M*A*S*H (television)/Characters

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Attention. Attention. The following personnel are assigned to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital:

Regulars

Capt. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce

Played by Alan Alda. Chief surgeon of the 4077th MASH, he was one of the few people assigned to the unit for the entire run of the show; he lived in what was officially the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, but almost always called 'The Swamp'. Hails from the (fictional) Crabapple Cove, Maine (eventually), where his widowed father still lives.

Capt. John Francis Xavier "Trapper John" McIntyre

Played by Wayne Rogers. A surgeon from Boston, and the first of Hawkeye's sidekicks in the Swamp. Originally supposed to be equal to Hawkeye, he ended up as more of a sidekick, much to the dismay of the actor. This, combined with issues on his contract, resulted in him being Put on a Bus (back stateside) after the third season. He was not made an unperson, though--jealousy of him worked into two BJ stories. The name is from an incident in his past, when a woman he was having sex with claimed she was 'trapped'.

Lt. Col. Henry Braymore Blake

Played by McLean Stevenson. The Mildly Military commander of the 4077th for the first three seasons. Almost always seen with a fishing hat (with lures that made any salute attempt risk a Purple Heart), he was from Bloomington, Illinois. He tried his best to keep the camp running, although between Burns, Houlihan, Hawkeye, and Radar ... well, OK, Radar's goal was to keep the camp running, too.

Maj. Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (at one point also Penobscott)

Played by Loretta Swit. A no-nonsense, by-the-book soldier, and head nurse. Another of the few people who saw the whole show through at the 4077th. The first seasons had her in an illicit relationship with Frank Burns; after meeting Donald Penobscott, she breaks off with him. Later she breaks off with Donald, too, and spends the rest of the show single.

  • Battleaxe Nurse: Averted considering that even in her most hard-assed period to coworkers in the early years; she is unquestionably professional and caring to the patients.
  • Brainless Beauty: Subverted hard. though in earlier seasons she tended to get rather silly alone with Frank, she was always responsible, took her job very seriously, and presented as intelligent and competent, even when she was treated on the show as a bit of a babe. Both the audience and her former antagonists grew to respect her over the course of the show.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Was definitely in touch with her more...liberated side.
    • All Women Are Prudes: However, she was always very prudish and conservative in public. Nobody was fooled.
  • Character Development: Moved from being a one-joke, unlikable character to a nuanced, much more sympathetic one.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Hot Lips", born of a moment of impassioned dialogue between her and Frank Burns that was overheard by Trapper and Hawkeye.
  • Hospital Hottie:
  • Military Brat
  • Pet the Dog: Had several of these as she started becoming nicer, especially in instances where she learned to be kinder to her nurses. As early as the second season, we saw her maternal instincts coaxed out by the Korean orphan Kim and her budding friendships with Hawkeye and Klinger in "Aid Station."
  • Starts as The Neidermeyer, to a lesser degree than Frank, but eases into ...
  • "Well Done, Daughter" Girl: Shares a moment like this with her father at the end of the episode "Father's Day."
  • Sugar and Ice Personality - Specifically noted by Hawkeye in one episode, where he describes Margaret to his father like this: "The major is a paradox. A woman of considerable passion, she is also a stickler for military correctness. I wouldn't mind making a grab for her myself, but I don't know how to do that and salute her at the same time."
  • Sweater Girl: Especially in the early seasons.
  • What Could Have Been: Loretta Swit actually wanted to leave the series in the show's penultimate season to play Christine Cagney on Cagney and Lacey, but the producers wouldn't let her out of her contract.

Maj. (offscreen, Lt. Col.) Franklin "Frank" Marion "Ferret Face" Burns

Played by Larry Linville. A real Jerkass. The closest anyone came to enjoying his company in the series was Maj. Houlihan, with whom he had an illicit relationship--he has a wife and family back in his home of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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Frank: Oh, Margaret, you're my snug harbor. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you to sail into.

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  • Triage Tyrant: Sent in American soldiers ahead of Korean ones even though the Koreans are in much more critical state.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Cheats on his wife with Margaret Houlihan but never planned to get a divorce for her.
    • He also cheats on her with his secretary back home, which Margaret is horrified to discover.

Cpl. Walter Eugene "Radar" O’Reilly

Played by Gary Burghoff. The company clerk and the epitome of Hypercompetent Sidekick; Steve Jackson has actually used him and his ability to know things 'before the Colonel' as full-blown Psychic Powers in two of the company's roleplaying games. In fact, his nickname derives from announcing incoming helicopters before anyone else can (although he shows pretty clear evidence of full-blown telepathy in at least one early episode). Early on, he's shown as pretty savvy and worldly; later, the Ottumwa, Iowa native develops more into the Woobie we all know. Note that I didn't say he stopped being savvy and worldly...

  • Berserk Button: Don't let him see you mistreat an animal.
  • Big Eater: He is seen quite a few times carrying or devouring a huge tray full of food.
  • Dawson Casting: After seven years, Gary Burghoff was noticeably older than his character was supposed to be, to the point where the writers fought in vain with him to keep his hat on so viewers wouldn't see his receding hairline.
  • Country Mouse
  • De-Power: In the movie and the early episodes of the series, Radar is genuinely psychic; his ability to detect incoming choppers is as much precognitive as sharp hearing, and at one point he responds to a mild insult that Hawkeye narrated wrote into a letter as Radar walked by. However, as the series went on, his paranormal abilities dwindled away, until only his "radar" remained, and that, it was hinted at by the episode where Hawkeye was temporarily blinded, became nothing more than sharp senses.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Not nearly as often as the doctors, but even more so on the "deadpan" end of the scale. And he was more likely to get away with it because it wasn't expected of him.
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Frank: Here's tomorrow's routine. See that it's posted.
Radar: (reading the routine) They're not gonna like this.
Frank: I didn't come here to be liked.
Radar: You certainly came to the right place.

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  • Dreadful Musician: His bugling leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Drink Order: Radar is partial to grape Nehi.
  • Friend to All Living Things: His menagerie of pets. He even objected to killing a rabbit of his as part of a pregnancy test.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: Rarely swore; his epithets of choice were mostly limited to "Heck!" and "Aw, jeez!"
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Generally the main interaction between the unit and I Corps. One episode is built entirely around Hawkeye and Trapper John trying to get an incubator, going all the way up to (and disrupting the press conference of) a brigadier general. In the denouement, Radar reveals he just traded for one.
  • Malaproper: Occasionally, also Buffy-Speak.
  • Meaningful Name
  • Misplaced Wildlife: He has a skunk. In Korea. Skunks are mostly New World creatures; the few that aren't (stink badgers) are from Indonesia and the Philippines.
  • Precision F-Strike: From the last person you'd expect. But in the episode where Potter's horse takes sick while he's away, the doctors have trouble taking the animal's ailment seriously until Radar lets looks with the dreaded H-bomb (followed by "H-E-double-toothpicks!")
  • Pregnancy Faint: On a bus with a wounded Korean woman who goes into labor, Radar practically has a Heroic BSOD.
  • Put on a Bus
  • Spider Sense: Always knows when the choppers are in-coming before any announcement over the PA is made.
    • He also tends to pick up the phone just before it rings, and in the early seasons had a habit of anticipating Col. Blake's orders before they were even given.
  • Took a Level In Dumbass: Well, perhaps "dumbass" is overstating it, but Radar grew increasingly more childlike and naive as the show went along.

Cpl. (later Sgt.) Maxwell Q. Klinger

Played by Jamie Farr. A corpsman forever trying to get out of the Army on a psychiatric discharge, most notably by dressing in women's clothing; he cited a family history of this. Of his family, most are not English-speaking, and most are in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. And yes, both the Toledo Mudhens and Tony Packo's are real. (The Mudhens at one point slaughtered the Detroit Tigers in a pre-season game. It was a rebuilding year.)

  • Actor-Shared Background: Jamie Farr was himself from Toledo.
  • Always Someone Better: After Radar went home, Klinger took over his job. Things didn't go so smoothly at first, with Klinger taking a lot of flack for not being able to perform to Radar's high standards. However, Potter later admits that it was wrong to expect Klinger to simply be Radar and not give him a chance to grow into the job.
    • Klinger eventually became a clerk on par, if not even better than Radar. He eventually earns a promotion to sergeant.
  • Becoming the Mask: worries about his orientation, given that at one point he's looking at sexy catalog shots... and contemplating how the outfits would look on him. Out of character, fears of this being implied by Farr's dressing in drag on TV every week and the fact that his children were becoming old enough to watch their father on TV in same led to Farr lobbying to get the cross-dressing diminished and nearly eliminated as the series wore on.
  • Breakout Character: Klinger had been intended as a one-time throwaway gag character (meant to reference Lenny Bruce and his attempts to get out of World War Two dressed as a WAC). Kinger proved so popular with the audience and the cast that they just kept writing him into episodes
  • Character Development: From Flat Character, add Hidden Depths. In fact, used to name the antitrope to Flanderization.
  • Disguised in Drag
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Several times.
    • After he learns his wife has left him for someone else and wants a divorce, he goes looking for sympathy, but everyone think's it's another con to get a Section 8. Ripping off part of his dress demonstrates he's not joking around this time.
    • Had this reaction after getting hassled over not living up to Radar's high standards immediately.
    • One episode shows him trying to decorate his living area with personal mementos, but Potter chastises him for it. His quarters are the headquarters for the camp, so Potter demands a more professional look and no mementos at all. Klinger responds that everyone else gets to decorate their living areas with reminders of home and expressions of their identity, so he deserves the same freedom.
    • Klinger once became seriously ill, but everybody believed that Klinger was faking illness to get out of work. When a Jewish soldier develops symptoms identical to Klinger's, that soldier is believed without question, something that Klinger calls the medical staff on. Its eventually discovered that Klinger had developed hemolysis from taking the antimalarial Primaquine, and his life was in serious danger.
      • In real-life, Primaquine was discovered to lead to hemolytic anemia in patients with G6PD-deficiency--for which people of African, Jewish, and Mediterranean decent are a high-risk group. At the time, only Africans were believed to be at risk for this reaction.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In his second appearance, Klinger was portrayed as having a Hair-Trigger Temper, to the point where he plans to threaten Frank with a live grenade as revenge for Frank chiding him in post-op. The incident was never mentioned again and Klinger was generally portrayed as good-natured and easygoing from that point on.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Almost always, with his efforts to get out of Korea. Only two have a chance to work, and he nixes them. In one, he fakes a form to go home, to desert; after What Have I Done, he rushes to get the form rescinded--just as the brass are ready to approve it. In the other, the war ended. He stayed for his new wife.
  • Hidden Depths: Klinger has no real love for the army, but he always does what is expected him at the camp. He desperately wants out of Korea, but he's not going to endanger a patient because of it.
  • Large Ham: How some of his get-out-of-the-Army schemes work.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: His entire M.O., as he seeks a Section 8 to get out of the army. In one case, he really milks this trope by pretending his surroundings are Toledo, that he's a mere salesman and that he has no memory of the unit. It almost works, but Potter tricks him in the end.
    • Also doubles as Getting Crap Past the Radar (pardon the expression), as Section 8 discharges were, for the most part, given to soldiers for actual or suspected homosexuality.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Well, as wholesome as an average US Army corporal can be. Eventually ends.

Lt. (later Capt.) Francis John Patrick Mulcahy

Portrayed by William Christopher--at least, for the most part. Didn't get billed in the opening credits until much later in the series run. A Catholic priest, Mulcahy is the 4077th's quietly devout company chaplin. And one of the few characters who managed to get a promotion.

  • Badass Preacher: Whether it is performing an tracheotomy under enemy fire or disarming a desperate AWOL soldier covering him at point blank range, Father Mulcahy knows no fear when called upon.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The man is an amazing boxer. It starts as an Informed Attribute but it turns out he's just reluctant to hurt people, cause he's a, y'know, priest.
  • Good Shepherd: Mulcahy is very obviously NOT a parody priest, instead being very devoted to his charges and the care of their souls. He extends this even to the Koreans in the vicinity, raising money to help orphanages in the area and ministering to Korean civilians as much as Army personnel.
    • He's also not a theological legalist and is fascinated not to mention supportive of the locals' customs and beliefs. It seems to him what you have faith in isn't nearly as important that you have faith.
  • Hot for Preacher: Is subject to this in one episode. Very much to his dismay.
  • Irish Priest: Well, seems to have a slight lilt in his voice sometimes. And is fond of roller derby.
  • The McCoy
  • The Other Darrin: Another actor portrayed him in the pilot episode, and the character was openly called "Dago Red" -- a nickname from the original book and film -- in that episode. When the blond Christopher was cast, the "Red" part of the name no longer applied, and the "Dago" was quietly dropped to avoid the wrath of Italian-American groups.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After belting a patient. Then again, said patient did justify the use of force, although medics usually don't go for a punch in the jaw.
  • Soldier At The Rear: As an Army Chaplain, he is not allowed to fight and most people understand that.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted thanks to him. Both he and Sidney Freedman (an actual therapist) admit that he's more the camp's sounding board and confidant than he is their actual spiritual leader. He's even able to notice when Sidney himself needs some counseling.

Capt. B. J. Hunnicutt

Played by Mike Farrell. A competent surgeon from San Francisco, California. He's introduced as a clean-shaven nice-guy replacement surgeon at the start of the fourth season (replacing Trapper John). As the series goes on, he starts slipping in his sanity (although not quite as far as some); granted, in the first episode, he has to deal with a farmer using his daughters as minesweepers and roadside surgery. Later he would grow a Seventies Porn Moustache, and start letting out another facet foreshadowed in a Mockumentary episode: a growing anger.

  • Beware the Nice Ones: Generally, he was the resident Nice Guy family man on the show but when he lost his temper and let his frustration out he could get violent.
  • Break the Cutie: Gradually over the show's run. Doesn't quite complete, but he's waved goodbye to Hawkeye with his knuckles at least once.
  • Happily Married
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: with Hawkeye
  • The Lancer:
  • Morality Chain: Tries to be this for Hawkeye in general, although he sometimes needs a little help too.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: As a result of a Sadistic Choice in a late episode.
  • Nice Shoes: Later in the series he started wearing a pair of Converse All-Star sneakers.
  • The Prankster: Several episodes revolved around B.J.'s mastery of the prank gambit. It's established early on that this is one of his ways of coping with the stress of war.
  • Pungeon Master
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Hawkeye spends an entire episode trying to find out what "B.J." stands for. Turns out it that's his actual name, given by his parents: Bea and Jay.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Cheats on his wife with a nurse jilted by her husband. Unlike Trapper and Blake, he feels genuinely awful about it. Is tempted in a later season by a reporter, but resists temptation.

Col. Sherman Tecumseh Potter

Played by Harry Morgan. His eventual hometown is Hannibal, Missouri, where his wife still lives and yet again waits for her husband to come back from war. 1/4 Cherokee as well ... and onetime member of The Cavalry. He even gets a horse, Sophie, during the series.

  • Berserk Button: Cruelty to horses, or even borrowing Sophie without asking. Used by BJ and Winchester to get rid of an unwanted companion.
  • Colonel Badass: Potter served in the cavalry World War I and World War II, after which he earned a medical degree and served as a surgeon in Korea. He is immensely proud of his Good Conduct Medal with gold clasp, which only an enlisted soldier is eligible for; identifying him as an Army mustang -- an enlisted man who became an officer.
  • A Father to His Men
  • Happily Married
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Harry Morgan earlier played a general who showed up to inspect and review the 4077th.
    • He was also a mainstay in westerns, and Sgt. Bill Gannon on Dragnet. (One wonders if Harry Morgan was ever a young man.)
  • Military Moonshiner: When stationed in Guam during World War II he had a still until one night it blew up. He got a purple heart for the injuries he got from the explosion.
  • Old Soldier: As noted above, he's a career soldier who served in both World Wars.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Career Army like Houlihan, but is capable of relaxing certain regulations when needed. Including, with morale plummeting and a pair of corpsmen tasked to Kill It with Fire on some infected uniforms going overboard, giving in and instructing the camp to build 'one regulation bon-type fire'.
  • Team Dad
  • You Know I'm One Quarter Cherokee, Right?: In response to Burns complaining about operating on a North Korean, phrasing it as Hawkeye getting cowboys and Burns Indians.

Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester III

Played by David Ogden Stiers. A (very) proud thoracic surgeon and pediatrician from Boston, Massachusetts, he was initially stationed in Tokyo. Once Frank was Put on a Bus, the 4077th put in a call for a fourth surgeon. The call was taken by a colonel he was thoroughly trouncing in cribbage. One ill-timed boast later, and welcome to Ouijeongbu.

  • Deadpan Snarker: Frequently.
  • Dr. Jerk: Jerk with a Heart of Gold type.
  • Drink Order: Usually favors cognac.
  • Hahvahd Yahd in My Cah
  • In Vino Veritas:
  • Insufferable Genius
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: One Christmas Episode is the shining example -- throughout the episode, everyone thinks of Winchester as a creep because when the 4077th hosted a group of Korean orphans with a potluck dinner, Winchester's contribution was a meager tin of smoked oysters. However, Winchester had anonymously donated a large amount of chocolate to the same orphanage a day previously. Winchester argues vehemently with the orphanage owner when he finds out that the chocolate was not given to the children but instead sold to the black market. He calms down when the owner explains why he did it -- the chocolate would have made the children momentarily happy, but the sale generated enough money to buy enough staple foods for the orphanage for a month.
  • Not So Above It All: Just as capable of pranking as Hawkeye and B.J.. In his first appearance, he even turns the tables on them with a snake in the bed prank. He even would collude with pretty much the entire camp to help teach Hawkeye a lesson in one episode.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Sometimes the gentleman would cause the jerkass behaviour; sometimes it would be used to crack the jerkass shell.
  • Pet the Dog: Frequently. Almost every few episodes.
  • Smug Snake: Occasionally, whenever the writers wanted to emphasize his jerkass tendencies.

Recurring characters

Spearchucker Jones

Originally introduced in The Movie as a ringer for an interunit football game. Put on a Bus when the writers were (incorrectly) informed that there weren't any black surgeons in the theatre.

Pvt. Igor Straminsky

Staff Sgt. Zelmo Zale

  • Arch Enemy: He and Klinger had a long-running feud.

Staff Sgt. Luther Rizzo

  • Sleepyhead: Uses his assignment in the motor pool as an excuse to spend the day sleeping underneath Jeeps that he was ostensibly repairing.
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Rizzo: Could you hold it down? There are people trying to work--Oh my gosh, it's night. Could you hold it down? There are people trying to sleep.

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Nurse Kealani Kellye

  • Breakout Character: As with Klinger above, Kellye was meant to be an occasional background character whom the writers began to enjoy writing parts for, culminating in a well-regarded A Day in the Limelight episode.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: This was the point of her A Day in the Limelight episode, showing Hawkeye being a Jerkass to her (through seeing right through her and ignoring her) just because she doesn't measure up to Hawkeye's standards of beauty.
  • The Danza: Kellye's actress' name is Kellye Nakahara, and a few times, the script writers accidentally had her referred to as "Lt. Nakahara" in dialogue.

Lieutenant Colonel/Colonel Flagg

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Hawkeye: The "wind" just broke his leg!

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  • Spy Speak
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Hard to tell if it's an actual fetish, but Flagg seems extremely willing to do physical violence to himself at the slightest prompting. Over the course of the show, he purposely crashed a helicopter, broke his own arm, and bashed his head into a wooden cabinet--all in the line of duty, of course. He also mentioned that he trained himself not to laugh by poking himself with a cattleprod while watching Three Stooges shorts.
  • You Look Familiar: Edward Winter had previously played a different character, one Capt. Halloran from CID, in the show's second season. However, since that character was also involved in intelligence work and acted in a similar (albeit milder) manner to Flagg, it's Fanon for some that Halloran was actually one of Flagg's aliases. (Possibly lampshaded and made canon by the show when, upon meeting Sidney Freedman in a later episode, Flagg says that the two had once played poker together - which Freedman and Halloran had done in Winter's first appearance.)

Dr. Sidney Freedman

  • Ambiguously Jewish
  • The Shrink
  • Sudden Name Change: Freedman's first name is given as "Milton" in his initial appearance. (Perhaps the change was made so viewers wouldn't confuse him with economist Milton Friedman?)
  • There Are No Therapists: Thanks to him, averted. Though he mentions at least once that he could use a therapist sometimes.
  • What Could Have Been: When Gary Burghoff left the series, the producers actually wanted to promote Sidney Freedman to series regular, with the explanation that he had taken Radar's place as company clerk. However, actor Allan Arbus didn't want to commit to be anything other than a guest star, so Sidney remained an occasionally recurring character.

Lt. Col. Donald Penobscot

Captain Sam Pak

The camp P.A. announcer