Teaching Students About Harry Morgan
Harry Morgan, born in 1915 as Harry Bratsberg, was an American actor and director who captivated audiences with his talent and charm throughout a career spanning over six decades. Morgan was best known for his roles on the classic television shows “M*A*S*H” as Colonel Sherman T. Potter and on “Dragnet” as Officer Bill Gannon.
Teaching students about Harry Morgan presents an opportunity to explore not only his acting and directing career but also other facets of American culture, history, media, and art. This article will highlight key points of interest in Harry Morgan’s life and suggest methods to engage students in learning about this timeless talent.
Harry Morgan’s Early Career
Begin by introducing students to Harry Morgan’s early life growing up in Detroit, Michigan, with Norwegian immigrants as parents. He studied at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he discovered his passion for acting. You can stream some of his earlier films like “High Noon” (1952) or “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943) to showcase his early work.
Discuss how World War II impacted many actors’ careers during the 1940s. As students analyze these films, have them consider how the themes and subject matter reflect the wartime context.
Television: M*A*S*H and Dragnet
Introduce your students to one of the most popular television shows in American history: M*A*S*H. Explain that it is an acronym for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital based on Richard Hooker’s novel.
Show clips of Colonel Potter, a character played by Harry Morgan, demonstrating leadership, empathy, wit, and wisdom. Encourage the discussion of how these qualities differentiate Potter from other military stereotypes portrayed on television.
Next, present clips from episodes of the 1960s police series Dragnet, where Morgan portrayed the intelligent and compassionate Officer Bill Gannon. Compare his character in Dragnet with his role in M*A*S*H, prompting students to consider how an actor may portray different personalities while maintaining a consistent presence on screen.
Acting Techniques and Exercises
Inspire students to appreciate the craft of acting by involving them in various acting exercises. Engage students in improvisational activities, scene work, or monologues inspired by Harry Morgan’s acting style.
Host a “Harry Morgan Day” where students transform themselves into one of Morgan’s iconic characters and participate in group discussions or perform skits.
Examining Collective Memory and Pop Culture
Invite students to examine collective memory and the concept of nostalgia. Have them research how characters played by actors like Harry Morgan still hold relevance for viewers even years after a series has concluded.
Encourage students to create a multimedia project showcasing modern examples of actors and characters who have left an indelible mark on American culture, much like Harry Morgan did with his roles.