He was born Harry Bratsberg on April 10, 1915 in Detroit, Michigan, to Henry and Anna Bratsberg, where his father worked for war hero and car designer Eddie Rickenbacker. The family soon moved to Muskegon, Michigan, where Harry, hoping to be a lawyer, became heavily involved debate and speech classes; his junior year in high school he won a debate championship at the University of Michigan. He attended the University of Chicago for a few years, before leaving school and finding employment with an office equipment maker who eventually sent him to Washington D.C. It was during his time in Washington D.C. that Harry got his start on the stage, joining the Civic Theater in Ben Hecht’s "Front Page". Eventually, he moved on to a Mt. Kisco summer stock theater company, where he met and acted regularly with actress Frances Farmer. Ms. Farmer had quite an impact of his life; she promoted his career by involving him to acting classes with Elia Kazan, and also introduced him to her University of Washington classmate Eileen Detchon. He married Detchon in 1940 and they would have four children, sons Christopher, Charles, Paul and Daniel. Harry's stage career continued to grow, as he joined New York's Group Theater, whose members included Kazan, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. When Hollywood agent Charlie Feldman saw him perform on Broadway, he signed the young actor and had him quickly under studio contract with Twentieth Century Fox, where he changed his name to Henry Morgan.
Harry and Eileen made the move to Hollywood in the early 1942 and his first billed appearance (as Henry Morgan) came that year in To the Shores of Tripoli. To avoid confusion with a popular comedian of the time, another name change soon followed, and he became Harry Morgan. Morgan’s film career prospered, and in the next 5 decades he appeared in many now-legendary dramatic films, including The Ox-Bow Incident, All My Sons, Madame Bovary, High Noon, The Glenn Miller Story, Inherit the Wind, Cimarron, How the West Was Won, Frankie and Johnny, The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Shootist.
While building this impressive film resume, Morgan was simultaneously working regularly in radio and television, with brief roles in "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "Cavalcade of America" and "The Twentieth Century Fox Hour" before landing the role of comedic neighbor Pete Porter in "December Bride", which eventually lead to the spin-off series "Pete and Gladys". In 1963, his TV career took a turn toward more serious projects, as part of the ensemble in "The Richard Boone Show" and an iconic role as Officer Bill Gannon in 1967’s "Dragnet". The series, and his performance in it, was not only a precursor to modern police and detective series, but would also inform the 1987 film Dragnet, a comedic reimagination of the show starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks; Morgan appeared in this film as Captain Bill Gannon.
Despite decades spent working in film and TV, it would be his work in the TV series "M*A*S*H" that made him instantly recognizable around the world. After a memorable, Emmy-nominated guest turn as loony Major General Steele at the beginning of the third season in 1974, Morgan was invited back to join the cast a year later as Colonel Sherman T. Potter, the late-career Army man sent to run the eccentric medical unit after the loss of their previous commanding officer. Morgan's nuanced performance as dedicated leader and surgeon with an unwavering sense of right and wrong combined with a father-like protectiveness of his staff, allowed Potter to grow organically through the long run of the series. The small touches he brought to the role – Potter's paintings were done by Morgan himself, and the picture of Mildred Potter on Potter’s desk was actually Morgan's wife Eileen – only added to the authentic humanity of his portrayal, and in 1980 Morgan won an Emmy for his performance. After the series came to an end in 1983, Morgan continued the role in the short-lived spin-off "AfterMASH".
After the death of his wife Eileen in 1985, he kept himself busy making guest appearances in series such as "The Love Boat" and took a regular role in the single season run of "Blacke's Magic". In December of 1986, he married Barbara Bushman, the granddaughter of silent film star Francis X. Bushman. His work as a TV guest star continued through the late 1990s in "The Simpsons," "3rd Rock from the Sun," "Grace Under Fire", and his final movie work included Family Plan and the short film Crosswalk.
He is survived by Barbara, his sons Christopher, Charles and Paul, and grandchildren Spencer, Rosemary and Jeremy.
He was preceded in death by his first wife Eileen in 1985 and his son Daniel in 1989.