Farrell, who joined the cast in season four after the departure of Wayne Rogers, told Studio 10 why he did it.
Farrell played Capt. B.J. Honeycutt, who was best friends with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye on M*A*S*H. The characters were both irreverent and jokester, and it was causing people issues trying to separate them.
“Alan said, ‘They think we’re too much alike.’ Would you mind growing a mustache,” he said, laughing at the memory.
Producers hired Farrell to replace Wayne Rogers’ Trapper John after he left at the end of season 3. Farrell believes Rogers quit because he wasn’t getting enough screen time or good jokes as Alda was the breakout star. Rogers, Farrell said, wanted the dynamic that was more similar to the Robert Altman movie of the same name.
Rogers, however, says he left over a contract dispute with CBS executives.
Whatever the reason, Rogers’ departure opened the door for Farrell, who fit right in with the cast. And while Alda’s character remained the star of M*A*S*H, the writers quickly figured out their dynamic, which led to a partnership.
Rogers died on Dec. 31, 2015, at 82 years old. But he remained friends with the M*A*S*H cast for the remainder of his life.
Wayne Rogers Says M*A*S*H Had Very Little Improv
Larry Gelbart, M*A*S*H showrunner didn’t like his actors to ad-lib lines that weren’t in the script or change what was on the page. The scripts were tightly written, and any deviation could kill later in the show.
“Somebody asked me once, ‘You know, it looked like you and Alan [Alda] made that stuff up,’” Rogers told Pop Goes The Culture TV. “What, are you out of your mind? Larry Gelbart wrote those lines and, by the way, he writes rhythm lines.”
Rogers said all the actors enjoyed their time on set, but they also knew they were there to work. So, they took the scripts seriously. And it was that interplay of comedy and drama that made the show work.
“If you didn’t do it in the way he wrote the joke, you could destroy the rhythm,” he said. “And so, we memorized all that stuff. So that was serious work.”
Though, Gelbart wasn’t above changing lines on the day if he was directing the episode. Or rewriting something a scene on the fly if he had a better idea.
“Every now and then, Larry would direct one [episode] and he’d hear a line that he thought he could improve upon and do that,” he said.
But other than that, Rogers said, the comedy was on the page.