One of the things that stands out about “MAS*H” is Corporal Klinger’s habit of wearing women’s clothes. Klinger just wanted out of the military. The military deemed gay or non-gender conforming soldiers mentally unfit to serve, at that time. So, he figured dressing in women’s clothes would be his ticket out of Korea and back to Toledo. Instead, it ended up being a recurring gag for the first seven seasons of the show.
They moved away from the cross-dressing gag in the eighth season of the show, though. After Radar left “MAS*H.” Klinger stepped into the role of company clerk. It was about that time that Klinger stopped wearing women’s clothes. The reason for this is twofold. Farr wanted to end the gag. He feared that his kids would be teased for it in school, according to IMDb. At the same time, showrunners wanted to go a different direction. Farr said that they had taken the gag as far as they could and it was time for a change in an interview with the National Museum of American History.
More on the Dress-Wearing “M*A*S*H” Character
“M*A*S*H” creator, Larry Gelbart based the character of Klinger on the comedian Lenny Bruce. The US Navy discharged the comedian partially for wearing a women’s uniform during his WWII service. Gelbart thought that this would make a good gag for the series. So, he punched it up a little bit and wrote it into the script.
This was based on WWII-era military regulations. During that era, psychologists regularly diagnosed homosexual or transgender individuals with mental disorders. So, any evidence of those things could lead to discharge from the Armed Forces on the grounds of mental instability. It was this that Farr and Gelbart focused on with Klinger.
When Farr arrived on the set of “M*A*S*H” for the first time, he thought he was sharing a dressing room with an actress. His wardrobe contained a Korean War-era Women’s Army Corps uniform and he hadn’t read his part, at the time. “I was really down on my luck. I hadn’t been working,” Farr explained, “so when they called me, they didn’t even tell me what the part was, they just said you got a part, and it pays $250 for the day.”
So, the wardrobe came as a surprise. However, Jamie Farr was a trooper. He put on the uniform, which featured a knee-length skirt. Farr said he immediately started laughing after seeing himself in the uniform. The rest of the cast and crew had the same reaction.
Originally, Farr was slated for a single episode of the show. But his character made such an impact on “M*A*S*H” audiences and producers that they kept bringing him back. By the third season, he was a part of the regular cast.