David Ogden Stiers said Mike Farrell helped him during his transition to M*A*S*H

Anyone who watches M*A*S*H knows practical jokes were the 4077th's love language.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

David Ogden Stiers missed out on becoming the most hated man in America, but in return, we got Maj. Charles Winchester on M*A*S*H.

Before M*A*S*H, Stiers had been the station manager on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

"I played the role three times and I hoped to be the man who fired Mary at the end of the series," Stiers said in a 1982 interview with The Tampa Times. "I'd have been the most-hated man in America. But Vincent Gardenia got to fire her. By that time I'd been fired myself, but not on camera."

This led Stiers to his opportunity in M*A*S*H. In 1977, Stiers got a call from the producers. Larry Linville was giving up his role as Maj. Frank Burns, and they needed someone new to join Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell) in the 4077th.

According to the interview, Stiers hadn't watched the M*A*S*H series prior, only the 1970 M*A*S*H movie.

"I saw that I was moving into illustrious company," Stiers said. "It started out nifty and it got better."

It doesn't take a M*A*S*H expert to know that in 1977 ratings were high, and the fan base had already been built. Stiers admitted that he was "very scared" to join the cast while they were in their sixth season, and Mike Farrell, another newcomer, helped him to adjust.

Farrell knew what it was like to come into a series late, as he did with his character B.J. Hunnicutt after he replaced Trapper John in season four. Stiers wanted to be accepted, and Farrell was a big step in doing that. 

"I knew I was accepted by the others the first time somebody threw something at me in the operating room," Stiers said. "We'd just finished an intense scene. I heard the director say 'cut,' and I looked up waiting for him to say 'print.' That's when I was hit with three pieces of gauze. I had become part of the practical jokes."

Anyone who watches M*A*S*H knows that pranks were the 4077th's love language.

Stiers said he didn't think he and Winchester would be friends in real life. Winchester was rich, confident and just a bit arrogant. Unlike Winchester, Stiers said he knew how to be humble about his knowledge.

"I would hate to work for Charles, but I would love to be his boss," Stiers said.

Like most characters on TV, Winchester came with a set of predetermined skills and traits. However, Stiers said he was able to add a little of himself to his character.

"They were looking for someone different than Frank Burns. They were looking for someone with his own strengths and weaknesses," Stiers said. "The difference is that Charles can fight back. Frank's responses were limited."

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wanderer2575 13 months ago
M*A*S*H was the first show where I saw David Ogden Stiers, and for a long time I never knew his Boston accent was acted.
MichaelPowers 13 months ago
David was a superb actor and made Charles an intriguing, if not always likable, character.
sagafrat69 13 months ago
I remember reading the T.V. Guide article in '77 about Stiers replacing Linville. The original intent was to have Winchester become the newer, smarter antagonist in camp. Unfortunately, the crop of writers in the last few seasons had everyone in camp like each other which became kind of a boorish show. Burns and Hot Lips were the perfect antagonists. The Winchester character didn't add much to the comedy. Not my favorite episodes.
JazzMan2010 13 months ago
My favorite scene with Charles was early in his character. He is reciting a letter home, i believe, asking family to help with getting him out of Korea. He goes to pour tea, nothing comes out. He sets the mic down, takes the lid off the tepot and pulls out a rubber chicken, then grabs the mic and says 'get me the hell out of here'. I laughed so hard i almost fell out of my chair.
harlow1313 13 months ago
I like the episode where Winchester ponders mortality.
MrsPhilHarris harlow1313 13 months ago
If I had to pick a Winchester favourite it would be the one where Winchester tries to help a patient that stutters and wonder why he did. Later on you hear his sister Honoria on a tape to Charles, and she stutters.
WilliamJorns MrsPhilHarris 13 months ago
Yes, this episode highlighted the compassion he felt for the soldier because his sister was a stutterer too. Charles Emerson Winchester III was more than just a one-note idiot like Frank Burns was; he turned out to be a complex character with strengths and weaknesses like every other character on the show. And the writers were wise enough to let him grow and flourish along with the rest of them.
Stardoc MrsPhilHarris 13 months ago
That one, and the one where he helps the pianist who’s hand was injured.
MrsPhilHarris Stardoc 13 months ago
Yes that was good. He encouraged the man to play one-handed compositions. He himself could never play or not play well and wanted the soldier to keep playing.
DZee 13 months ago
Winchester was a terrific addition to the cast....probably my favorite character.
Pacificsun 13 months ago
Wow. T𝒉𝒓𝒆𝒆 𝒑𝒊𝒆𝒄𝒆𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒈𝒂𝒖𝒛𝒆.

I'm gonna go back and read the article.
Rob Pacificsun 13 months ago
This made me laugh! Thanks, I needed that.
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