Harry Morgan Shaped The Col. Potter Character
In Season Four of “M*A*S*H,” the introduction of Colonel Sherman T. Potter, played by Harry Morgan, marked a seamless integration of a new character into the 4077th. With Morgan’s established presence as a TV commodity, having appeared in six other shows dating back to the ’50s, the writers were well aware of his capabilities and tailored the character of Col. Potter around his strengths. They even drew inspiration from Morgan’s real life to add a realistic touch to the Colonel’s persona.
One aspect of Col. Potter’s character that reflected Harry Morgan’s personal interests was his background as a cavalryman. Morgan had a genuine love for horses, and the writers took advantage of this detail. According to a Chicago Tribune article, the show’s writers sought input from Morgan, incorporating his knowledge and passion for horses to shape Col. Potter’s character. This attention to detail, such as featuring Col. Potter’s “Black Jack” Pershing cavalry hat in place of Henry Blake’s fishing gear, added authenticity to the character and made him feel more real.
Morgan’s affable nature played a significant role in establishing the casual rapport between Col. Potter and Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly. Radar had developed a close relationship with the previous commanding officer, Lt. Col. Blake, often anticipating his needs and finishing his sentences. Initially, one might expect Radar to be hesitant around the new character of Col. Potter. However, Harry Morgan quickly developed a strong bond with Burghoff on set, which translated into their onscreen chemistry. The trust and camaraderie between Morgan and Burghoff allowed for a seamless transition and a natural rapport between Col. Potter and Radar.
Moreover, playing the role of Col. Potter brought more enjoyment to Harry Morgan compared to his previous role on “Dragnet.” In the latter show, Morgan was directed to portray an authoritative law enforcement officer with an unwavering monotone. However, with “M*A*S*H,” Morgan had the freedom to truly explore and have fun with the character. He could laugh, play, and bring a sense of humor to Col. Potter, resulting in a much more enjoyable experience for the actor.
In summary, Harry Morgan’s portrayal of Colonel Sherman T. Potter in “M*A*S*H” benefitted from the integration of his personal interests and experiences. From his love of horses influencing Col. Potter’s cavalry background to his affable nature establishing a rapport with Radar, and the opportunity to have fun and laugh on set, Morgan’s contributions helped shape Col. Potter into a beloved and authentic character within the series.