Harry Morgan Shaped The Col. Potter Character
The year 1975 marked a crucial period for MASH as the show faced significant changes in its cast, which had the potential to disrupt its momentum going into the fourth season. However, it’s important to remember that actors are individuals who naturally pursue other opportunities. Wayne Rogers, who portrayed Trapper John in MASH, left the show due to a contractual disagreement with the producers. Additionally, McLean Stevenson, who played the role of Lt. Col. Henry Blake, departed because he desired a more prominent role and cited systemic issues within 20th Century Fox as reasons for his departure.
MAS*H is often recognized as the greatest ensemble comedy in the history of American television, largely due to the chemistry among its cast members. The interactions between the characters were vital to the show’s success. While Hawkeye was arguably the main character because of his witty jokes, the stories relied on the interconnected lives of the ensemble. Therefore, the question arose: how would the show fare when the group was reconfigured in 1975? One answer to that question emerged in a previous episode called “The General Flipped at Dawn.” This episode, aired in the third season, featured Harry Morgan as a guest star, and it confirmed the producers’ belief that he would be a valuable addition to the cast.
Consequently, in the fourth season of MAS*H, Morgan assumed the role of Colonel Sherman T. Potter, seamlessly integrating into the 4077th. Morgan’s extensive experience in television, having been a regular on six other shows dating back to the 1950s, worked to his advantage. The writers were familiar with his capabilities and tailored the character of Col. Potter to suit Morgan’s strengths. They even incorporated input from Morgan’s real life to add authenticity to the portrayal of Colonel Potter.
Col. Potter, a cavalryman in the show, reflected Harry Morgan’s personal love for horses. The writers sought Morgan’s insights to develop such specific details, which played a crucial role in shaping a character that felt genuine. In the place where Henry Blake’s fishing gear once hung, Col. Potter’s “Black Jack” Pershing cavalry hat now resided. Furthermore, Morgan’s fondness for animals influenced the dialogue, with Col. Potter often reminiscing about past horses.
Morgan’s amiable nature greatly contributed to the natural rapport between Col. Potter and Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly. Radar had been particularly close to Lt. Col. Blake, frequently finishing his sentences and anticipating his needs. Consequently, one might expect Radar to be hesitant around the new character of Col. Potter. However, Harry Morgan quickly established a positive connection with Burghoff on the set, and this sense of trust translated into their onscreen interactions.
Moreover, the role of Col. Potter provided Morgan with more enjoyable and playful opportunities compared to his previous role on Dragnet, where he had to maintain an authoritative monotone as a law enforcement officer. With MAS*H, Morgan was able to embrace a lighter and more comedic approach, allowing for a truly enjoyable experience.