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Loretta Swit Shares ‘M*A*S*H’ Memories: “The Camaraderie Was Unlike Anything I Ever Experienced” (EXCLUSIVE)

Plus, the 86-year-old opens up about the art and philanthropy that is her passion!

Loretta Swit sees herself as 86 years young, so retiring or even slowing down is not in her lexicon. In fact, Swit has so many projects on her plate, she needs an entire set of dishes just to carry them all.

Swit chuckles as she tells FIRST for Women, “I love being busy and involved in a variety of different things all connected to the arts, because my passion for them dates back to when I won my first prize for my artwork at six years old… so why stop now?”

MUST-READ: ‘M*A*S*H’ Cast: See the Stars Then and Now

Loretta Swit showing off her artistic skills
Loretta Swit showing off her artistic skillsLoretta Swit Archives

Loretta Swit identifies with the arts on many levels. For over five decades, she has been an accomplished artist, live theatrical performer and television actress who has starred in the musical Mame, appeared on The Love Boat, game shows such as Match Game and of course, still gets recognized for playing Major Margret Houlihan on the hit TV show, M*A*S*H, a comedy series that ran for 11 seasons on CBS and still holds the record for the highest viewership in US television history for a show finale.

MUST-READ: 1970s TV Sitcoms: 106 Classic (and Not So Classic) Shows, and Where to Stream Them

Swit, who also won two Emmy Awards for that role, proudly boasts, “The last program, titled Goodbye, was the jewel of the crown, and M*A*S*H was a very important piece of Americana, so it was an honor to be a part of that magic.”

Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit  and Alan Alda in M*A*S*H, 1975
Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit and Alan Alda in M*A*S*H, 1975Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

After M*A*S*H wrapped in 1983, Swit continued to work consistently in Hollywood and today, has taken her career in a different direction. Swift doesn’t like to call it a reinvention, but rather a continuation that keeps her creative juices flowing.

How it all began for Loretta Swit

“I was born to create,” Swit tells FIRST. “I was drawing, painting, sketching and doodling when all the other kids would go out and play because I was more interested in art than anything else.”

While keeping true to her artistic abilities, Swit decided to spread her wings when she got bit by the acting bug and went to The American Academy of Dramatic Arts to hone-in on her craft.

When she wasn’t auditioning, singing (yes, she’s also an accomplished singer) or studying her lines, Swit spent her downtime in front of a canvas with a paintbrush making portraits of dogs. Why dogs? “I remember being in my stroller screaming doggie every time I saw a dog,” Swift shares. “And as my dear friend Angela Lansbury told me, take what you love doing, channel it into something else you love doing and use it for the greater good.”

MUST-READ: Angela Lansbury Young: 10 Rare Photos of the Beloved Star Before ‘Murder She Wrote’

Loretta Swit, 1978
Loretta Swit, 1978UPI/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Projects for a cause

Swit never forgot Lansbury’s words, and when the time was right, the actress decided to use her fame to benefit four legged furry friends that needed help. In 2017, Swit formed the SwitHeart Animal Alliance, a charity she developed to help end animal cruelty, suffering and get her furry friends any medical attention they need.

That same year, she published, SwitHeart: The Watercolour Artistry & Animal Activism of Loretta Swit, a 128-page compilation book made up of 65-watercolor paintings and 22 photographs that also include personal stories behind each masterpiece.

Loretta Swit with her book, 2017
Loretta Swit with her book, 2017Tasia Wells/Getty Images

Proceeds from that book and its second edition, which includes a foreword by her former M*A*S*H co-star Mike Farrell, all go to supporting and saving animals.

Perfume for a cause

In addition to the re-release of her book, Swit recently expanded her horizons by launching a fragrance called SwitHeart, a smell that reminds her of her modeling days and a scent she describes as a blend of orange flower, jasmine, sandalwood, musk, patchouli and vanilla.

Loretta Swit's fragrance
Loretta Swit’s fragranceSwitHeart

Swit, who says she was involved in every step and detail from start to finish, says she packaged it in a heart shape bottle because it represents her SwitHeart brand. SwitHeart perfume is not available in stores, but rather through Swit’s website by sending in a $55.00 donation to the SwitHeart Animal Alliance.

As of December 2023, Loretta has raised $28,280.00 thanks to her philanthropic efforts, distributing the funds to organizations including Bidawee, Dallas Animal Services, Kauai Humane Society, MSPCA – Angell, Alya’s Acres, Mission K9 Rescue, National Search Dog Foundation, Actors and Others for Animals and the Israel Guide Dog Center.

M*A*S*H memories and friendships live on

When she is not focused on promoting projects for the SwitHeart Animal Alliance, Swift is full of stories about the good old days and the many celebrities she developed meaningful friendships with.

Loretta Swit and Mike Farell
Loretta Swit and Mike FarellHarlan Boll

Swift has so many tales about her A-list pals, she could fill a library. Swit recalls her close friendship with Ed Asner, who she met while starring in the play Eleanor. She can talk for hours about Paul Newman, who she regards as being one of the most gifted and humble actors she’s ever met.

MUST-READ: Paul Newman Movies: 19 Rare Photos of The Screen Idol’s 50-Year Career

She also credits Patricia Neal and Cliff Robinson as being close colleagues. But when you turn the page and open the M*A*S*H chapter, pull up a chair because you are in for a real treat. Swit’s recollections from the set are priceless and it’s a topic she can gab about for hours.

“Initially when we started out,” Swit tells FIRST, “everyone wondered how we were going to be able to pull off a comedy about the war, but we did. The secret behind M*A*S*H’s success,” Swit adds, “Laughter and humor were our defense against standing in blood and working on bodies that were young enough to be in school.”

Loretta Swit with her M*A*S*H costume
Loretta Swit with her M*A*S*H costumeBill Dow, The Hollywood Museum Exhibit

Since the perception was that there is nothing funny about war, Swit says, “you needed the funniest people in the world to make this believable and this cast exceeded that and more.”

Loretta Swit says the M*A*S*H cast was like family

“Everyone liked coming to work,” Swit says, “The camaraderie was unlike anything I ever experienced because we were all connected deeply.”

Even though the hours were long, and the theme centered around the Korean War, Swit recalls, “The chemistry was real and the energy everyone brought to the set was off the charts, which was a part of the reason the show developed a huge/loyal fan base.”

Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Jamie Farr
Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Jamie FarrHarlan Boll

M*A*S*H won 14 Emmy Awards, earned 109 nominations, plus the series took home a Peabody Award in 1975.

Like his on-screen persona, Swit says McLean Stevenson was hysterically funny. Swit still chuckles when she recalls how she and co-star Wayne Rogers would say their bellies hurt from laughing so hard at Stevenson’s jokes. Swit considered Harry Morgan to be one of her closest friends and she even spent many of her weekends going to dinner with Morgan and his wife.

Larry Linville and David Ogden Stiers were co-stars she liked to goof off with in between takes, as well as Mike Farrell and Alan Alda, who she says she emails with on a regular basis but hasn’t really seen since the pandemic.

Loretta Swit still has what it takes

Swit never misses an opportunity to connect with her fans. In fact, you can catch her on Cameo, where she makes short video messages by request only, and she still hits the road to attend autograph shows alongside her M*A*S*H co-star Jamie Farr who she notes, “still makes me laugh and keeps me connected to that piece of my heart that brought so much joy to millions of viewers.”

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