David Ogden Stiers stood up for stutterers in the real world, too
On M*A*S*H, Winchester stopped a stuttering soldier from being bullied. As a child, Stiers started acting to overcome his own stutter.
"I should have known better than to give any kind of responsibility to a dummy," a cruel captain tells an injured soldier who is afflicted with a stutter in the M*A*S*H episode "Run for the Money."
Charles Winchester III, often haughty about his own precise, correct pronunciation, comes to the soldier’s defense, warning the captain he’ll be reprimanded if this bullying continues.
For David Ogden Stiers, who played Winchester, this particular story hit close to home.
When he was a young kid growing up, Stiers struggled with a stutter, and it was precisely that reason that he took up acting in the first place.
"I didn’t stutter when the lines were written for me," Stiers told Disabled Dealer Magazine in 2008. "Without lines to read was another story."
As Stiers practiced his lines, his diction improved, until one day his stutter seemed to disappear, almost without him really noticing.
"One day, I noticed that I wasn’t stuttering anymore, with or without lines," Stiers said. "I overcame it by not giving up, by continuing to play roles, and by overcoming my fear of saying something wrong, or sounding stupid."
Just like on the show where Winchester becomes overprotective of the stuttering soldier, Stiers also came to the defense of people struggling with disabilities in the real world. He said this came from a place of compassion, but also of valuing others who likely outshine him in other departments.
"The task of loving people doesn’t have to do with their worst aspects," Stiers said. "It has to do with their best aspects. My feeling, we’re all the same person, but differently expressed. There’s some things I can do others can’t, vice versa. We’re all accomplished. We’re all on the earth, and the more we help each other get our tasks accomplished, the better our lives."
On M*A*S*H, where all walks of life ended up on the gurney, this ethos fit in well, but this special stuttering story featured on the show wasn’t inspired by Stiers, but a different M*A*S*H cast member.
"Run for the Money" was the final episode where B.J. Hunnicutt actor Mike Farrell served as a writer. He had writing credits on four episodes total, but the stuttering in this last story might have harkened the actor back to the very first moment he got brought on to do the show.
In his memoir Just Call Me Mike, Farrell wrote that when M*A*S*H decided to replace Trapper John, they explained how B.J. would depart from the original Hawkeye sidekick by doggedly intending to be faithful to his wife, and then they asked Farrell, "Does that sound interesting?"
"It sounded too good to be true," Farrell wrote. "I summoned all my savoir-faire and tried not to slobber while stuttering through the rest of the conversation."
Stiers encouraged looking past a stutter or any other disability, so you can see how much each person truly has to offer. For Farrell, joining M*A*S*H became a moment where he discovered he had more to offer than just acting, contributing writing and directing, despite being new to both creative tasks.
His stuttering when invited to do M*A*S*H didn’t stop him from reaching that potential any more than Stiers’ persistent stutter stopped him from achieving his ambitions as an actor.
"Ours was a safe setting for me to spread my wings," Farrell confirmed.