 months ago
It did bring home the true impact of war. The fact they were in surgery and didn't have time to morn was a powerful moment.
JenniferRaymond 37 months ago
Col. Potter was excellent. Love all his witty sayings!
"Buffalo bagels! Cow cookies! Mule muffins!"

Haw, haw, ho.
WilliamJorns Olivia_Reed 8 months ago
And don't forget, "Horse Hockey!"
RedSamRackham 37 months ago
* Lt. Colonel Blake was 1 of the guys but Colonel Potter was a more serious regular army guy who was more like a father figure to the 4077. The episode where Radar gives the old cavalry soldier a horse was perhaps a most heart-warming moment. ☺
Greg RedSamRackham 37 months ago
Yes IMO it gave the show more realism. The reason for the Drs. humor was not because the situation was fun or funny. It was how they coped with the pressure, death and absurdity of war.
jonrb86 37 months ago
MeTV Staff needs a proofreader.
teethclenched jonrb86 37 months ago
Haha-- so does every newspaper in America. Not that I still read newspapers, 'cause that would make me old and obsolete.
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