‘M*A*S*H’ Star Loretta Swit Explains How She Landed Role of ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan

by Joe Rutland
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For Loretta Swit, playing Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on the classic TV show M*A*S*H made her a household name on TV around the world. Sometimes, it’s a pretty interesting journey to see how an actress happens to land a role of a lifetime. Swit did not originate the role as late actress Sally Kellerman played “Hot Lips” in the Robert Altman movie version. When the show was adapted for the small screen, they were looking for another actress to fill that role.

Swit talks about how she came into the role. “I was out of town, in fact out of the country when they were doing the major casting,” she says. “So I came in at the tail end. And I didn’t know they had seen three or four hundred women for this role or I would have been a lot more nervous. There was no script, there was nothing to read, they didn’t test.

Loretta Swit Of ‘M*A*S*H’ Almost Chose To Take Role With Movie

“So it was just a meet and see how they felt about you,” Swit says. “And I didn’t know at the time. I had done mostly work at CBS and 20th Century Fox so the two elements were sort of behind me. They thought I was right for the role. And after they saw me, and put me on a list of, I guess, callbacks, I had an offer for a movie at Universal.”

Swit said she told her agent to call the M*A*S*H producers and let them know she was no longer available. They had scheduled some dates for shooting a pilot episode, but Swit chose the movie instead. Here’s where she picks up the story, though. “They said, ‘No, no, no, we want her. Don’t give her away. We just decided that we were going with Loretta.’ And that’s how the whole thing came about.”

Character Had Romantic Moments But Also Reflected Effects Of War

Throughout the run of the show, Houlihan would have some romantic moments. She would be involved with Major Frank Burns, played by Larry Linville, in the show’s early seasons. Later on, Margaret would be married, then go through a divorce. As a show, M*A*S*H was going for laughs for a bit. Then, the show turned toward looking at how the war affected everyone in the 4077th and Koreans.

Fans have been watching her play “Hot Lips” for years on CBS and in reruns. The fact that they still love seeing her in person and on TV isn’t lost on Swit. She gives fans credit for keeping the show alive all these years. But this look at the Korean War would also give the actress a chance to grow closer to veterans.

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