Gary Burghoff's departure meant fewer dresses for Klinger

Cast changes meant wardrobe changes, too.

M*A*S*H very quickly established itself as a series with a revolving door of actors. The show's cast seemed to play musical chairs every season. Who was staying? Who was leaving? Over the course of its 11 seasons, M*A*S*H may have lasted longer than the actual Korean War, but a lot of its contracts did not.

One of the most notable changes in the show's cast was Radar's departure from the show. After the eighth season, Gary Burghoff decided he'd had enough of M*A*S*H. The public had not, though, and so the series went on without him. Walter "Radar" O'Reilly was granted a hardship discharge following the death of his Uncle Ed. America's favorite military mail deliverer was written off the show, and Burghoff rode off into the sunset.

But, like a script-altering butterfly effect, the change in casting didn't start and end with Burghoff. The character was super popular, and Radar played a crucial role in many of the stories he appeared in. He was funny, he was helpful, and he was the heart and soul of the 4077th, bringing a much-needed Midwestern naivete to offset any war-hardened apathy. So, when Radar was discharged, he left behind a vacuum.

In 1979, M*A*S*H executive producer Burt Metcalfe spoke with the Chicago Tribune about the ways the show changed in the wake of Burghoff's departure.

Metcalfe cited very few expected changes, noting that the show's core rested on Hawkeye's shoulders. However, he was aware that, for the sake of practicality, someone would have to take over a lot of Radar's duties. The vacuum, it seemed, would be filled by Jamie Farr's Klinger. This meant that audiences would have to take the character a little more seriously, as he became responsible for a lot of what made the 4077th run smoothly.

Specifically, Metcalfe said that Klinger would wear women's clothes less often "because he'll get caught up in the importance of his new job.

"All of a sudden, he's amounting to something. It beats doing KP and guard duty. Also, we'll see more of his Toledo background as a former juvenile delinquent come to the fore. It'll be a nice change for Klinger. He'll continue to do the clothes bit once in a while, but it won't be as big a part of his personality."

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5 Comments

rogerkbaker 4 months ago
Just to clarify, Mr. Burghoff decided to leave after the seventh season. His two-episode departure was aired as episodes 4 & 5 of season 8.
jmworacle 4 months ago
One of my favorite episodes was when the 4077 was transitioning from the efficient Radar to the chaos of Max Klinger. Colonel Potter was at his wit's end when Father Mulcahey talked him about a clerk who was worse. When Potter asked about the identity Father Mulchaey answered Radar.
WordsmithWorks 4 months ago
By the time Radar left, Klinger wearing dresses was played out. Jamie Farr was fortunate that what was supposed to be a one-off character became a series mainstay. Although I preferred Klinger in dresses rather than "one of the gang."
Jamie Farr was the best. He kept the show a comedy even after Alda got his hands on it.
DocForbin 4 months ago
Besides the dresses, Klinger also occasionally wore a Toledo Mud Hens uniform, which if I remember correctly he still did after Radar's departure. Thanks in large part to Jamie Farr, the Mud Hens are now the best-known minor league baseball team in the world. Now maybe he can do the same thing for Toledo's other team--the Walleye of the ECHL (which I happed to know about since they're in the same league as my area's own minor league hockey team, the Adirondack Thunder).
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