Is there such a thing as a war-comedy-drama? While some might consider that an oxymoron of terms, M*A*S*H, the television series that aired from 1972 until it’s huge finale in 1983, did just that. The first original spin-off series adapted from the 1970 feature film, MASH followed a cast of doctors, nurses and support staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea during the Korean War. The series included broad comedy along with tragic drama — silly to sobering.
MASH enjoyed smash ratings and still ranks as one of the highest-rated U.S. television shows today. Its final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” is one of the most-watched television broadcasts in American history.
The series had several main characters come and go during its run, with numerous guest stars and recurring characters. During the seventh season, the writers had such a challenge creating so many names that some characters were named after the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers!
MASH cast then and now
While some of the cast members have bid their own farewell to this world, there are still five remaining main characters who reflect fondly on their MASH days: Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Gary Burghoff, Alan Alda and Jamie Farr. Let’s look at a recap of this all-star cast of memorable characters and see why this sitcom has become a cult classic.
Alan Alda as Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce
Alda played Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, a role he didn’t nab until six hours before filming was set to begin. Born Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo in the Bronx, Alda has become a beloved actor, director, podcast host and screenwriter over the years. His varied career has him playing several types of characters, from supporting roles to comedic, dramatic and villainous leads. The 87 year-old actor was most recently seen in the crime drama, Ray Donovan and Ray Donovan: The Movie.
During the filming of MASH, Alda commuted from his home in New Jersey that he shares with his wife of 66 years, to Los Angeles every weekend. His wife Arlene and daughters lived in New Jersey, and he didn’t want to uproot the family, especially because he didn’t know how long the show would last.
When asked what his favorite MASH episodes were, his answer is no surprise: “Dear Sigmund” (1976) and “In Love and War” (1977), both of which he wrote and directed. Alda is the first person ever to win Emmys for acting, writing and directing, accomplishing wins in all three categories for his work on MASH. Alda spent 6 months stationed in Korea with an official rank at the time of a gunnery officer, though he claims he was placed in charge of a mess tent.
In 2003, he had an emergency surgery in Chile to clear an intestinal obstruction. When the surgeon tried to explain the procedure in layman’s terms, Alda told the surgeon that it was called an end-to-end anastomosis. When the surgeon asked how he knew that, Alda replied that he had done the procedure numerous times on MASH.
Loretta Swit as Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan
Swit took over the role of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan from Sally Kellerman when she switched from big screen to TV. Swit remained with the show for its entire 11 seasons, though she wanted to leave after the show’s eighth but wasn’t let go from her contract. Ironically, Swit went on to be nominated for Emmy awards for her performance in all but the first season.
The actress from Passaic, New Jersey was versatile in both comedy and drama, performing on stage from age 7, much to her parents’ chagrin. Not only could she act, but the lady could sing. Agents and casting directors thought Swit looked too plain and hard for any ingénue roles, so she went for musicals and light comedy, giving her characters a snappy, comic edge, much as she did with Major Houlihan.
After her illustrious MASH career, Swit went on to appear in a handul of films and returned to the stage. A strict vegetarian, Swit can be seen at animal activist fundraisers. She has also authored a book on needlepoint. Her creative talent can be seen in her own line of jewelry and watercolor painting exhibitions.
Jamie Farr as Sergeant Maxell Q. Klinger
Best known for playing cross-dressing Corporal-turned-Sergeant Maxell Q. Klinger, Farr was born in Toledo, Ohio and first acted at age 11 when he won $2.00 at a local acting contest. With the passing of William Christopher on December 31, 2016, Farr is the oldest living MASH regular cast member at 89 years old. Before his big break, Farr played minor roles like a deliveryman for a lithograph company, a post office clerk, an army surplus store clerk, an airline reservations clerk and an employee at a chinchilla ranch.
Things could have turned out differently for him, as Farr was originally hired for one day’s work as Corporal Klinger on the episode, “Chief Surgeon Who?” His character wore dresses to try to convince the army that he was crazy and deserved a Section 8 discharge. The ruse didn’t work, but Farr became a MASH regular. Today, Farr is still active in regional theater and guest-stars occasionally on television. He is also seen promoting the MASH television series and other classic TV shows on the MeTV network.
Mike Farrell as Captain BJ Hunnicutt
Best known for playing Captain BJ Hunnicut on MASH, Farrell actually served in the United States Marines from 1957 until 1959. Born Michael Joseph Farrell, Jr. in St. Paul, Minnesota, he moved with his family to Hollywood where his dad was a carpenter at Hollywood studios. After getting parts in movies, Mike got a regular role on daytime’s Days Of Our Lives and in 1975, MASH came calling after Wayne Rogers departed the show. After the sitcom went off the air, Farrell rejected TV series for many years until he was offered Providence in 1999.
Gary Burghoff as Corporal Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly
Burghoff originated the role of Charlie Brown in the 1967 Off-Broadway musical, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, but the character of Corporal Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly in the film MASH, as well as the TV series, brought his global fame. Burghoff made his feature debut in Robert Altman’s MASH (1970). He was the only actor to continue as a regular in the role of Radar in the series as in the film.
Burghoff was nominated six times for an Emmy for MASH and won in 1977, but Alan Alda accepted the award on his behalf. Burghoff left the role of Radar after the seventh season due to burnout and wanting to spend more time with his family. He did return for the “Goodbye Radar” episode, that was extended into a double-episode for the November sweeps. Later in his career, he appeared regularly on TV, making appearances on game shows such as Math Game, Hollywood Squares and others, along with one Love Boat episode.
He later became the TV spokesman for BP gasoline and IBM computers. In between gigs, Burghoff taught himself wildlife painting and is also qualified to handle injured wildlife in California. An avid fisherman, he invented “Chum Magic,” a fishing tackle invention that attracts fish toward the user’s boat.
The MASH cast members we’ve said goodbye to
Over the years, we’ve had to bid farewell to some of our favorite faces to grace the MASH cast. Take a look at the stars we will always miss!
Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre
Trapper was a thoracic surgeon in the famed series for the first three seasons. A spin-off series followed from 1979 to 1986 titled Trapper John, M.D., placing the character in a more modern setting, 25 years after the war had ended. However, Wayne Rogers didn’t reprise his role in the series, and it was instead played by Pernell Roberts. Rogers passed away in 2015.
McLean Stevenson as Henry Blake
Stevenson’s role as Henry Blake earned him a Golden Globe in 1974. While he is beloved for his Henry Blake role, he actually initially auditioned for Hawkeye Pierce. During the third season, Stevenson wished to be released from his contract and soon after departed, no longer wanting to play a supporting character. He passed away in 1996.
Larry Linville as Frank Burns
Linville played the ever-frustrating Frank Burns. His character was constantly putting emphasis on Army regulations and discipline, yet often fell short in his own actions. After five seasons, Linville decided his time with the character was done. He passed away in 2000.
Harry Morgan as Sherman Potter
Morgan had a very extensive career before joining the cast of MASH in its fourth season. His character, Sherman Potter, initially garnered fear from those beneath him for his stern persona. However, he came to be more of a father figure, earning their respect. He even won an Emmy for his role in 1980. Morgan passed away in 2011.
David Ogden Stiers as Charles Emerson Winchester III
Charles Emerson Winchester III was a talented surgeon who often found himself as the butt of jokes played by Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce and Mike Farrell’s B.J. Hunnicutt. However, when push came to shove, the three could find common ground. He received two Emmy nominations for this role. Stiers sadly passed away in 2018.
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