Thank Sally Kellerman for making Hot Lips such a huge part of M*A*S*H

The actor wept when Margaret was given only four lines in the M*A*S*H movie. Her waterworks ensured Margaret became so much more than originally written.

Next to Alan Alda, Loretta Swit won the most awards for acting on the TV show M*A*S*H.

Most fans would tell you that her character Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan had one of the show's best character arcs.

Where Alda's Hawkeye remained snarky and self-assured throughout the show’s run, Margaret grew beyond her character's snappish nature (like in "Love Story" where she threatens to ruin Radar's one shot of love) into a true friend to everyone in camp (like in "As Time Goes By," where she's the one collecting items from everyone for the time capsule).

For Swit, she knew this evolution would come, given how one-dimensional the character Hot Lips is in the movie M*A*S*H, on which the TV show is based (well, they were both based on the 1968 Richard Hooker novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors).

What you may not realize is that originally the character of Hot Lips had even less dimension than seen in the movie. Margaret wasn't meant to be a big part of the M*A*S*H movie at all.

Margaret movie actor Sally Kellerman said when she auditioned, it wasn't for the role of Hot Lips, but rather for a bigger character in the movie: Lieutenant Dish.

When Kellerman was instead offered the part of Hot Lips, she burst into tears upon looking over the script. She only saw four lines for Hot Lips in the entire movie.

After she dried her tears, she decided she wasn't sad — she was mad. She called her agent up and told them to tell movie director Robert Altman to "go jump in a lake."

Despite that less-than-professional response, Altman got back, assuring the actor that together, they would expand the character of Hot Lips by adding improvised scenes.

This caught Kellerman's attention. She then saw doing M*A*S*H as an opportunity to really show off her chops as an actor, one on the level of Jack Nicholson in her craft. She agreed to do the movie, seeing it as an opportunity to expand the character and expand her career.

"M*A*S*H was a whole catharsis," Kellerman told Newsweek in 1971. "It freed me of a lot of complexes. All I had played was these suffering women."

Like Swit who followed her, Kellerman was recognized for her role as Margaret. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress award for her role in M*A*S*H, nearly snagging an Oscar.

In the end, Swit spent the most time with the character, though, taking "Hot Lips" well past the caricature Kellerman provided in the movie and into the complex kind of character the TV show proved to handle so deftly.

But we have to thank Kellerman for doing that initial work, making sure Margaret would become such a huge part of M*A*S*H's enduring legacy as a top-tier mix of drama and comedy.

Kellerman wrote in her memoir Read My Lips that her time in the movie M*A*S*H was "the greatest experience of my entire career."

But like Swit, she also got sick of forever being seen as "Hot Lips."

"I'd be lying if I said it doesn’t push a button or two every time someone calls me Hot Lips," she wrote. "I've been working for more than fifty years and made at least fifty movies, but for better or worse, I'm most notably remembered as Hot Lips Houlihan."

She got well past the days of angrily responding that people should go jump in lakes, though. She even softened to the point of smiling a little at these slightly irritating fan interactions.

"Recently, as I walked through New York City, a truck driver leaned out the window and yelled, 'Hey, Hot Lips!'" Kellerman said. "That put a big, crooked smile on my face."

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Coldnorth 2 months ago
I can’t imagine not wanting to or not talking about your character on a tv show that made you not only rich but they tend to forget the viewers and fans made her a star. It’s not only her. Others have done the same. I just don’t understand. And as far as unflattering nicknames go to a class reunion and you are still referred to by that name
Beachel 2 months ago
Couldn't stand Margaret. When she wasn't screaming at people, she was making their lives a living hell in other ways.
TheSentinel Beachel 2 months ago
That was early in the series, though she did soften up later on after she split from Major Burns.
Jasonmagee143 2 months ago
I WAS VERY SADDENED THAT THE ACTOR "KELLY" THE NURSE HAD PASSED AWAY EARLIER THIS YEAR, AT THE BEGINNING OF 2021, I BELIEVE? I COULD BE WRONG, BUT, AT LEAST I NOTICED THAT LITTLE TID BIT. GOD REST HER SOUL!
Jasonmagee143 2 months ago
"ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC WRITERS AND DIRECTORS OF OUR TIME, "MASH" RERUNS ARE THE MOST FUN TO WATCH OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND AGAIN AND, IT IS ALWAYS FUNNY, BUT, IT ALWAYS HAS A MORALISTIC EDGE ON EACH EPISODE! I'M SURE THAT SOME DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER WILL WANT TO DO A REMAKE (AGAIN).
Jasonmagee143 2 months ago
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Andybandit 2 months ago
Interesting story. I never saw the movie. Frank is my least favorite character on Mash. He is very racist.
LoveMETV22 2 months ago
I can't imagine M*A*S*H without Loretta Switt. The cast is mainly male aside from Major Houlihan.
Lt. Kellye, Nurse Ginger and the other women rounded out the cast but they had nowhere the visibility that Margaret had.
LoveMETV22 2 months ago
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ncadams27 2 months ago
I liked it better in the early episodes when everybody was funnier. Look how much Klinger expanded his role - he wasn’t even in the movie. In the end, instead of an anti-war comedy in the Vietnam era, M*A*S*H became an avenue for the writers and actors to air their liberal views showing how progressive they are compared to the conservative views of the 1950’s.
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