In arguably the sweetest Radar-centered MAS*H episode of all time, “Private Charles Lamb,” we watch the corporal save a lamb meant to be slaughtered. He schemes to send the lamb back home by pretending it’s a soldier named Private Charles Lamb.
On MASH, there was a recurring theme of who gets sent home. It was an obvious part of the show’s wartime setting. But for Gary Burghoff, who played Radar in the movie version of MASH before resuming the role on TV, there came a time when that sentiment hit so hard in his real life, he decided he had to leave the show for good.
“I was a case of occupational burnout,” Burghoff told the Logansport-Pharos Tribune in 1984. “I left MAS*H because I couldn’t function anymore. I’d given all I had to give to the part and to the show. I care too much to give less than my best. I’d lost my vitality.”
So Burghoff left the show in 1979, and MAS*H went on without Radar, which turned out to be a punch in the gut for producers who wished they could persuade Burghoff to come back.
In fact, they got so serious about tempting Burghoff back to the show that they actually came back with cash in hand — after going just two days without Radar, hoping to find the right price to keep Radar.
According to the Tribune article, Warner Bros. offered Burghoff a $4 million contract to return.
You might be wondering what $4 million looks like to a TV star in 1979. Well, if Burghoff had accepted, he certainly would’ve joined the top three highest-paid TV stars on air in 1980, but let’s be clear: He still wouldn’t be making that Hawkeye money.
In 1980, the Argus-Leader reported that Alan Alda was the highest-paid TV actor of all time, earning $5.6 million a season on MAS*H, which also included the money he made as a writer. Just for playing Hawkeye, though, Alda earned $5.4 million that year.
The next highest-paid TV star was Carroll O’Connor, who pulled $4.8 million for starring in Archie Bunker’s Place.
Had Burghoff returned to MAS*H, his $4 million contract would’ve placed him behind O’Connor, but before Michael Landon, who earned $3.8 million for Little House on the Prairie, and Larry Hagman, who earned $2.4 million to play J.R. Ewing on Dallas.
Unfortunately for Radar’s biggest friends and Warner Bros.’s dashed dreams, Burghoff wasn’t looking for more money.
What Burghoff wanted right then was to color in his life with all that great stuff that makes life worth living: reconnecting with old friends, renewing his faith, and returning to his roots. For him, like so many guest stars we watched on MAS*H, that meant literally going home.
“When I reached the age of 35, I knew I missed the basics, my friends and family and the life I’d known in Connecticut and Wisconsin,” Burghoff said. “I needed a change, and I needed a break.”
Of course, then, after some time passed, Burghoff was ready to return to his MASH home, taking part in the spin-off series AfterMASH and a pilot for his own spin-off, WALTE*R.