Loretta Swit played one of the defining characters of MAS*H. She portrayed fierce, independent Margaret Houlihan. And fans adored the head nurse everyone called “Hot Lips.”
And decades later, Swit still recalled the letters fans mailed to the MAS*H stars. Back in the 70s, some of the biggest stars on TV went by Hawkeye, Radar and Trapper John. And yes, Hot Lips, too.
Swit, in a 2017 interview with Fox News, described the letter she remembered the most.
“This one elderly gentleman wrote to me and said, ‘Miss Swit, you’re in big trouble,” the MASH star said. “‘I’m in the hospital with stitches that split open because I was laughing at you so hard. ‘I was watching you on MASH and you made me laugh so hard, my stitches ripped open. So you’re in big trouble! I love you.’”
MAS*H was set during the Korean War, although it aired during the U.S. conflict with Vietnam. Swit played a single woman serving alongside doctors, nurses and soldiers. Her character met her husband while serving in the 4077. But we all pondered whether Hot Lips and Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) should be together.
Alda always wondered that, too. So he wrote an episode that had the two spend the night together in enemy territory as bombs blew up all around them. Neither thought they’d live to see daylight. The two-part episode, called Comrades in Arms, ran Dec. 6, 1977.
Swit shared some MAS*H details with Australia’s Studio 10 back in 2015. Of course, the Aussies wanted to know about her night with Alda/Hawkeye.
“Alan and I were very, very close,” Swit said. “We were such a family, I can’t describe it – you had to be there. But Alan told me he had written that [episode] with the idea for quite a while before we actually did it. And Gene Reynolds [MAS*H executive producer] felt that the audience might not be ready for that in the earlier years. We really needed to grow into [when] they believed this could happen. And so we did finally do it. God, I loved it.”
Swit also said she wanted MAS*H producers to keep Margaret as a smart, strong-willed person. She also pushed to make other female characters well-written and not some stereotype.
“I kept demanding that they keep her integrity as a head nurse,” Swit told Studio 10. “When we talked about character work to the writers and producers (she’d say) she’s the best damn nurse in Korea and I’ll never settle for anything less than that. I can be funny, but I still can have integrity.
Swit continued: “There was a [MAS*H] episode I had to fight for because they wanted me to transfer a nurse because she was too attractive and she was too distracting. And I said ‘I can’t do that. I can’t sacrifice a good nurse because she’s attractive.’ First of all, the nurses in Korea were all volunteers. so they weren’t easy to get. So I had to give up a nurse? No. It was a bit of a tug.”