Mike Farrell's journey to M*A*S*H
B.J. Hunnicutt was Farrell's perfect role, but it didn't come easy.
Mike Farrell's B.J. Hunnicutt was M*A*S*H's voice of reason, at least compared to Hawkeye (Alan Alda). He brought maturity and reason to the Swamp, often contrasting directly with Hawkeye's more emotional, reactionary antics. The character was meant as a replacement for the departed Trapper John, but despite those limitations, Farrell quickly outpaced expectations, making the B.J. Hunnicutt character a vital part of M*A*S*H's success.
The road to Korea, though, was paved with lesser TV projects for Farrell. The 6-foot, 3-inch actor was already a veteran of television; beginning in 1968, Farrell starred as Scott Banning in NBC's hit soap opera Days of Our Lives. Farrell stayed with the part for two years, citing his tenure on the daytime drama as a tremendous learning experience.
As the sixties drew to an end, the producers at CBS sought to mark the times with dramatic changes to their schedule. Gone were the rural-themed shows that brought the network success in the previous decade. Shows like Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies were each deemed undesirable for the new era, and were canceled by the end of the 1970-71 season. Farrell was a beneficiary of the new decree, as he fit the bill of what CBS wanted on their network. He was subsequently cast on the shortlived prime-time series The Interns alongside Academy Award-winner Broderick Crawford. When the schedule was again reset at the beginning of the following season, Farrell found himself working next to Anthony Quinn on ABC's The Man and the City. He then entered into a contract with Universal Studios, leading to guest appearances on shows such as Banacek, Mannix, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Six Million Dollar Man, and The New Land.
Creatively, this period under the Universal Studios contract was unfulfilling for Farrell, who longed for a role he could feel proud of. Luckily, though, the string of guest appearances proved fruitful, as the actor was recognized for his efforts by the producers of hit army-medical comedy/drama M*A*S*H. The show was a rarity among that season's (or any) television lineup; the cast could see major shakeups without the show dipping in quality.
"The characters stay consistent because we have a nurturing atmosphere," Farrell told The Washington Post in '79. "It started when Gene Reynolds was producing the series. The cast came in, sat around the table, and read the script. When the reading was finished, Gene asked everyone to think about his part and to offer suggestions."
"This is unheard of in television," said Farrell. "On most shows they not only don't care what the actors think, they would prefer actors who don't think."
In M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell found not only a role he was proud to play but also a creative team that valued his input and creativity.