Harry Morgan's biggest regret as an actor was changing his name

"I'm all in favor of remembering one's roots," Morgan said.

When Harry Morgan started out as an actor, he wasn't dreaming of ending up on one of TV's most popular shows, M*A*S*H.

In fact, Morgan wasn't even thinking too much about a future in acting at all. He was just looking for "something to do."

Working as a lousy salesman in Washington, Morgan told the Chicago Tribune in 1983 that the only reason he auditioned for a role at the brand new Washington Civic Theater when it formed was that he was utterly bored, insisting he showed up "out of loneliness more than anything else."

At that time, he wasn't even known as Harry Morgan, but Harry Bratsburg. Born to a father from Norway and a mother from Sweden, his last name represented his heritage, and that was always an important part of his history that he intended to honor.

However, once Morgan got hooked on acting, he was soon pressured to change his name, and he told the Tribune he always regretted that.

"I wish I hadn't changed my name, to tell you the truth," Morgan said. He pointed to actors like John Hodiak, a Ukrainian actor who decided when MGM asked him to change his name that he wouldn't bend to the pressure, simply because, "I like my name. It sounds like I look."

"I always admired John Hodiak," Morgan said. "They wanted him to change his name, and he said, no, that's my name. And he was proud of being Ukrainian."

Morgan wished he'd had the same courage.

"I'm all in favor of remembering one's roots," Morgan said, adding, "Well, that's what this country was all about!"

It's no surprise he sounds a little like he slips into his M*A*S*H character Sherman Potter at that moment. Morgan said, "My character is practically me."

Although he saw himself in every role he played, Potter was perhaps the character he identified with most, and M*A*S*H was likely the show that made Morgan popular with audiences today.

"I think it's very hard for most actors to get very far away from themselves," Morgan said. "I played mostly the heavy when I first started in pictures, and I've played everything you can think of, but I don’t know in how many cases I really got that far away from myself."

When Morgan first appeared on M*A*S*H in the third season premiere, he famously made a guest appearance as a visiting general before the show cast him as Colonel Potter, who first appears in the fourth season premiere. Morgan told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1975 that his first role on the show was an audition of sorts, and then praised how the script for his first show as Potter really set him up to succeed with fans.

"It's a beautifully constructed script," Morgan said. "In just 20 pages, I get to meet all the guys. I get drunk with B.J. Hunnicutt, Trapper John's replacement, and at the end, I bump into Frank Burns."

Morgan said he was delighted how easily fans accepted him to fill the giant gaping hole in hearts that losing Henry Blake left on the show.

"Frankly, I was surprised at the ease with which the character of Colonel Potter was introduced in the first show in which I acted [as Potter]," Morgan told the Sun-Bulletin.

"At the beginning, everybody was a bit wary of the new commander, but at the end, he was accepted and already one of the boys," Morgan said. "It is a tribute to writers who accomplish that in one show."

Behind the scenes, the rumor was that Radar actor Gary Burghoff was most wary of how Morgan would fit in with the cast, but Morgan said those fears subsided after they hit it off as friends right away.

Through TV history, Morgan proved he was just one of those lovable actors whose charm contributed to cast dynamics onscreen and off.

And if you're wondering where he took his stage name from, though, he admitted to the Tribune that he had absolutely no idea where it came from.

"We just dreamed it up," Morgan said.

Beaver biscuits!

It's hard to say whether Morgan's name change mattered all that much to his success, but looking back in 1983, Morgan said honoring his roots while pursuing his acting dreams on a smaller scale would've been just as good a life for him, even if he achieved no fame at all. His advice for kids back then probably still applies to kids today: Dare to dream small.

"I didn't know I was going to be in M*A*S*H when I started out," Morgan said. "I think if you could settle for life on a much less grand scale, for example, regional theater, that's an achievable, wonderful ambition. But I don't think too many kids are willing to settle for that. And that's too bad."

Watch M*A*S*H on MeTV!

Weeknights at 6 PM, Sundays at 7 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


34 months ago
Streisand admitted that Hollywood was "a Jewish thing." All NYC Jewish actors anglicized their names, surgically altered their schnozzes, but didn't bother to ride themselves of their "Brooklyn brogue."
Spiro 35 months ago
Alan Alda tells a story Harry Morgan told him about Dragnet. While filming one morning Morgan made a funny quip. By the end of the day they were running a little bit late. Jack Webb was like "see what happens when you fool around". Funny how all the characters have the same vocal influctions as Web.
Bigmike 35 months ago
Something really familiar about Harry Morgan there was only two shows that he would ever consider doing again if he was asked and that would be Dragnet or M.A.S.H.
JHP 35 months ago
Col Sherman Potter - you were a Perfect fit for the show - Love McLean eps - but the character was no-nonsense and a good mix with the rest of the cast

Just wish that most of the eps got very dark ; everyone was going crazy or dying (just secondary characters)
Wiseguy 35 months ago
Morgan did not appear in the fourth-season premiere of M*A*S*H. What was shown was a brief preview of the following episode. Actors aren't credited for "scenes from next week's episode."
dmirarh 35 months ago
Oh yeah, then there is this: Morgan, 81, was charged July 7 with misdemeanor spousal battery after a confrontation in their Brentwood home left Barbara Morgan, his 70-year-old wife of 10 years, bruised and bloodied.
g1tow dmirarh 35 months ago
You might want to mention that charges were later dismissed, according to Wikipedia.
ELEANOR dmirarh 35 months ago
People do funny things when they get old. So glad to hear the charges were dropped.
g1tow 34 months ago
The Mrs. probably dropped the charges because, at 70 years old, what else WOULD she do?
Jeffrey 35 months ago
I never knew that. It's good to know something about one of your favorite actors.
JMcG 35 months ago
I'm pretty sure the references to 1983 in this article should read "1938."
F5Twitster 35 months ago

“If you're wondering where he took his stage name from, though, [Morgan] admitted to the Tribune that he had absolutely no idea where it came from.

"’We just dreamed it up,’ Morgan said.”

Did he? The article neglects to mention that for many years, Morgan was billed as “Henry (Harry) Morgan” so that he would not be confused with radio personality Henry Morgan, whose career began first and was more famous than this Morgan. I don’t know that that’s a hoop that most actors would want to have to jump through with each and every role, and his career in general.

“[Morgan] pointed to actors like John Hodiak, a Ukrainian actor who decided when MGM asked him to change his name that he wouldn't bend to the pressure, simply because, ‘I like my name. It sounds like I look.’”

Hodiak, a very good and interesting actor, was an American of Ukrainian descent; that’s a very different thing from actually being Ukrainian. And fears over use of his real name were unjustified, as it was and is easy to pronounce and contains an active “k” sound, which always draws an audience’s attention (as Gene Roddenberry could attest — have you ever noticed how many proper names in “Star Trek,” including the name “Star Trek,” itself, contain “k”s?).
CarrieCharles 35 months ago
Wish MeTV would put episodes of "Pete & Gladys" on. Love that show!! Harry Morgan & Cara Williams are great in it! Very funny!! :)
MichaelGreene 35 months ago
When Harry Bratsburg changed his name to get into movies(starting in 1942, he changed it to Henry Morgan. That would lead to confusion, especially he had also gotten into radio acting. There was a radio humorist named Henry Morgan, so as the former Harry Bratsburg's career progressed, he had to change names again, though it took a while...as late as 1950, he appeared with two Film Noir features under the Henry Morgan name, one with Jack Webb, who by this time established the Dragnet radio series, and used Morgan quite a bit on the radio show. He changed it twice, first, to Henry Harry Morgan, then to Harry Morgan. His movie career continued on as a supporting actor, and he also appeared on TV, though not on the original Dragnet TV series, though some of Webb's radio supporting cast, including Stacy Harris, Vic Perrin, and Peggy Webber, appeared in various roles on the the original Dragnet series(and the later revival).
Mike 35 months ago
Well, if we're talking name changes, let's not forget Alphonso D'Abbruzzo Senior and Junior.
Alphonso Senior changed to Robert Alda.
Alphonso Junior - you figure it out ...
Corey Mike 35 months ago
And Jamie Farr is Jameel Joseph Farah.
Corey 34 months ago
I would have guessed his real name was James Farber.
srrainwater 35 months ago
What's in a name? It depends. Harold J. Smith could you imagine him being the Lone Ranger's partner? Well he was, you just know him as Jay Silverheels. Paul Harvey made this so hard 😂
RobertM 35 months ago
In his early career, Harry Morgan was often billed as "Henry" Morgan, but later changed it to "Harry", as there was a prominent humorist and game-show panelist named Henry Morgan.
MadMadMadWorld RobertM 34 months ago
The great game shows would be a great addition to MeTV! "What's My Line? (John Charles Daly, host) on Sunday night was the best in my opinion. But I also fondly remember watching "To Tell The Truth" (Bud Collyer, host), and "I've Got A Secret" (Garry Moore/Steve Allen) on Monday nights. My earliest recollection of watching a great game show was the daytime "Concentration" with Hugh Downs/Bob Clayton as the host. In 1963-69, after school, watching the daytime "You Don't Say" with host Tom Kennedy. Anybody else think these 5 classic game shows could fly again on MeTV?
"It's not what you say that counts, it's what you don't say!"
Olivia_Reed MadMadMadWorld 31 months ago
Yes! Ever since they took away all the classic game shows from GSN, which was originally billed as the channel to see all the OLD, original TV game shows, I've missed them tremendously. It was nice to fall asleep watching the black-and-white panel shows like "What's My Line," "To Tell The Truth," and "I've Got A Secret." I also loved the wackiness of Bud Collyer's "Beat the Clock." I could go on, but I agree with you. It's been years since GSN ran anything in B&W. Let MeTV take up the slack.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?