It’s safe to call M*A*S*H one of the greatest sitcoms of its time, and of all time, too. That is, so long as you’re comfortable calling M*A*S*H a sitcom, because it was willing to have more hard-hitting moments of drama than most comparably funny shows, progressively becoming more of a dramedy as the series went along. And such an approach was fitting, given the show was set during the Korean War, and largely revolved around how various surgeons and staff at Mobile Army Surgical Hospital used humor and each other to survive the horrors around them.
The main cast of M*A*S*H was iconic, of course, with 11 credited in the main cast, owing to certain actors leaving the show at various points and getting replaced. Similarly impressive were some of M*A*S*H’s guest stars; characters who only showed up for an episode or two. The following characters sit somewhere between main cast and guest star status, having enough appearances to make an impact but without being true main characters, with some of the best of these ranked below.
10. Private Igor Straminsky
Appeared in Seasons 2 to 11
Though he might not be the most striking or consistently funny recurring character, Private Igor Straminsky was one of the M*A*S*H’s most frequently recurring. He tended to work in the mess tent as a cook’s assistant, and given how often scenes would take place here throughout the show, Straminsky has plenty of background appearances from season 2 onwards. As the show went along, he tended to get a few more lines and things to do, and stuck around long enough to be in the finale.
IMDb has Straminsky’s main actor, Jeff Maxwell, listed as being in 48 episodes, though the character was also played by another actor – Peter Riegert – in two episodes. He was a welcome presence in the show, whether as a background character or someone who’d clash with other characters (usually over the lackluster quality of food he served them), and an overall noteworthy member of the 4077th.
9. Lieutenant Ginger Bayliss
Appeared in Seasons 1 to 5
There are many aspects of M*A*S*H that still hold up well to this day, even though it’s been off the air for 40 years, and started airing more than half a century ago. That being said, one thing that might have seemed normal back in the 1970s and ’80s while sticking out today is the fact the most prominent characters of M*A*S*H are just about all white, and when it comes to the 11 characters who were featured in the main cast throughout, only one was a woman: Major Margaret J. Houlihan (Loretta Swit).
As such, one of the recurring nurse characters, Lieutenant Ginger Bayliss – played by Odessa Cleveland – stands out for being a recurring character that gave the show a little diversity between seasons 1 and 5. Then again, segregation was still something that impacted certain parts of the army during the Korean War, which may explain some of M*A*S*H’s casting choices. There was a season 2 episode that had Bayliss confronted by a racist patient, and at other times, she was treated as just another member of the 4077th, making the character a small – but not unnoticeable – step toward having a little more representation.
8. The PA Announcer
Appeared in Seasons 1 to 11
The PA Announcer is a constant presence in M*A*S*H, and counts as one of the few minor “characters” to appear in both the 1970 Robert Altman film and the TV series. That is, so long as you count a disembodied voice as a character. Sure, viewers don’t ever get to see the announcer in the flesh, but their announcements are heard often throughout the show, and plenty of their dry observations about the state of the 4077th are pretty funny.
Two actors were credited with being the announcer throughout the show’s duration: Todd Susman and Sal Viscuso. The “character” has enough appearances to rival members of the main cast, but again, the fact the character’s off-screen, unnamed, and played by more than one person throughout M*A*S*H’s run all serve to disqualify them from being anywhere close to gaining main character status.
Appeared in Season 1
Though Nurse Margie Cutler (Marcia Strassman) only appears in a handful of episodes situated entirely in the first season, she still makes an impact, and shows up enough times within a short amount of time to be considered a recurring character. The previously mentioned head nurse, Margaret Houlihan, was characterized in earlier seasons as being something of an antagonist for main characters like Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper (Wayne Rogers), with Cutler therefore standing out in season 1 for largely being on their side.
She engaged in some of their pranks and outlandish scenarios, and was perhaps the first female character on the show to let off steam similarly to how many of the male characters did. And though M*A*S*H was never really too focused on the romance side of things, as a sitcom, Cutler did also serve as a brief/temporary love interest for Hawkeye, though they part ways towards the season’s end, and she never shows up again in subsequent seasons.
6. Sergeant Zelmo Zale
Appeared in Seasons 2 to 8
Sergeant Zelmo Zale had a steady number of appearances between season 2 and 8 of M*A*S*H, showing up for a total of 20 episodes. He was played by Johnny Haymer, and served as a supply sergeant and electrician for the 4077th, also being memorable for the way he frequently clashed with Maxwell Q. Klinger (Jamie Farr), who was always trying to get a Section Eight discharge.
He was gruff, sarcastic, and always able to cause a little more chaos, and notably left the show in the same episode that Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) did: season 8’s “Goodbye, Radar.” Furthermore, after Radar left, Klinger took over his role as company clerk, and Zale sort of got replaced shortly after his departure from the show by Sergeant Luther Rizzo… but more on him in a bit.
5. Lieutenant Kellye Yamato
Appeared in Seasons 2 to 11
Of all the recurring characters, Lieutenant Kellye Yamato (played by Kellye Nakahara) is the one who has the most on-screen appearances. She’s in approximately two-thirds of the show’s episodes, rising from being a background character in earlier seasons to generally getting a little more to do in later seasons, eventually becoming one of the show’s most endearing characters.
Many other nurse characters felt like they came and went or were consistently cycled through as extras, but Yamato managed to have sticking power, and appeared in more episodes than some main cast members. She also gets a spotlight episode at the start of season 11, with “Hey, Look Me Over” largely being about her calling out Hawkeye’s shallowness when it comes to the nurses he tries to woo, and how she’s the only nurse he hasn’t pursued romantically.
4. Sergeant Luther Rizzo
Appeared in Seasons 8 to 11
Sergeant Luther Rizzo (G.W. Bailey) was more or less the replacement for Sergeant Zelmo Zale, entering the show in its eighth season, and several episodes after Zale’s final appearance. He didn’t have the exact same role within the 4077th, as Rizzo was in charge of the motor pool, which is a fleet of motor vehicles available for use by certain personnel at a military installation. He never seemed to do this job very well, but avoided getting discharged somehow.
He even stuck around until the very end of the show, appearing in its legendary and acclaimed series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.” Rizzo was crass and lazy, overall not being the kind of person you’d necessarily want to work with in real life, but a fun addition to a show like M*A*S*H, being a consistent source of levity throughout some of the show’s later – and oftentimes darker – episodes.
Appeared in Seasons 3 to 10
Most of the time, characters who weren’t staff at the 4077th or affiliated with the camp in some way would be one-off characters or guest stars, making Rosie stand out. She appeared sporadically throughout seasons 3 to 10, with a total of 10 episodes, but she ran an iconic location for the show: Rosie’s Bar. Though she was played by three different actresses (Frances Fong, Shizuko Hoshi, and Eileen Saki), her appearances were always hard to miss, given her proximity to the establishment she ran.
As mentioned before, M*A*S*H tended to focus on white male characters, so having a recurring character of some prominence be female and a civilian during the war is significant. Regrettably, Rosie didn’t make any appearances in the final season, and was absent from the otherwise jam-packed series finale as a result, but her various appearances and the bar that her name was attached to are undoubtedly iconic parts of M*A*S*H as a whole.
2. Major Sidney Freedman
Appeared in Seasons 2 to 11
Though his character didn’t entirely lack a sense of humor, whenever Major Sidney Freedman showed up, it was often a sign that M*A*S*H was going to swing more toward drama than comedy. Played by Allan Arbus across a dozen episodes between seasons 2 and 11, Freedman was a psychiatrist who visited the 4077th now and again, providing a more traditional outlet (besides joking and pranks) for people to grapple with the emotional hardships of being involved in war.
Arbus is very convincing as an army psychiatrist, and brings a certain amount of gravitas to the character while also making him feel human and relatable. He’s also a generally positive on-screen depiction of a psychiatrist in a show that aired when there was more stigma around mental health (and that’s to say nothing of the likely increased stigma that would have existed during the early 1950s, when the Korean War was being fought).
1. Colonel Sam Flagg
Appeared in Seasons 2 to 7
Though Colonel Sam Flagg only appeared in seven episodes across six seasons of M*A*S*H, he tended to steal the show in each and every one of them. It’s pretty easy to label him the most iconic recurring character in the show, with Edward Winter’s deadpan performance contrasting expertly with his character’s wild and eccentric behavior. Flagg was an unstoppable force of chaos and calamity, but in a frequently funny way.
As such, Sam Flagg played a considerable part in making M*A*S*Hthe hilarious sitcom it’s remembered as to this day. From his various aliases to his ridiculous disguises to his ceaseless ability to destroy things and make enemies, Flagg was always a highlight whenever he showed up. And though his appearances were sparse, even by recurring character standards, Winter made them all count and then some.