Childhood & Early Life
Harry Morgan was born as Harry Bratsberg on April 10, 1915 in Detroit, Michigan, USA. His father Henry Bratsberg, a Norwegian immigrant, worked as a mechanic; while his mother Hannah was a housewife. He grew up with two siblings: Marguerite and Arnold.
Harry initially used the screen name ‘Henry Morgan’, but later changed it to Henry ‘Harry’ Morgan. He once again changed it to Harry Morgan to avoid confusion with the popular humourist of the same name.
He grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, where he attended ‘Muskegon High School’. While he was an average student, he excelled in debates and was listed as a statewide debate champion.
Following his high school graduation in 1933, Harry enrolled in the ‘University of Chicago’. During his junior year, he started participating in plays and became somewhat addicted to stage, soon deciding to make a career in acting.
Due to the lack of funds, he dropped out of college and went to New York City to join the Group Theatre. It was run by big names, such as Lee Strasberg. For the next few years, Harry immersed himself completely in acting, performing in many notable plays and Broadway productions before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1940s.
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Harry Morgan made his on-screen acting debut in 1942 in the film ‘To the Shores of Tripoli’. He got the opportunity to play a meaty part in his first movie itself. The film however received mixed reviews and was an average box office grosser.
In his debut year, he was seen in a supporting role in the film ‘The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe’. He followed it up with two more films that year: ‘The Omaha Trail’ and ‘Orchestra Wives’. His lucky streak continued well into the 1940s.
In the initial years of his career, Harry made appearances in many films, such as ‘Happy Land’, ‘Wing and a Prayer’ and ‘Dragonwyck’. In the late 1940s, he also became part of some critically acclaimed films, such as ‘Red Light’ and ‘All My Sons’.
In the 1950s, Harry continued playing supporting roles in highly acclaimed films, such as ‘Dark City’, ‘Outside the Wall’, ‘High Noon’ and ’Strategic Air Command’. His first major breakthrough came in 1954 when he was cast in his late friend’s biopic, ‘The Glenn Miller Story’.
The film was based on the life of musician Glenn Miller, whose role was being played by Hollywood icon James Stewart. Harry was cast as Miller’s friend Chummy MacGregor. The biopic was a huge critical and commercial success and received three Academy Award nominations.
In 1962, Harry started playing the guest role of Al Everett in the drama series ‘Going My Way’. He also played small parts on shows like ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘Have Gun-Will Travel’. The latter’s creator Richard Boone was so impressed by Harry’s work that he offered him a key role on ‘The Richard Boone Show’, which became very successful.
In the mid-1960s, Harry’s television career was on an upward trajectory with many successful projects in his kitty. In 1964, he played Seldom Jackson, one of the leading roles, in the comedy drama series ‘Kentucky Jones’.
His success thus far was nothing in comparison to what ‘Dragnet’ brought him in 1967. The police procedural series ran from 1967 to 1970 and was very popular among the masses.
Directed by Jack Webb, the series had Harry play the leading role of detective Bill Gannon. It was one of the many successful collaborations between the actor and the director. Their other successful joint projects were films, such as ‘Dark City’ (1950), ‘Appointment with Danger’ (1950) and ‘Pete Kelly’s Blues’ (1950).
In 1971, Harry appeared in films like ‘The Barefoot Executive’ and ‘Scandalous John’. The year 1974 saw him working in ‘M-A-S-H’, a series that he is probably best known for. In this sitcom, he played General Bartford Hamilton, a character that became highly popular as soon as the series started airing. He ended up winning an ‘Emmy Award’ for his role.
While he had become less active in films and television in the 1970s, he appeared in a few of them, including ‘Snowball Express’ (1972), ‘Backstairs at the White House’ (TV show, 1979) and ‘The Bastard’ (TV movie, 1979).
Among the very few films that he did in the 1980s, the most notable are: ‘Dragnet: The Film’ (1987) and ‘The Flight of Dragons’ (voice role, 1982).
In his later career, he worked in a number of TV projects, including ‘The Incident’ (1990), ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ (1993-1996), The Love Boat (1978-1985) and Blacke's Magic (1986).
Family & Personal Life
Harry Morgan married Eileen Detchon in 1940, and they remained together until her demise in 1985. They had four sons: Christopher, Charles, Daniel and Paul.
In 1986, a year after his first wife’s death, Harry married Barbara Bushman Quine. In July 1996, the then 81 years old actor was charged with domestic violence for beating his 70 years old wife. The charges were dropped after he attended a six-month anger management and domestic violence counselling program.
He met musician Glenn Miller during the shooting of ‘Orchestra Wives’ in 1942 and remained friends with him until Miller’s death in 1944. Harry was later cast in the biopic ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ (1954) alongside James Stewart.
On the morning of December 7, 2011, Harry died peacefully at the age of 96. A few days prior to his death, he had undergone pneumonia treatment.