E29 -

BJ Hunnicutt actor, Mike Farrell, Tom Firey, and Amy Willis join the show to discuss the most‐​loved show on television, M*A*S*H.

Hosts
Landry Ayres
Senior Producer
Guests

Michael Joseph Farrell Jr. is an American actor, best known for his role as Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on the television series M*A*S*H (1975–83). He is also an activist and public speaker for various political causes.

Thomas A. Firey is a senior fellow and managing editor of the Cato Institute’s magazine Regulation. He also is senior fellow for the Maryland Public Policy Institute. Firey has published op‐​eds in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, Hartford Courant, and the Baltimore Sun.

Amy Willis is a Senior Fellow and Director of Econlib at the Liberty Fund in Indianapolis, IN. She writes the EconTalk Podcast Listening Guides and contributes to Econ Talk Extras. She also works in the Liberty Fund conference program.

Summary:

There was one TV show that was able to show the horrors of war, incisively critique it, but still inspire compassion for those affected by it. M*A*S*H creators understood the power of comedy to hit just the right laughable notes between moment of introspection. Throughout this special episode of Pop & Locke we ask Mike Farrell, who plays BJ Hunnicutt on the show, about his time with the cast and how he was inspired to create his character.

Further Reading:

Life, Liberty, and M*A*S*H, written by Tom Firey

Transcript

[music]

0:00:03.4 Landry Ayres: Welcome to Pop & Locke. I’m Landry Ayres.

0:00:05.7 Natalie Dowzicky: And I’m Natalie Dowzicky.

0:00:07.6 Landry Ayres: War, what is it good for? War is hell. It is the young dying and the old talking, but there was one TV show that was able to show the horrors of war, incisively critique it, but still inspire compassion for those affected by it. Joining us to discuss the American television classic, that is MASH, our Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and Managing Editor of Regulation magazine, Tom Firey.

0:00:37.2 Thomas Firey: In MASH fashion, I say yo.

0:00:39.3 Landry Ayres: Senior Fellow and Director of Econlib at the Liberty Fund, Amy Willis.

0:00:44.5 Amy Willis: Hello.

0:00:45.4 Landry Ayres: And accomplished actor as well as writer and director of one of the episodes we’ll be talking about today, Captain BJ Hunnicutt himself, Mike Farrell.

0:00:55.8 Mike Farrell: Hi. Nice to be with you.

0:00:57.9 Natalie Dowzicky: Thanks all for joining us today. So I’m gonna start us off. MASH may not have been an instant success, but we all know that when the finale aired, it shattered television records with a 106 million people tuned in. Mike, Amy, Tom, why do you think MASH resonated so well with the audience throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s? And possibly give us some reasons why it may resonate today as well.

0:01:22.1 Mike Farrell: I think Gene Reynolds, who was essentially the creator of the show, he and Larry Gelbart created the show and ran it for most of its existence, was really on the money when he said that MASH was the perfect existential existence or the representation of an existential existence. As he said, people, you know, not everybody went to war, not everybody put on a uniform, not everybody really had the kind of personal experience to understand what went on in Korea, what happens in war, but he said everybody understands on some level, having to be away from loved ones, making a sacrifice that takes you away from the people and the places you’d rather be. And he thought it was that aspect of the show beyond what the benefits of watching it were that caught so many people’s attention and really embrace.

0:02:33.8 Thomas Firey: If I could hop in, I think a few things MASH had going for it, one thing that maybe younger generations… I recently hit the half‐​century mark, but one thing that younger generations don’t appreciate so much is how much at the time MASH debuted and for much of its run, the Vietnam experience overshadowed so much of US policy and its outlook toward government, toward war. If you watch the show today compared to contemporary television, it’s so much more cynical, so much more biting in its satire of war makers, of the horrors of war. So that was one thing it brought in. And the other thing I think that it brought in, and this isn’t to suck up to our guest, but it’s actually very true, is one thing that makes great television is to, first of all, have great characters and then put great actors behind them to bring them life, and it’s amazing throughout MASH’s run, and they went through a number of actors and number of characters, just how each one just lined up right behind the other that Mike followed Wayne Rogers, that Jamie Farr in a sense succeeded Gary Burghoff. It’s amazing the talent that went into that show, both writing it… That’s the other amazing thing is, if you watch the episodes, who the writers were and what they then went on to do, other shows, other great shows in American TV, so many of the writers did MASH and some of them started with MASH. It’s just stunning the talent that went into that show.

0:04:12.1 Amy Willis: Yeah, I would second, I’m about to join Tom in said, aforementioned club, and I think Vietnam certainly was on our minds as we were watching it, and it’s true about the characters. I mean, we loved you guys, we felt like we knew the people who were on the show. And Tom mentioned satire, but I think we’d be remiss not to talk about the importance of humor. I mean, what a powerful instrument that is, particularly when it’s applied to something as profoundly unfunny as war.

0:04:41.9 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, and I also think MASH struck quite a balance between comedy and then also getting to the important heartfelt moments, and I think we can all acknowledge that it’s been one of the best TV shows to ever be on TV, and also that it inspired a lot of other shows after that. But do you all remember there being any type of backlash from the show, from people maybe in the military or people who supported the military? I haven’t found much backlash in my research, but I have to imagine there was some sort of maybe audience group that thought maybe the show was too critical of war. Do you guys recall any type of backlash?

0:05:28.0 Landry Ayres: Or maybe someone that thought it was making light of the people that were overseas or something like that? I mean, I can only imagine today what someone would view a show kind of like MASH that tried to show very humanely what people on the ground would be going through and trying to cope with the world like that over there would be in a comedic light, how some people might not necessarily be in on the joke even if it is trying to be positive about that.

0:06:00.0 Mike Farrell: In fact, we did catch some grief from a couple of sources. One would be the officer corps, the higher up officers who found our sort of [chuckle] impetuance, or what, petulance, and impertinence unacceptable, but everybody understood, I think, and for those who didn’t, we could explain that doctors who were in the military were not your typical military trainee, and they didn’t feel in many instances the need to have their nose to the grindstone in terms of the military approach to things. And the other was, periodically there would be… I remember two, and I don’t know if they were connected or not, but two responses the studio brought down to us. One was a minister who was terribly offended by a show we did, in which, I believe the character who was struck mentally impaired by the battle, thought of himself as Jesus Christ. And one minister was just outraged at such a thing. And at the same time, we got a message from a minister of another church in another part of the country who said, he thought it was a glorious episode, and he used it as the basis for a sermon to his congregation. So that was a pretty good, pretty good demonstration of the breadth of our effect, whether it’s appeal or not.

0:07:56.1 Thomas Firey: It’s funny you bring up that particular episode and religion in general. One of the remarkable things about the TV series MASH, is how much it departed from its predecessors, the novel MASH, a novel of three army doctors and the movie MASH, in its portrayal of religious figures. In them, they were shown as hypocrites and lampooned, but the TV series significantly recast the church… I’m sorry, recast the camp’s chaplain, Father Mulcahy, as this wonderful, wise, tender‐​hearted person. Bill Christopher, who played him seemed to be that very much as a person, and Mike, I’m sure you can talk to that. I think, I’ve heard Loretta Swit say that she thought his portrayal of Father Mulcahy actually brought people to the church. I think that’s very true. He very much embodied this wonderful, wise person who could both appreciate the divine and the very secular, and communicate between both of them. And again, he was just this wonderful voice of wisdom in the show.

0:09:13.9 Mike Farrell: I think that’s right. Bill, there was a wonderful simplicity and sincerity in Bill’s performance that really captured people, captured their attention and it… I think for many people, he was the sort of image of what a minister, or a priest, or religious leader can and should be.

[music]

0:09:38.9 Natalie Dowzicky: Mike, I was just kind of curious why you took this role and how you were inspired to portray your character and kind of just a little bit of the foreground to why you jumped on the MASH cast?

0:09:56.4 Mike Farrell: Sure, it’s a longer story than you may have time for. I was under contract to Universal Studio at the time. I just finished doing a series with Anthony Quinn, which was a wonderful experience for me as an actor and as a person. And a friend, who was in the casting department, told me he was leaving to do a show at 20th Century Fox and we bid our farewell and thought no more about it. Except, shortly thereafter, well, I suppose months thereafter, I was meeting a friend, I picked him up at his apartment, and as we were… I said, “Let’s go,” and he said, “Wait, wait, wait, I have to finish watching the MASH.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “It’s this show that I’ve been on.” I looked at it and the scene that stayed, will always stay with me, I believe, it was Gary Burghoff, Radar, in a scene in which he was demonstrating his extraordinary talent, but he was depicting this guy, this kid, this totally innocent, wonderful, sort of sweet boy in the midst of this insanity, war, where bombs were bursting and people were dying and wounds were needed to be bound. I thought, “My God, what a wonderful, wonderful thing is this, is this show.” I was just entranced by it.

0:11:38.5 Mike Farrell: And a year later, I was invited to do… By a producer at the studio, ’cause I was, as I said, under contract. He had a show that he wanted me to play the lead in, and I said, “Could I read the script?” And he said, “Sure,” and then gave me the script, and I read it, and I just didn’t like it. It was silly. What I think it was a joke show, and we all know those, three jokes per page, no mind involved. So I went back and I said, “Thanks, but no thanks. It’s not for me.” And he said, “You’re turning down the lead in a television series?” And I said, “Yeah, I am.” And he said, “Why?” And I didn’t wanna say, “Well, it’s a dumb show. The script is stupid.” So I said, “Well, it’s not MASH.” And what I meant was just referring back to that scene I’d seen. What I meant was, it’s not about anything. There’s a show on the television today, and it’s doing okay, and it’s about something. So for me, it was just sort of that, this symbol out there. And the year after that, or shortly after that, I guess, my agent called and he said, “Wayne Rogers is having some difficulties with his contract with the studio, and the studio called and wanted to know you’d be interested in coming over to meet with him, in the event he leaves.” And I said, “Would I? God, yes.”

0:13:27.4 Mike Farrell: But can I? I’m under contract here at Universal and my agent said, “Oh, a meeting’s not gonna hurt.” And… Make it longer than it should be, but at any rate, that was resolved. And then the next season, I read in the paper, that Wayne, again, was… That was their second season, just the third season of the show, I read again that Wayne Rogers was having difficulty with the contract negotiations and wasn’t sure he was gonna stay with the show, and I thought, “Gee, I wonder if that’ll happen again.” And sure enough it did. I got a call from my agent, they wanted to know if I’d come and meet Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalfe. And I said, “Yes, if I can.” And he said, “You can.” So I went, and we had this wonderful meeting. I told them how much I adored the show, and I had done, by that time, I had done two television series and three… A couple of years on the soap and parts in films and stuff, but I was just nervous as a cat, and… Not because I couldn’t do the work, but because I was in the company of some people who were just, for me, the responsible folks for putting on what was extraordinary television.

0:14:48.6 Mike Farrell: And they asked me if I had any questions, I said, “Well, the one thing is that, if you’re talking about a guy who’s gonna come in and play Trapper John, simply just replace the actor, I really wouldn’t be interested in doing that. I don’t think there’s a future for me or the show with that.” And they said, “Oh no, no, of course not. It’s, first of all, it’s a military situation, so people leave, people are transferred, all sorts of things can happen. What we have in mind is a guy who’s not the same type as was Trapper and as Hawkeye, the kind of womanizer and the kind of constant party guy. He’s married and he’s gonna have a child at home, and he’s gonna be a straight up citizen.” And I said… And they said, “Does that interest you?” And I said, “Are you suggesting, would I be interested in portraying fidelity on national television? Yeah.” And I went away thinking, “Oh God, I don’t know how many people they’re gonna meet for this role, but I’m thrilled to have been there and I hope I have a shot.” I got a call to come back for a screen test, and they said, “This is not a screen test to see if you can act, we know that, but it’s a screen test with Alan to see what the chemistry is.” And I know there were two other actors who were invited for screen tests as well. So I went and did what I could and [chuckle] left thinking that I was an idiot…

[laughter]

0:16:36.3 Mike Farrell: And I remember siting in the car, sitting in my car after the test thinking, “Mike, Mike, it’s a comedy, you might have thought about trying to be funny.”

[laughter]

0:16:49.6 Mike Farrell: Anyway, I went home and a day later got a call that they wanted me. So the rest is history.

0:17:01.3 Thomas Firey: I was gonna say, if I could recommend to listeners who are not familiar with the series, the transition from the end of season three, which is when McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers, their final episode, the very last episode, “Abyssinia, Henry”, through Mike’s first episode, which is I believe called “Welcome to Korea,” which it was an hour‐​long episode, and then to Harry Morgan’s first episode, which I believe is called “Change of Command,” the third episode of season four. If you watch those four, you get this wonderful, basically, sampler of what MASH throughout its entire 11‐​year run is, as far as the comedy of the first few years and the wonderful work of both Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson. But then the more three‐​dimensional characters of Mike’s character, BJ Hunnicutt and Harry Morgan’s Colonel Sherman Potter. It’s just for me, whenever someone asked me, “I wanna get into MASH.” Well then those are the four episodes. And they’re right… One right after the other. So it’s like modern day, you can binge watch the four of them, and you will completely be wonderfully submerged in MASH.

[music]

0:18:24.0 Landry Ayres: Alan Alda has actually said before that what he thinks made the show so successful, and what was essential to how it connected with the audience was that while the characters and the show itself was there to entertain, they weren’t just comic characters just there to amuse you. They were obviously very funny, it probably had three jokes on a page on the screenplay, if you actually were to count them up, as Mike was joking about, but that the production and the writers and the actors and everything, had a loyalty to the reality of the situation of people at war in those situations. How did that happen? How did you go about that, Mike, in the production? Whether it was via the writing process for an episode that you wrote, for instance, like “Death Takes a Holiday” or acting in any of them, and after that, perhaps maybe Tom and Amy can talk about how that perhaps impacted the audience and where they saw that in the legacy of the show.

0:19:38.5 Mike Farrell: Sure, well, first thing, I was in the marines. I served in Okinawa in Japan in the ‘50s. Fortunately for me, it was between Korea and Vietnam, so I didn’t serve in combat. So I had some experience in the military. And secondarily, or no, primarily, actually, Gene and Larry and the staff of producers and those behind the show did a tremendous amount of research. They talked… They saw… They went to Korea, they checked out the 8055, I think, which was really the actual MASH that Dr. Hornberger served in, and they looked up and interviewed as many nurses and doctors and military men who had been treated in the MASH, and got stories… The stories abounded about Korea and about the way in which these things happen. So they were able to draw on extraordinary things. But I think a piece of it was that I was involved after, I forgotten what, I think probably the first year I was on the show, maybe the second, I was in… I traveled out of the country, I traveled to Australia, and I traveled to some areas in that region, and I was astounded by the response that my presence evoked. People talked about the show and how much it meant and how extraordinarily touched they were by it, and how meaningful it was to them.

0:21:31.3 Mike Farrell: And I remember coming back, and the first day of a new season, we had a few months off between each season, and I sat down with the Alan and I said, “Are you hearing what I’m hearing out there about the impact of this show?” And he said, “Yeah,” he said, “I am.” And the… I think then we had a tendency on the show to sit around with the other actors. We would sit together in a group instead of going back to our dressing rooms. One of the wonderful things about the group on that show was we all cared about each other and about the show, and so we’d sit and talk and come up with ideas and we’d just generally enjoy each other and ourselves. And we talked about that, about this feeling that there was something special going on in terms of the relationship with the audience. And I think what happened was we all kind of dug down, if you will to make it… Feeling a kind of responsibility to make it as meaningful and as deep and as authentic as we possibly could, and I think the result of the show is a demonstration of that.

0:22:53.6 Amy Willis: So to me, if I may, I think one of the biggest things that the show did, and this goes back to Tom’s comments about Vietnam, and I’d be really interested to hear from Mike as a veteran as well. I think at the time, we really had changing feelings about the military and about war. You have, in my own family, for example, we have my grandfather, a volunteer fighter pilot in World War II, and then you go to my dad who was drafted for Vietnam, and the characters in MASH were drafted to go to Korea. And people were angry and not necessarily in favor of those military actions as they were in the cases of the World Wars. So it gave people, I think, and me, a means by which to reconcile opposition to a war or to a particular military action with the sort of notions of duty and honor in the military, and be able to respect the military at the same time you might not respect or be in favor of a particular military action. I think part of that is the humanizing role of the series, but again, I think the satire and the humor were part and parcel of that, that you could say, “It’s okay to be anti‐​draft or anti‐​military and still be dedicated to duty in your service.”

0:24:16.8 Mike Farrell: I think that’s right, in essence. I always argued though, to the people who said we were anti‐​military, that we weren’t anti‐​military. We were anti‐​dogmatic authoritarianism and craziness on the part of the superiors. We did shows about superior officers who would send kids off to be in a hideous blood bath and be cut to ribbons and be sent back to us to heal so that we could fix them up and send them back to do more war. So that was a constant struggle with us within the show. But there was no… There are two things that I want to say about that. One, there was never an intent to be anti‐​military. We thought that the military had a purpose and it deserved respect. We just thought it was too authoritarian in some instances and too irresponsible in other instances, and we wanted to be able to call it like we saw it. And the other piece, I got a letter yesterday from a woman who had written to me and talked about her father who had been in Korea, and how he would never talk to her, would never talk to his family about his experience in the war until MASH came on the air, and they watched it together. And it opened him up to be able to discuss what his experience was of being in that horrific situation, and she thanked me as if I had had [chuckle] something to do with the extraordinary change in her father, but the gratitude that she expressed and the gratitude that he expressed to her for that, was something I’ll never forget.

0:26:36.7 Thomas Firey: I was gonna say, talking about the respect your show showed to the military, I’ve always thought Sherman Potter, Harry Morgan’s character that came in in season four, really indicated that respect that he was… The character was career military, he was career army, but he represented what can be honorable and wise and respectable about the military, and you would often, in his episodes, contrast him with people who didn’t represent the honor and integrity that the military strives to represent, but also he would refer to friends of his who also were dishonorable persons. It’s very much like William Christopher’s Father Mulcahy in that you demonstrated this wonderful character who represented these ideals as opposed to others that you were criticizing because of the mistakes they made individually.

0:27:35.8 Mike Farrell: Yeah, I think that’s quite right. That Harry was… The parallels are… Never failed [chuckle] to ring my bells. Harry was a highly regarded and a highly esteemed actor, and the idea that I was gonna be able to work with him, just thrilled me, and I think everybody in the cast felt the same way. And then when he came in and was who he is, or was, we fell in love. He was just a darling man. Alan Alda once said, [chuckle] about Harry, he said, “There’s not an un‐​adorable bone in his body.” [chuckle] He was just a thrill to be with. And I will tell you, somebody sent me just recently, a clipping of the… We did a… It was a big deal, as you suggested earlier in your introduction, when we did the final episode and the day the show ended, the sound stage was filled with camera crews, and reporters and journalists, and what have you, people from all over the world. So it was really kind of a circus. But afterward we had a press conference, and Harry got up and said, “I have been in over 100 films and eight television series,” and he said, “Walking away from seven of them was no problem, this one will never leave me.” And he said, “I have worked with many, many groups of actors… ” and this is sort of self‐​serving of me to say, but this is what he said, “I’ve worked with many, many different groups of actors, and I’ve never worked with a finer, more talented, more intelligent, more caring group of people than I have worked with on this show.”

0:29:39.7 Natalie Dowzicky: And I think that just goes to show, like you were saying earlier, Mike, how much heart the show had and the cast really caring about the message and the purpose, and I think we would be remiss not to mention, so for this episode, we watched a variety… For this recording, we watched a variety of episodes from MASH and we decided to watch “Death Takes a Holiday”, and in that episode, in particular, there were quite a few quotes that got me or got my heartstrings, pulled at my heartstrings. And the one quote from that episode that I wrote down is, “If we delay it long enough… ” referring to the soldier who was dying on Christmas, “His kids won’t have to think of Christmas as the day their daddy died.” And I thought that was just such a moving line, and also I think probably had the ability to really move the audience, and I was wondering from Mike, since you were a writer for this particular episode, and then from Amy and Tom, what kind of emotions did it take to record and to film this episode and to write it? And then from Amy and Tom, what did you feel as you were watching this episode, like what struck you the most?

0:31:03.9 Mike Farrell: Well, for me, I believe that, and I’m not sure that I’m correct, but I think that episode, the idea for that episode came out of the research. I think that actually happened or something like it happened. If not, it was the genius of some of these writers who were just amazing. But when you deal with something like that, probably as an actor I can say when you deal with something like that, you feel you have a responsibility. It goes far, far beyond what you look like and what you sound like, and whether or not you remember your lines and all the things that some actors can worry themselves with. But we created a reality that was very much a reality, and when we got into those situations, it took a toll, I will say, but it was one happily, happily given. We just felt like this was something that we owed to the people who had had this experience, and to the people who were related to those who had this experience, and, “We had to do it justice.”

0:32:34.7 Amy Willis: This episode really gets to me, I admit. So I was really glad to revisit this one and thanks, Mike, for being willing to talk about it. First and foremost, I think for me is the role of the refugee children, the orphan children in the story, just kills me every time, right, and really drives home the reminder that war has effects on people far beyond the military folks involved. Just when they bring them in and they’re afraid of the soldiers and afraid of the uniforms, and they just don’t know what to do with all of the good things that are happening. And then, second, I spend a lot of time working and thinking around philanthropy, so Winchester’s role in that one is particularly interesting to me, where he gives the chocolates to the orphanage and they sell them for rice and cabbage, right? This means a lot to me. I actually, now, am showing this to our interns as one of our lessons on philanthropy, this episode, so it shall continue. [chuckle]

0:33:41.8 Mike Farrell: Oh, that’s great. That is wonderful to hear. Thank you for that. David did such wonderful work in the show. God, I adored the man. He was one of a kind, I just wanted to say, I share your feelings about the refugee situation, aside from the fact that we have a horrific one facing us today. But I have been working with an organization for many years, Concern America, which is a refugee aid and development organization, and I’ve been in too many refugee situations in Africa, and in Asia, to see the work that those people do is, and the need for the work is heart rending.

0:34:25.4 Thomas Firey: Yeah, if I could chide Mike just a little bit… I think what, he wrote five episodes or four episodes, and you directed five or four episodes, and you committed a cardinal sin of writer actors, which is you kept giving wonderful lines to your fellow actors instead of yourself.

[laughter]

0:34:46.0 Thomas Firey: And “Death Takes a Holiday”, so many just beautiful lines that you gave to your others, to Loretta with the talking about what death brings when the soldier finally died and that you failed to keep alive past Christmas. The entire final scene between David Ogden Stiers’ Winchester and Jamie Farr’s Klinger, is just… To put that entire story, first of all, in David Ogden Stiers’ hands, I mean, for people who don’t know him as an actor, I mean, David just could act, he was so, so good in that role. And this particular show, it’s just every scene, you’re almost welling up with tears as he finds one heart‐​rending revelation after another, and he’s so good at delivering on those.

0:35:37.4 Mike Farrell: He was a genius, David, and it was a great loss when he went. But every step he took in the show, which… Alan and I talked to two of the producers about it, and to Larry Linville who played Frank Burns in the show for the first seven years, I think It got to a point where it was uncomfortable, making fun of an inept creep is one thing, but making fun of somebody who’s mentally ill is not funny, and we… Larry got to the point where he said, “I can’t take this guy any further and maintain any kind of credibility,” so he chose to leave and Burt Metcalfe, who was the genius who was initially our casting director and finally became the exec. Producer for the last couple of years, said, “I’m gonna bring a guy in who will be your match in the operating room. And a very different foil for the two of you, perhaps you’re gonna reverse the circumstances here when you have to deal with this guy, because the fellow we have in mind to play Major Charles Emerson Winchester III is a quite extraordinary actor.” And he was, come on man, my God. We all have fell in love and embraced him and were thrilled to have him with… Sorry to lose Larry, but thrilled to have David come and join us. And he never, he never, never stopped thinking and never stopped working ways to Make Winchester real.

0:37:37.0 Thomas Firey: Let’s give a little bit of love to Larry Linville, because the character was so hard to play, that Frank Burns is very two‐​dimensional, and everything that I’ve ever read of Larry and when I’ve seen in pop up on other TV shows, he’s such a good actor. And he… I’ll put it a little bit bluntly, he kind of sacrificed himself a little bit in that role. Apparently his older brothers when he was growing up, would make fun of him for his physical appearance and… His lips and his chin, and he offered them to the show as things you could say about Frank Burns to make fun of him, ferret face, no lips, no chin. That’s such a courageous thing for an actor to do, because those are things that I’m sure he was sensitive to, and he’s such a wonderful comedic actor.

0:38:29.0 Thomas Firey: The wonderful scene where he falls into the air raid pit that he had dug that your character, BJ Hunnicutt, had filled with water as a joke. It’s just a brilliant little… Just a brilliant piece of acting, just brilliant. But Loretta, I know, has talked about, Loretta Swit has talked about all the little pieces of business that they would come up with on the side that just… Larry’s mind would just come up with these clever little bits and they would do it, and you would just get such laughs out. He was such a good actor, and again, he sacrificed himself, I think, a little bit personally in order to deliver that character. And I can understand why he got tired of it after several years. But I so am appreciative that he did all of that.

0:39:14.3 Mike Farrell: I’m glad you said that because he was brilliant at what he did, and he was limited by the nature of the character and the circumstances they created for him. But it was hard, I must say, at times, to keep a straight face when we were dealing with him, because as you said, he had little gestures, little moments, little things he would come up with, and it was…

0:39:41.6 Thomas Firey: How hard was it to keep from breaking on the set?

0:39:47.6 Mike Farrell: Oh God.

0:39:48.5 Amy Willis: Yeah.

[chuckle]

0:39:50.3 Mike Farrell: Oh God. Oh, it would… We loved breaking each other up. We did it all the time. I remember… [chuckle] I remember times I was literally lying on the floor, laughing, and Burt, who was then directing, said… And Alan was crippled somewhere in a chair somewhere, and Burt said, “Children, children. We have to get this scene shot.” And we’d go back and give it another try. Oh, it was an exercise in concentration, I must say, at times to get through some of those situations and some of those lines.

0:40:37.9 Amy Willis: It’s funny that Colonel Potter says children a lot in the scenes were particularly Hunnicutt and Hawkeye are cutting things up, and everybody’s laughing and he says, “Children.” [chuckle] And that’s… Mike, thanks for sharing that story about Linville’s choice about leaving that role. That’s a really lovely story that I didn’t know. So thanks.

0:40:58.3 Mike Farrell: Oh yeah, no. It was… That’s a wonderful thing to see that sort of generosity, personal appreciation and generosity in an actor, ’cause people compete to get those opportunities to play those roles and to say, “I’ve done it, folks. I’ve done enough. I’ve done this to the degree I can do it and I think we don’t serve either my character or the show to continue.” That’s a very extraordinarily generous thing to do.

[music]

0:41:33.4 Landry Ayres: Mike, one of the things you mentioned that you thought was so strong about the performance you were talking about was the reality that they brought to it. And one of the other episodes that we watched in preparation for this was “The Interview”, which is a really striking example of one of the things MASH did so well, and I think was a pioneer for, which was the momentary, one‐​off change of format for the show where it didn’t resemble the normal sitcom or format that the show normally did. It as if it was a black and white, on the ground, documentary interview series with all of the people. What was the goal of changing the format of the show for that episode, and what was filming that episode like, considering you really didn’t have anyone to play off of for either dramatic or comedic effect like you would have in a normal scene? It was… I was struck immediately by the genuine nature of the delivery of some of the monologues present in the show. It feels almost improvised, the way that… How natural many of the performances were. What was filming that episode, “The Interview” like?

0:43:05.9 Mike Farrell: That’s an interesting observation. We did… There’s a business aspect to this. The studio, the network provided for 24 episodes a year, and eventually… And the writers were just in the room cranking out things and coming up with ideas, and they were exhausted by the end of the year. And inevitably, the network would say, “We want one more.” And Larry and Gene and Burt and the writers all sat around and said, “God, what do we do this time?” So they came to each of us, Gene came to each of us with a little pad or notepad, and he said, “Here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like each of you to take this question and write your answer to it in character, or these, I should say, these questions that an interviewer is going to ask you. And each of you write your own character’s response to them.” So in effect, we wrote our own scripts for that episode and…

0:44:20.2 Landry Ayres: Wow. I think it comes off that way. It’s really striking.

0:44:26.0 Mike Farrell: Yeah, it was an… It’s one of the things that happened on the show, I’ll tell you briefly, if you have the time, I’ll tell you a brief story. The first day I was there, we all gathered around the table and we were to read so that the writers could get a sense of the show and the script supervisor could get a timing. So we did, we sat, and it was wonderful for me ’cause I had not been on a show where we had that kind of experience of sitting and reading the show before we did it. And at the end of it, at the end of the reading, Gene, who was directing, looked up, and he said, “Okay, page one.” And I sort of looked at him, I was confused because we had just read the entire script, and he looked at me and he saw my look on my face, he said, “Oh, Mike, let me explain,” he said, “This is when now, we go through page by page and we wanna hear from you guys, as to what you think about certain things. If you have any questions, if you have any problems, or any ideas.”

0:45:22.9 Mike Farrell: And I thought, “Oh my God, I’ve died and gone to heaven. Somebody actually wants to hear what the actors think.” and that’s the way they worked. It was such a treat to be part of that company, because they honored the work, and they honored the people involved in doing the work, they were extraordinarily generous. I came up one time, with a… I went to Burt and I said, “I’ve got an idea for a story,” thinking they would take it and run with it, and he said, “Oh, great. Why don’t you write it?” And I said, “Well, okay. I’ll give it a try.” And that was the beginning of my writing with the show, and then later on, a couple of years later, I said, “Burt, I’ve been watching and I think I’d like to direct.” And he said, “Great, I’ve been waiting for you to do that.” So I mean, that’s the way they worked. It was a creative community and everybody was respected, and it was just… I cannot tell you other than to say it was an extraordinary thing to be part of.

0:46:31.9 Thomas Firey: Mike, you talk about how the read would lead to changes to the script, one change to the script wasn’t just a change, it was a dramatic re‐​crafting of the episode in a way that, for me, personally, I think it’s absolutely wonderful and morally enlightening, and that was your criticism of the episode that became “Preventative Medicine”. And would you be willing to share that story?

0:46:57.7 Mike Farrell: Yeah, that was a script that came down and we sat down and read it, and it was something that came out of the research I had mentioned earlier. There was a circumstance that had arisen in the experience of one of these surgeons and they did this, and it was essentially that it was a gung‐​ho officer who was… We were getting a lot of wounded kids in, and turns out this gung‐​ho officer was sending these kids on to take this particular hill that was deadly as hell, and they just couldn’t understand, we couldn’t understand why we kept getting these kids, and then finally some of the kids told us what was going on, and the officer himself came down to just strut around and give good cheer to his boys and telling them he wanted them back, etcetera, and so forth, and Hawkeye and I looked at each other in the script and said, “This bozo needs to be taken down a step or two.” So we were to wine him and dine him, take him into the still, into the swamp and use the still and get him drunk and tell him he’s sick and that he has to have an appendectomy and to take out his appendix and take him off the line for a while, so that some of these kids can get a break and this idiot doesn’t get to send them off to be cut up again.

0:48:28.6 Mike Farrell: So we read the script and we got to the end and we got to that place where, as Gene said, you go through page by page. And I said… When we got to a certain page, I said, “Well, here’s the problem, guys, BJ wouldn’t do this.” And they said, “What do you mean?” I said, “We all know that cutting into a human body is a dangerous thing, and you only do it when… I mean, God knows, we’ve learned that here, if nowhere else, that you only do it when it’s absolutely necessary.” And they said, “Well, yeah, but these guys did it in Korea.” I said, “I’m not arguing that they did it in Korea, I’m saying, BJ Hunnicutt, the guy we have been creating here, wouldn’t do that.” And we… And Alan said, “Well, Hawkeye would.”

[laughter]

0:49:16.3 Mike Farrell: And I said, “Absolutely, absolutely, I get that, that Hawkeye would. I’m just saying BJ wouldn’t.” So we had this discussion that went on for some 20 minutes or half an hour, and finally, Burt said, “You know what, we’ve got a better show here,” and they rewrote the script, so that we did all of those things, and then we got to the place where we got him drunk and then Hawkeye said, “Let’s go,” and BJ Said, “No, no, you’re not serious. And they separated. Hawkeye went in, did the surgery, BJ stayed in the swamp, and Hawkeye came in and said it was healthy and looked great, and it’s no longer there, and I said, “How do you feel?” And then there was Radar’s voice saying, “Choppers,” and more wounded came in, it was… I thought it was really quite an extraordinary… For me, it was an extraordinary demonstration of their… The care and thoughtfulness they took and the generosity and understanding my view of the character.

0:50:27.5 Thomas Firey: It’s also an interesting juxtaposition, because in the first season, there is of course, the episode, “The Ring Banger”, which… Same story line, you have a very war‐​like recovering soldier and Hawkeye and Trapper decide to go ahead and give the unnecessary appendectomy, and Wayne Roger’s character, Trapper, has no problems with it. So it’s… Again, shows the important difference between BJ and Trapper, and if I could just give a little bit of praise on the acting, the scene that you were talking about in the end, where Hawkeye comes in and you’re told the choppers are coming in, Alan in character says something to the effect of, “He just doesn’t have the strength to go on,” and he just kind of lifts his hand up and you take his arm, to gently lift him up so you can go, but also to give him comfort. And there’s not very many words said in that particular beat, but it’s such a beautiful scene, that physical gesture between the two of you, just generally, the… One of the things that always amazes me, is how much the different work between the two actors, throughout the series, all the different actors, delivers. And that’s one of the most touching.

0:51:46.7 Mike Farrell: Thank you. Let me confess that I can’t talk about the show, without tears in my eyes, about half the time.

0:51:54.7 Natalie Dowzicky: Aww.

0:51:55.1 Amy Willis: You’re not the only one, Mike.

[music]

0:51:58.9 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, there is also… Speaking of just times in the show that I was really touched or really made me think, going back to “The Interview”, I don’t even know if this was really meant to be the most thoughtful line in that episode, but there were quite a few that I wanted to point out. There was one that… I can’t remember who said it, but they said, “I’m temporarily a mis‐​assigned civilian for explaining.”

0:52:32.1 Mike Farrell: That was BJ.

0:52:33.7 Amy Willis: That’s BJ Yeah. [chuckle]

0:52:35.6 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, yeah. I’m pretty sure, yeah. And then there was… There were some more thoughtful lines throughout that episode, more… This one was, “You have to use a mental anesthesia or you bleed for everyone who is bleeding.” But towards the end of the episode, this is after all the interviews have happened, and it really kind of summed up the message you guys are trying to say in this show, and I believe it’s the interviewer as the voice of this, and it’s cutting back through a variety of different shots, and it says, “Now the people of this MASH are doing the work that they do best, but that they would rather not be doing at all in a place they’d rather not be.” And I thought that was really a fabulous way to end that episode and really got me and I’m sure the rest of the audience thinking about what we talked about earlier, the duty to help and the duty to, even though you may not have wanted to be in the MASH and you didn’t wanna get drafted as comes in other episodes that we watched, Klinger had said, but it’s this… You put that aside and you help the people that need your help. And I really thought that episode kind of, especially that line, really summed it up very nicely.

0:53:53.7 Mike Farrell: Thank you. There was another wonderful line in that show. Bill Christopher, Father Mulcahy, talked about being there in the OR on one of the icy nights, the freezing nights, and he said… You see the surgeon cut into a human body and warm their hands on steam that rises out of the body, and he said, “How can you see something like that and not be moved?”

[music]

0:54:22.2 Landry Ayres: Thanks for listening. If you want more MASH Pop & Locke‐​approved content, make sure to follow us on our Twitter handle @PopnLockePod. That’s Pop, the the letter N, Locke with an E, like the philosopher, Pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. We look forward to unravelling your favorite show or movie next time. Pop & Locke is produced by me, Landry Ayres, as a project of lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.