Loretta Swit’s dating history in M*A*S*H sounds more like a soap opera than it does a classic military sitcom. Swit played the iconic role of Maj. Margaret Houlihan for 11 seasons.
M*A*S*H was frozen in time in the Korean War, and Margaret Houlihan was one of the by-the-book nurses to put in long hours at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
Many fans enjoyed watching Swit’s character because she brought a nice balance to the series. She was a great nurse, could play a mean prank on Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda), or spend her time picking on Radar (Gary Burghoff).
In a 1978 interview with The Wichita Eagle, Swit said her character had a lot of conflicting emotions and inner tension.
“She’s the most difficult character I’ve ever taken on,” Swit said. “The most difficult part of her is that she’s humorless, although the viewers find her funny. She’s [heavy], but with redeeming qualities. She’s human and humane, and I try to justify her outrageous behavior by being the best nurse in Korea.”
Swit said she didn’t like to call her character ‘Hot Lips’ because she felt it was too derogatory of a term to describe Maj. Houlihan. Her character was more than just sex appeal, Maj. Houlihan added a lot of heart, a little tension and a new storyline to M*A*S*H.
“I’m not like Margaret,” she said. “The only familiarity I have is that I’ve played her for so long. I’m an actress, so I found things about the character. I can’t say I draw from experience. There are certain traits in Margaret I’ve taken from people I know.”
Swit wanted to be an actress since childhood. She moved to Hollywood in 1969, where she quickly started getting guest roles on TV. For Swit, being in the acting business was a dream, even if it meant being a nurse in Korea for 11 seasons.
“I’m somewhere between age 30 and death,” she said. “I’m in the business of illusion. When I started M*A*S*H, I was really too young for the role. I don’t want my age known because it could hurt. I think most actors keep themselves fit and well, and should be cast that way.”
Swit and Houlihan may not be alike, but we are thankful Swit played the role and portrayed Houlihan in the way she did.