This M*A*S*H episode was written just for Mary Wickes

M*A*S*H's most decorated nurse was directly inspired by the veteran character actor.

The third season M*A*S*H episode called "House Arrest" invited the most decorated nurse in the Korean War to the Swamp, where she promptly attempted to seduce Frank Burns.

For the role of Colonel Reese, there could have been no character actor to cast other than Mary Wickes.

M*A*S*H producer Gene Reynolds said in the biography Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before that the episode was written just for Wickes.

It’s most likely the only nurse role specifically written for Wickes in a career full of playing nurses, but even if it’s not, it’s certainly the best one. Reynolds said that Colonel Reese combined two of the comedian’s best-known characters: "the nurse and the man-hungry, unattached woman."

M*A*S*H writing duo Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum wrote the episode, and it was their idea to cast her.

They’d worked previously with Wickes on a TV episode of The Gertrude Berg Show that gave Wickes her only Emmy nomination, and they’d never forgotten how funny she was.

"They said, ‘We’ve got a part and we have to use Mary Wickes,’" Reynolds said. "They wrote the part for her."

When Wickes read the script, she doubled over laughing, describing the character of Colonel Reese as "hysterical – she really was a funny, funny character."

By the time Wickes appeared on M*A*S*H, she had acted in more than 300 stage productions and appeared in more than 30 movies.

Her onscreen career started in 1934, after Wickes discovered acting in community theater and ditched her pre-law degree to pursue a career as an actor.

"I never thought I’d be an actress," Wickes told the Press and Sun-Bulletin in 1975.

But she had been going to see plays since she was a kid and remembered being 7 years old when her love of theater first struck.

"I remember crying when a play was funny because I was so happy," Wickes said.

In her long career, Wickes became a dependable comedic character actor who refused to do roles with spoken lines that skewed too crass. She would not be the one to deliver dirty jokes.

"I can get as much with a look as with an innuendo," Wickes told The Daily Leader in 1976. "I’m good enough now. I never say to someone, change that. I just say, get someone else. Mary Wickes can’t tell dirty jokes. I enjoy some that are funny, but I can’t tell them. It’s not me. But I don’t expect people to rewrite for me. Not at all. Just get someone who will do what they want done, but don’t ask me."

On TV, one of her earliest roles was playing Dennis the Menace’s singing neighbor, and Wickes also created the Mary Poppins role in 1949.

She continued cracking up audiences for decades, with one of her most entertaining final roles as a nun in the 1992 movie Sister Act.

Sixty years into her career, she had just finished the Sister Act sequel when she fell and broke her hip, then died of complications during surgery in 1995.

It was a tragic loss for fans, as well as the acting community that had valued her as one of the best among character actors.

Through her career, Wickes said, "I’ve always been lucky and worked with good people."

She prioritized getting memorable parts over becoming a star, and she never regretted it.

"I’d rather be the best supporting actress in this business than the lead, a great star," Wickes said. "I like doing character comedy. There are really many more jobs available."

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RichLorn 14 days ago
What a wonderful long-time character actress, and what a senseless way to die.
JHP 14 days ago
love the ep

"I hear your marriage isn't all beer and skittles"
scootzootz 14 days ago
Mary Wickes is also wonderful as Stella (the housekeeper/narrator/comic relief) in the Doris Day movies "On Moonlight Bay" and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon".
Lillyrose 15 days ago
Mary Wickes was also in the movie "White Christmas," and the I Love Lucy episode "The Ballet."
b 16 days ago
She was in the movie, "Trouble With Angels," & the sequel as a nun who drove the school bus on field trips & was hilarious. So in Sister Act 1 or 2 they made her do it again to bring back memories for us old folks.
Michael b 16 days ago
Was it deliberate to use her in Sister Act? I saw a recent article where Whoopi said there'd be a third.

I never saw Trouble with Angels or the sequel till last year, I enjoyed them both. Kind of a twist ending to the first.
JohnHelms 16 days ago
So glad not to see Sventoonie...dislike this quiet a bit.
Cowgirl 17 days ago
I always wondered why her character tried to seduce Frank. Maybe she felt she was too old for Hawkeye or Trapper. Or maybe it was because she was a colonel & Frank was a major. Something to think about. That is one of my favorite MASH episodes.
JosephScarbrough 17 days ago
I was at a buffet a couple of weeks ago, and the lady working the register looked a lot like a younger Mary Wickes . . . sounded nothing like her though, but I was so biting my tongue from refraining from doing my Mary Wickes impression.

"House Arrest" is one of the most hilarious episodes of M*A*S*H, but unfortunately, the rape jokes have tainted it for modern viewers. Don't get me wrong, rape isn't funny or anything to joke about, and even Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds regretted the rape jokes in hindsight, but I feel like that one small part shouldn't ruin the enjoyment of the rest of the episode, because it's such a gem of an episode from the Trapper, Henry, Frank seasons.

I just have my suspicious of Colonel Reese though - never quite understood why she came onto Frank so much during the episode, and then when she finally forces herself on him and gets caught, she starts crying rape and accusing him of acosting her . . . did she do that to save her face since she was supposedly the most decorated nurse in the Army, or did she have some serious personality disorders or something?
I think it was because she was the most decorated nurse in the Army and was trying to cover her a**.
The only inconsistency there with " Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds regretted" is that the particular angle was used in other episodes ( non- specific), with various characters. Where that type of behavior is used as a means to gain some type of reward. So were Gelbart & Reynolds truly sincere?
"Personality Disorders or something..." do you hyper-analyze EVERY show you watch, or just M*A*S*H*? The writers didn't have time to write elaborate back-stories for the Guest Stars - ESPECIALLY when said backstory would NEVER BE PART OF THE EPISODE. Maybe lighten up and try taking it at face-value.
AgingDisgracefully 17 days ago
I clearly remember her not putting lead in my Eberhard-Faber.
Good actress though.
Jon 17 days ago
I didn't like "House Arrest" because of how unfairly I thought Frank was set up, but I liked Mary Wickes. I first remember her from her part as the housekeeper, Zelda, in SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS. The last role where I remember seeing her was as Aunt March in the 1994 version of "Little Women".
LoveMETV22 17 days ago
I read that Mary Wickes was the understudy for Margaret Hamilton in the Wizard of Oz. It's listed in her bio
on IMDB in Trivia. Unfortunately not many mentions or pictorials of it.
Zip 17 days ago
She was a funny lady. I love that episode of MASH. It was when the show was sillier and less preachy.
I also have to pay respect to her for sticking with her principles and not doing dirty jokes.
Andybandit 17 days ago
She was a good actress. She in a lot of different shows and movies.
DethBiz 17 days ago
Always loved her in the Abbott & Costello movie Who Done It?
Rob 17 days ago
I loved her in M*A*S*H! Great episode and great character.
MrsPhilHarris 18 days ago
She is in another movie I watch every year at Christmastime, The Man Who Came To Dinner where she plays a nurse. Another good one is Now Voyager where she plays a nurse. 🤪
Jeffrey 18 days ago
Well, That's too bad that she died during surgery, after sixty years in the business, but how old was she when she died? I'd guess in her late 80's or early 90's.
LoveMETV22 Jeffrey 18 days ago
Mary Wickes:
Born: June 13, 1910, St. Louis, MO
Died: October 22, 1995, Los Angeles, CA
daDoctah LoveMETV22 18 days ago
Her last film role was the voice of the gargoyle "Laverne" in Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Jane Withers was brought in to fill in some dialogue after Wickes passed away.
Oh cool, she and I have the same birthday! As do Paul Lynde, Tim Allen, and Bob from SESAME STREET. And, according to the M*A*S*H episode "The Most Unforgettable Characters," Major Frank Burns.
Michael 18 days ago
She was of course in White Christmas. And played the housekeeper in Father Dowling Mysteries.
JustGeri Michael 17 days ago
White Christmas …she’s fabulous as the any self respecting housekeeper would be!
Michael JustGeri 16 days ago
In some ways, she got stereotyped, but she was so good at it. She too doesn't look older in Father Dowling than in White Christmas.
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