Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Goodbye, Harry Morgan

At the ripe old age of 96, actor Harry Morgan died today. Most, including myself, knew Morgan as Col. Sherman Potter from M*A*S*H, though he could be found as a supporting character in countless films and television shows.

It happens that last night I was watching an episode of M*A*S*H which centered on Morgan, whose character was struggling to deal with the loss of the last of his old friends to death. Through the course of the episode, we walk with him through anger and grief and finally joy in what still lives on. It strikes me how apropos it was that I should have watched this particularly fitting episode. There is an especially poingant scene, long one of my favorites from the series, in the middle where Morgan takes a young, tattered, and bruised little Korean refugee onto his lap and begins to speak to him about life. The moment represents one of those rare gems in film narrative that has all the genuine complexity of real life: the old man imparting his wisdom to a child, the absurdity of the surroundings, the faint noise of human drama linger just beneath the surface, and the irony that we know Morgan's wisdom will never reach the boy not, as expected, because children never listen but because the boy speaks no English. Nevertheless, Morgan offers his wisdom to the child and to viewers, and there is in it the appropriate voice of mourning and of hope that should accompany us in the face of death. In that wry, folksy style that characterized all his performances, he shows the boy a picture of himself as a youth and explains, "Yep, life is a kind of now you see it, now you don't proposition. It was all in front of me then, though, like it is now for you. You're off to kind of a rough start, but I bet you've got some glorious times ahead of you."

Harry Morgan, you will be missed but not forgotten.

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