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RIP Harry Morgan, but why sanitize his obit?




I liked Harry Morgan the actor, who died Wednesday at the age of 96. I loved him on MASH and respect his film work.

But how come the obits sanitize him, omitting an unpleasant and fairly recent incident?

In 1996, Morgan was charged with beating his wife. He avoided jail time, and the criminal wife beating charge was dropped in 1997 when he agreed to attend anger management sessions. The incident was covered in the media at the time, including the NY Daily News and the LA Times.

To be clear, I don't think this merits more than two or three lines in an obit, absent any more similar incidents, and of course you'd write it in context: "his otherwise glowing reputation was tarnished by ... Of that episode in his life, Morgan said ..." (Did anyone ask?)

Robert Mitchum, surely a better actor, had his pot smoking ways dredged up in the NYT when he died in 1997 ...

Off the screen in his early years, he accumulated a reputation as a bad boy, a ladies' man and outlaw who shocked naive movie fans in the 1940's when he was arrested on a marijuana charge at the home of a starlet.

... And hitting your wife isn't getting caught with a joint in the glovebox, or jaywalking. It's a serious matter, and it happened only about 15 years ago, not 50.

But, as they say, "print the legend." An arrest fits the Mitchum tough guy image; it doesn't fit Morgan's Dragnet and M*A*S*H personae. Why clutter up an obit with facts about the person's life? Why write about an arrest of a beloved character when you can say he grew up in Muskegon MI? Isn't overcoming adversity and dealing with personal demons to be respected? At the very least, isn't it more interesting?

So the man wasn't perfect. Morgan wasn't Gannon or Potter. Yeah, I knew that, and I think the public can handle a slightly more complicated narrative than the one that's being provided.

And, in my opinion, we also don't need to continue to whitewash over domestic abuse; it happens everywhere, at all levels, even among our heroes.