M*A*S*H is one of those shows that I never seem to grow tired of watching. It was one of the most popular shows in TV history and is considered one of the best programs to ever air. The farewell episode aired on February 28, 1983, and it has the distinction of being the most watched series finale in television history.
In its 11-season run, it maintained a pretty tight cast of characters with a few switches. But many soon-to-be big stars passed through their busy camp. Many of them so young and fresh-faced that when you spot them, it’s a definite “wow” factor.
One such actor was Ron Howard. By the time the episode called “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet” aired in 1973, Ron Howard had already been a household name playing little Opie Taylor on The Andi Griffith Show. On M*A*S*H, he played a 15-year-old who lied his way into the army to impress a girl. This aired about a year before the first episode of Happy Days aired. Howard, of course, played Richie Cunningham on that hit show, and it catapulted him to adult fame.
Joan Van Ark played Lt. Erika Johnson in season 2 of M*A*S*H. Van Ark went on to big times playing Valene Ewing on Falcon Crest (a spin-off of the mega-hit Dallas) at the height of the nighttime soap era of the 1980s.
Ned Beatty had a part as Col. Hollister. Beatty has a long history of TV and film roles, including Deliverance, The Big Easy, Network, and as Otis, Lex Luthor’s bumbling sidekick in the 1977 film Superman with Christopher Reeve.
Blythe Danner was in one episode as an old love of Hawkeye’s. You might know her also as Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother (and also the spokesperson in a current commercial for a postmenopausal osteoporosis drug). (Doesn’t Gwyneth look just like her?)
Ed Begley, Jr. is one of those actors who made his way around just about every single TV show ever made from the 1970s on. Before he landed his breakthrough role as Dr. Victor Ehrlich on St. Elsewhere, he was on Maude, Happy Days, Columbo, Wonder Woman, Battlestar Galactica, and many more. And since then, he has been on an endless stream of shows, into infinity. On M*A*S*H, he played a soldier who was better with a whisk than a gun.
Andrew Dice Clay—yes, that Andrew Dice Clay—was in one episode in which he played a drunken soldier. He pretty much was the same kind of character he portrays everywhere else.
Teri Garr had a part as Lieutenant Suzanne Marquette, who was being wined and dined by Hawkeye Pierce. Teri, of course, went on to many roles in film—such as Young Frankenstein, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and TV shows—such as Batman, Star Trek, The Odd Couple, and many more.
Speaking of being wined and dined by Hawkeye, you know who else was? Shelley Long. That would be Diane Chambers from Cheers. And speaking of Cheers, George Wendt had an early-career role on M*A*S*H as well. Wendt was Norm Peterson on Cheers. (“Norm!”)
Laurence Fishburne. Yup, Laurence Fishburne of The Matrix fame. So, so young.
Mariette Hartley, who was in pretty much everything, from M*A*S*H to Columbo to Little House on the Prairie to The Incredible Hulk.
Mary Kay Place, who did lots and lots of TV and films. She got her big break playing Loretta on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Most notable in my mind are her roles in Private Benjamin and The Big Chill.
Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, otherwise known as “Arnold”, owner of Arnold’s diner in Happy Days, and Keisuke Miyagi, Ralph Macchio’s karate teacher in The Karate Kid.
Leslie Nielsen had many TV roles throughout his career. In addition to M*A*S*H, he was on The Golden Girls, Who’s the Boss, Columbo, Kojak, and many others. Film parody fans will know him as Dr. Rumack in the film Airplane!, which was his first comedic role.
John Ritter, who will always be in America’s heart as Jack Tripper on Three’s Company. Did you know that his father was Tex Ritter, a popular country-western singer and actor?
Joe Pantoliano had his big break with The Idolmaker and Eddie and the Cruisers in the 1980s, but one of his earliest roles was on M*A*S*H playing a soldier who steals a dead comrade’s identity so that he would be shipped home. He would go on to many more TV roles (including the more current Sense8), but after his recurring role on The Sopranos, he joined the “Italian mob elite,” and thereafter became known as Joey “Pants” Pantoliano.
Alex Karras is an ex-football player and since he’s built like one, he often got roles as the a doofy gorilla-type stomping around, which is exactly the kind of role he had on M*A*S*H, a soldier who’s so grateful to Hawkeye for taking care of him that he vows to protect him from anyone and anything. This may sound familiar to you if you’re a Mel Brooks fan, because he played the big, dumb Mongo in Blazing Saddles. Mongo is so grateful to Sheriff Bart for treating him so well while locked up that he vows to protect him from anyone and anything.
Susan Saint James began her career as a teenager, most notable in Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows in the 1960s. M*A*S*H was midway in her career path, but she would best be known as the wife part of McMillan and Wife and the Kate part of Kate and Allie.
Patrick Swayze. Yep, that Patrick Swayze, who mambo’d his way into our hearts in Dirty Dancing and made ceramics a worthwhile hobby to pursue in Ghost. The irony of this M*A*S*H episode is that he is diagnosed with leukemia. Swayze died of pancreatic cancer, and it’s an eerie episode to watch.
Jeffrey Tambor is another actor who has an extremely long list of credits. Many people may recognize him from Arrested Development and Transparent.
Mary Wickes had a guest appearance on M*A*S*H after already having a long and distinguished career. One of her most memorable roles for me was the humorous Sister Clarissa, a crusty nun, in Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, which also starred a teenaged Susan Saint James.
So that’s it for my M*A*S*H fangirling. I’ll be doing more spider-webbing of actors in future blogs, but I felt the need to acknowledge M*A*S*H‘s role in featuring so many new and known actors. I’ll have something a little different next time. I hope you’ll stop by and see what it is.