TODAY IS HARRY MORGAN’S 102nd BIRTHDAY.
Depending on your age, you’ll probably remember actor Harry Morgan fondly from one or more of his over 100 films – or, on TV, from the original “Dragnet” (1951-1959), “December Bride” (1954-1959), “Pete and Gladys” (1960-1962) or “M*A*S*H” (1972-1983).
Harry also starred in another largely (but unfairly) forgotten TV series. In 1986, I had the great pleasure of guesting on “Blacke’s Magic,” a delightful but short-lived series starring Hal Linden and Harry Morgan – as a magician/sleuth and his father, who served as his assistant in his off-stage adventures.
My episode, “A Friendly Game of Showdown,” also featured an exceptional cast of other guests, including Eddie Bracken and Gary Sandy.
It was a special time for me not just because of my love of magic. It was also a terrific opportunity to work with 1940’s film great Eddie Bracken, and it was the only time I ever got to meet and work with Harry Morgan, whom I had been a fan of since boyhood. (My boyhood, not his!)
During production, after getting into costume, I was called from my dressing room to the make-up trailer for some necessary magic of a different kind. While I was being worked on in the make-up chair, in walked Harry Morgan, obviously ready for make-up.
Well, Harry was one of the stars and I was only a guest, so I started to get up and let Harry take the chair. “No, no. Sit down, kid!” Harry snarled in that lovable curmudgeonly growl of his. He took a seat on the window bench. “I can wait.”
So there I sat while the make-up artist fussed over my facial features, allowing a few precious moments for Harry and me to chat. I told him how fond I was of his work, specifically mentioning “December Bride” and “Pete and Gladys” with the remarkably beautiful and talented Cara Williams.
Harry was stunned. He obviously assumed my appreciation would be from “M*A*S*H,” his more recent and already-classic TV series with all its countless awards.
A warm and knowing smile came over his face for an instant. Then, back to his signature deadpan with nostrils flared, “You’re kind of young to remember those shows,” he grumbled.
“Well, that just proves you’ve got a really great make-up artist on this show,” I shot back, getting up from the chair.
Harry let go and laughed, giving me a friendly slap on the back as I was stepping down out of the trailer. “See you out there, kid.”
Happy 102nd Birthday, Harry!
10 April 1915 – 7 December 2011