‘M*A*S*H’: How Gary Burghoff Felt About Bringing Radar O’Reilly to the Small Screen

by Joe Rutland
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Before finding fame on TV, M*A*S*H star Gary Burghoff played Radar O’Reilly in the movie version and it was different. One thing that the actor wanted was more depth to him. He would express this desire in an interview many years after M*A*S*H left network TV and found a home in the world of syndicated classic TV reruns.

Gary Burghoff of ‘M*A*S*H’ Talks About Goal For Playing Radar O’Reilly

“I wanted that character to be more than just a nickname,” M*A*S*H star Gary Burghoff said in an interview with Closer. The character has different sides that would be wrapped up in some type of childlike awe and wonder. Radar O’Reilly reflects some of the deeper, soulful moments that appeared on M*A*S*H during Burghoff’s time.

“Beautiful character, very funny,” Gene Reynolds said according to a story from AmoMama. “Marvelous actor, very gifted actor. And he was, for us, he was like a little boy in the camp. Kids could identify: I could be Radar. They identified with M*A*S*H through Radar.”

Actor Makes Some Changes To His Character Between Movie, TV Series

What changes were made between the Robert Altman movie and the sitcom? Burghoff talks at length about this with Ken Levine in an interview. “In the original feature film MASH, I created Radar as a lone, darker, and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure,” Burghoff said. “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.

“It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the ‘hell hole’ they were stuck in,” he said. “With [Larry] Gelbart’s help, I began to mold Radar into [a] more innocent, naive character as [a] 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 would add that this shift makes his character “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.”

In another interview, Jamie Farr, who played Klinger, said, “Gary Burghoff was an absolute delight. He brought that little charm to Radar. (And) He brought a little something special to the show that none of the other characters had.” Burghoff would tire of playing that role. He leaves the series before it finished its run and Farr’s Klinger would become the clerk of the 4077th.

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