Take it from Corporal Klinger, the M*A*S*H set never was the same without Radar.
That’s according to the fabulous character actor Jamie Farr, who looked back at his time on M*A*S*H during an interview in 2011. The Archive of American Television was documenting Farr’s thoughts and perspective as part of its ongoing series looking at classic TV shows.
Farr loved Gary Burghoff, who played Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly. Fans just wanted to hug the actor who played a character based on a real person.
“Gary Burghoff was an absolute delight,” Farr said of his M*A*S*H co-star. “He brought that great charm to Radar. The teddy bear, the cuddliness, that naivete. His grape nehi (soda). All the wonderful, charming things that he brought to the character. It was pretty hard to lose him. He brought something special to the show that none of the other characters had. “
Burghoff Changed Radar After M*A*S*H Started as Series
Burghoff played Radar in the M*A*S*H movie. But the movie version of Radar was a little harsh. He was more of a schemer in the 4077th medical unit. Radar was a pragmatist. He traded favors to get stuff done. He liked to game the system.
Burghoff was the only actor who was in both the movie and the TV series. And Burghoff has acknowledged that he took the opportunity to redefine Radar, making him more of the heart and soul of M*A*S*H instead of a manipulator.
During a Q&A in 2013, Burghoff said: “In the original feature film M*A*S*H, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (through the pilot) until I realized that the TV M*A*S*H characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters.
“It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the “hell hole” they were stuck in.”
Burghoff already identified with young, naive characters. Before M*A*S*H, he starred as Charlie Brown in the 1967 off-Broadway production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Radar, as a character, was inspired by Don Shaffer, who served with Richard Hooker. And Hooker wrote the book that spawned both a movie and a popular TV show. Shaffer, like the character, was born in Iowa and went by the nickname Radar during the Korean War.
An Innocent Radar Could Better Reflect Ravages of War
Burghoff said with the change to make Radar more naive, M*A*S*H writers could make a comedy show about a war hit home.
“This made Radar super active, free and very interesting on a primary, gut, level, which at times delivered the horror of war in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand,” Burghoff said.
But Burghoff eventually suffered acting burnout and bowed out of M*A*S*H in 1979. However, the character was very good for him. He received six Emmy nominations. And he won for best supporting actor in 1977. Burghoff came back to finish off his Radar story. The show did a two-episode arc the next season to allow M*A*S*H to say good bye.
So back to Jamie Farr. He was Max Klinger, the cross-dressing corporal trying to get a Section 8 psychiatric discharge from the Army. After Burghoff left the show, Klinger toned down his antics and began working as the company clerk. He gave off a different vibe than Radar, but M*A*S*H, at its essence, was about all the terrifically written characters.