Gary Burghoff wanted M*A*S*H fans to connect with Radar

He was one of the few non-officers on M*A*S*H but had all the characteristics needed to be one.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Gary Burghoff was one of M*A*S*H's most adorable actors, but he hated being called cute. His character, Radar O'Reilly, worked full-time with the 4077th medical unit, but he wasn't an officer. 

Burghoff and his character were known for many things, but having a clear and defined role wasn't one of them. Despite being one of the most popular characters on the hit series, he just wasn't like the rest of the M*A*S*H crew.

He was one of the only non-officers in M*A*S*H who had a significant role in the series.

Radar was funny, cuddled with a teddy bear and young compared to the wise Col. Potter (Harry Morgan) or Father Francis Mulcahy (William Christopher).

Radar found himself as the series progressed and became confident in his role among M*A*S*H doctors and officers as the company clerk.   

In a 1973 interview with The San Bernardino County Sun, Burghoff said part of the reason for his success on the series was because of the strong connection people had with Radar in real life.

"It's not enough to recite funny lines, to go through the motions," Burghoff said. "You have to make contact. To me, that's what acting is all about."

Burghoff said he could feel the connection between Radar and his fans whenever he was out in public. He would often run into fans who would compliment him on his performance in the series and say how much the character meant to them. 

He wanted to make people laugh and reach out and touch them. His courage, leadership, integrity and ability to be an inspiration to others made him an officer in our hearts at home.

"Any guy who's been in the military relates," Burghoff said. "Radar is the only non-officer in the group and when something needs to be done, he's the one who usually does it. Most people relate to that because it's like trying to deal with the 'system' — any system."

Burghoff said he considered himself to be a pretty good teacher. His main goal was to offer a mirror for his students, the television viewers, in which they were able to see themselves in him.

After being a lead on Broadway's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (1967), he met director Robert Altman. Altman eventually selected Burghoff for M*A*S*H's feature film in 1970. This later turned into a role in the M*A*S*H series.

He said it took him a long time to accept himself and said he had to seek an identity of his own in Hollywood. With years of practice as Radar, he was able to bring the character to a larger light despite being a non-officer. 

"I used to be like so many kids," Burghoff said. "I wore my hair long and dressed funny and tried to blame the 'establishment' for all the world's ills. My own included. Then one day I realized I was the only one who could change my own situation."

And like Radar, he found a purpose within the 4077th medical unit.

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10 Comments

djw1120 5 months ago
I was always amazed that he "just knew" when the helicopters were on their way with the wounded.
He would just look up from wherever he was at that point in time, and say "Uh, oh. Choppers! Choppers!" I was so sorry when Radar's Uncle Ed died, and he went home. The last scene of that episode when he saluted Hawkeye in the OR and Hawkeye saluted him back, I think that was the only time that Hawkeye saluted anybody and really meant it as a gesture of respect.
Out of all the characters and actors and actresses from the movie, Gary was the only one who got to reprise his role in the TV series.
Adamtwelvia djw1120 5 months ago
Actually he and B.J. both saluted Potter in the final episode before Potter left for home.
forthekids 5 months ago
I always loved Mr.Burghoff's character of "Cpl.Radar O'Reilly"..I'm sorry that he left the show..before "Mash"Ended.
sparkie951 5 months ago
Radar was the Best... Did not matter what happened, it was always standing up what was right and questioned what was wrong... It was a bad day for MASH and respect for the program severely dropped after Radar Left... He was the Driving force that made the program worth watching.
Wiseguy70005 sparkie951 5 months ago
Or maybe it was the downward turn in the quality of writing that happened at about the same time. Everyone wants to blame Dick Sargent for a similar downturn in Bewitched quality when it was the writing, especially the constant remakes of Dick York episodes.
sparkie951 Wiseguy70005 5 months ago
I am not sure I would relate the 2 in that Fashion... Everyone on the show had an Alcoholic drink, including Father Mochaee (spelling). He had a High standard that I like and he never dropped his standards for anyone regardless of what was going on.
Andybandit 5 months ago
I liked Radar. I didn't want him to leave MASH.
Avie Andybandit 5 months ago
Few if any of his "M*A*S*H" castmates liked Burghoff; they were very happy when he left.
Coldnorth Avie 5 months ago
I watched him on match game 75 and burghoff was always chasing gene rayburn and just being a pest. If he was like that on mash I understand why they weren’t fond of him
Adamtwelvia Avie 5 months ago
The opposite of Larry Lindville. He was the complete opposite of Frank Burns in real life, he was kind, sweet, and funny. His castmates loved him and they begged him NOT to leave the show, but he felt he did all he could with Frank and it was time for him to go.
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