Break out the party hats and noisemakers, gang, Dynamite is celebrating the best birthday of the year! M*A*S*H has been a hit television show for ten terrific years! When Dynamite called up the M*A*S*H gang to wish them many happy returns, we were lucky enough to talk with one of the maddest M*A*S*Hers of all, Jamie “Corporal Max Klinger” Farr! Since he is one of the original stars of the show, he had lots to tell about the show’s past, present, and future!
When it began ten years ago, no one knew if the TV show M*A*S*H would be as big a hit as M*A*S*H, the movie. “I had no idea at all,” said Farr, “but I think Alan Alda felt it would. My wife, Joy, and Alan talked during the first few episodes of the second season. They both asked each other whether the show would last ten years, and they both said yes.”
For Farr, he was just glad to be working. “I was, very simply, an out-of-work actor who had gotten himself a job. I’d been in the business for many years, and I had worked on so many shows where they said it would be wonderful and terrific. It never was. I knew when I got to M*A*S*H that these were nice and talented people. But I just wanted to do the best possible job so the show would stay on the air, so I would be called back to work for another season.”
Farr’s character, Max Klinger, wasn’t in the original movie. It was created for the TV show. Farr told us a little about the character. “To begin with, Klinger was a minor character, whose only objective was to get out of the army. His way of doing it was by wearing women’s clothing. But he’s always been a good soldier.” Lately, Klinger’s role has gotten bigger. He has taken on the duties of the company clerk and become Colonel Potter’s right-hand man. Farr added that “every actor brings part of his own personality to the role he or she plays.” However, he added, “My sense of values are a bit more conservative than Max Klinger’s. I would never try any of the things Klinger does. I would be frightened that I would end up in jail!”
Alan Alda, according to Farr, also brings his personality to the role he plays. Although he often shows a very serious side off camera, Farr said, “Alan is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of Hawkeye in Alan and vice versa. He laughs it up off camera just as he does when he’s playing Hawkeye.”
Old soldiers fade away
Every war has its casualties, even a war of wits. Over the years, many of the show’s stars have left the series. “Each left for a different reason,” Farr said. “Wayne Rogers, from what I gathered, left because he felt his character, Trapper John, wasn’t getting his share of the show. He wanted to be more involved with the stories and not just be an alter-ego to Hawkeye. McLean Stevenson (Colonel Henry Blake) left because he had a better deal financially with another network.”
Stevenson’s departure was the first and, for many viewers, the toughest to take because of the way it was handled on the show. Even the actors didn’t know the final ending of that episode.
“When we shot the show,” Farr recalled, “nobody knew what the final page of the script was. The final page was given to us on the last day of the shooting. We thought we were finished with the episode when we said good-bye to Colonel Blake on the helicopter pad. Then we were each given an envelope with the real final page in it. It had been kept a secret. We were all in the operating room when Gary Burghoff, as Radar, delivered the news that Colonel Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan. He had been killed.”
Stevenson was replaced by Harry Morgan, who plays Colonel Potter. However, other original cast members soon departed. “Larry Linville left because he was tired of playing Major Frank Burns. He wanted to stretch himself as an actor and do something else. He felt his character wasn’t growing,” Farr said. Linville was replaced by David Odgen Stiers, who plays the pompous Major Winchester.
“Gary Burghoff left the show because he was tired of playing Radar. He wanted to expand as an actor and not always be the cute guy with glasses and the teddy bear.” It was when Gary left that Farr stepped into the role of company clerk, which meant a bigger and better part for him.
Still, Burghoff’s departure was the hardest to take for Farr. “Gary’s leaving was the toughest for me,” Farr explained, “because he had been with the show the longest. He told us he was leaving, but the network didn’t believe him. I was — and still am — good friends with Gary, and I tried to talk him out of leaving because I thought it would hurt the show. We’d lost so many people, my first concern was how we could keep the show going.”
The men and women of M*A*S*H have weathered the dangers of war and have mixed its sadness with lots of laughter. But for Farr, the saddest day involving the show hasn’t happened yet. “That day is yet to come,” he told us. “It’s the day when the show finally goes off the air. It may be at the end of this season, so I’m not looking forward to that. We’re not quite sure, but we think this will be the last year. All the actors’ contracts have expired.
“Also,” Farr continued, “some of the actors want to go on to do other things. If this is the last year of M*A*S*H, it’s going to be a very difficult experience for all of us.” It will also be a sad day for M*A*S*H fans.
But while the doctors and nurses may finally come home from the war, they’ll live on in the hearts of their fans and in the years and years of reruns!
– Chip Lovitt