For those fans of M*A*S*H, were you Team Trapper John or in the B.J. Hunnicutt camp?
The two characters each were doctors at the 4077th, but Hawkeye always dominated those M*A*S*H scenes. Wayne Rogers portrayed Trapper John. Mike Farrell played B.J. If you’re big on history, you know Trapper John was there first, serving alongside Alan Alda’s Hawkeye. B.J. then endeared himself to those who loved to watch the comedy/drama about the Korean War.
But which actor spent the most time on the M*A*S*H set? It was Mike Farrell. And it wasn’t even close.
Trapper John was a character on the show for the first three seasons. Then B.J. took his turn in Korea and was there until the end of the show’s run. If you’re keeping count, Rogers was in 74 episodes, Farrell was in 179.
On the show Trapper John was the former college quarterback who served as the thoracic surgeon for the 4077. M*A*S*H started out as a movie, with Elliott Gould playing Trapper John. He was the equal to Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye.
But in the TV series, Trapper John evolved into more of a sidekick to Hawkeye. And Alda was the most important cog in the show. He starred in it, wrote some key episodes and directed them, too. Rogers didn’t like playing second fiddle to Alda, so he abruptly left M*A*S*H before season four even started filming. Rogers never signed a contract. When M*A*S*H creators filed a lawsuit for breach of contract, Rogers pointed out no such agreement existed.
M*A*S*H wrote off Rogers without a sendoff to Trapper John. Instead, it was explained he was discharged from the Army. When Trapper John MD was developed as a series, Rogers turned down the chance to reprise his role. Instead, Pernell Roberts played an older version of Trapper.
So enter Mike Farrell and B.J. This doctor didn’t mess around with the nurses. Rather, he was devoted to his wife, Peg, who was back home with their young daughter. Farrell was in the M*A*S*H cast from season four through season 11. He missed only one episode over that stretch.
B.J. didn’t like goodbyes, at least in person. That’s why he avoided them in the finale. He rode away, but when Hawkeye took a helicopter to leave, he saw that B.J. had used a bunch of white stones to spell out goodbye.
Decades later, Farrell said he and the rest of the M*A*S*H cast became emotional in the final taping. He recalled some of those M*A*S*H memories in an interview with MeTV.
“We went through this thing knowing this will be the last time I’ll ever stand here,” Farrell said of filming the final M*A*S*H episode. “This is the last opportunity I’m going to have to say goodbye to these characters.”
Farrell then remembered the orders the cast received from the director.
“At one point, I think it was the director, who said I’ve never had to tell actors to not cry so much in my life. Stop. Crying,” Farrell said. He recalled that the director told them to allow the audience to ‘have the experience, don’t have the experience yourself.’ So we sucked it up and managed to get through it.”
Farrell now is 82. Rogers died in 2015. He was 82.