The development of M*A*S*H's Radar O'Reilly, as told by Gary Burghoff

Burghoff explains why there are two different versions of Radar.

Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution

Viewers who saw the M*A*S*H film before the series would recognize the character of Radar O'Reilly in more ways than one. Not only was Gary Burghoff the only cast member who was brought in to reprise his film role in the series, but the beginning of Radar's portrayal felt definitively similar to the character's portrayal in the film. But if you watched the film and then checked back in on Radar O'Reilly's last episode, you would find a very different character than what you had seen in the movies.

It turns out that was an intentional decision, with an explanation that comes straight from the man himself, Gary Burghoff. Ken Levine, who had previously written for M*A*S*H, was able to speak to Burghoff regarding Radar's character progression and was able to post his findings on his blog. A fan had previously written in to ask whether the decision to soften Radar's character was more of an acting decision for Burghoff, or rather a decision made by the creative team.

Burghoff's response was enlightening, as he revealed that initially, it was his decision to keep Radar consistent from the film to the series. He said, "In the original feature film M*A*S*H, I created Radar as a lone, darker, and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time until I realized that the TV M*A*S*H characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters."

Once Burghoff realized the shift that was taking place, he knew that it was time for Radar to adapt. Burghoff continued, "With Gelbart's help, I began to mold Radar into a more innocent, naïve character in contrast to the other characters, so that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just react from a position of total innocence."

Burghoff and Gelbart's changes not only became advantageous for the show but also gave the audience an opportunity to see themselves in Radar. Burghoff said that the changes, "made Radar super active, free and very interesting on a primary 'gut' level, which at times delivered the horror of war (as well as the dark humor we became known for) in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand."

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6 Comments

CoreyC 2 months ago
In the movie MASH Hawkeye went home while Trapper and Henry stayed. Frank Burns went nuts.
Adamtwelvia CoreyC 2 months ago
Well, they got the "Frank went nuts" part right.
WordsmithWorks 2 months ago
Every character was quite different at the end of their individual runs that at the beginning. It's called development. More about the character is revealed at it evolves.
sagafrat69 2 months ago
I preferred the Radar that mailed a jeep home "piece by piece" or smoked Blake's cigars and drank his liquor. The Radar that slept with a teddy bear got to be a little old. Wish they would've kept some of the original Radar with the character they created in later seasons. Would've made a much more interesting character overall.
MrsPhilHarris 2 months ago
I preferred the original incarnation. More savvy, clever.
WGH MrsPhilHarris 17 days ago
Mash became insufferable with Mike Farrell. Then have Margaret become a feminist... the whole thing was crap.
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