On M*A*S*H, Radar wasn’t always the innocent farm kid from Iowa. In the movie version that inspired the hit comedy, the clerk of the 4077 was more conniving.
Gary Burghoff, who played Radar, was the only actor from the main cast of the 1970 movie who moved on to the TV show.
And he had a chance to redefine Col Radar O’Reilly. In the movie, Radar was more manipulative. Since the setting was the Korean War, maybe Radar simply was more pragmatic in order to survive. He wasn’t above trading favors to get stuff done.
However, after the M*A*S*H pilot, Radar became more naive and vulnerable. He was the farm boy from Iowa who joined the Army fresh out of high school. And, with war all around him, Radar slept with a teddy bear, drank grape soda and read comic books. Kids loved the character, who basically was the heart and soul of the show. The Radar character was inspired by a real person. Obviously, he was multi-dimensional.
The Change In Radar from M*A*S*H Movie To TV Was Intentional
In a Q&A in May, 2012, Burghoff acknowledged how much his M*A*S*H character changed in the transition from the big to small screen. And he said it was his idea. He talked to show creator Larry Gelbart about the changes. Gelbart implemented his ideas.
Burghoff said: In the original feature film M*A*S*H, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (through the pilot) 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.”
With Total Cast Change, Who Remembered Radar’s Original Personality?
One main reason the TV cast went in a different direction than the movie was that the actors, save for Burghoff, were new to the story. In the movie, Donald Sutherland was Hawkeye Pierce. Alan Alda embraced the role in the TV series. Elliott Gould was Trapper John in the movie.
Wayne Rogers portrayed the character on the show. Robert Duvall was Frank. Larry Linville owned the role on TV. Meanwhile, Sally Kellerman was Hot Lips Houlihan in the first M*A*S*H; Loretta Swit played the nurse on TV.
So in the midst of the recast, Burghoff decided to be new, too. New, as in a different approach to playing the same character.
Burghoff said: “With Gelbart’s help, I began to mold Radar into more innocent, naive character (in) contrast to the other characters. So that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war … Radar could just react from a position of total innocence.
“This made Radar super active, free and very interesting on a primary, gut, level, which at times delivered the horror of war in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand.”
Burghoff was nominated for six Emmys for best supporting actor during his time on M*A*S*H. He won the Emmy in 1977. But he suffered burnout from playing the character. And he left the show in 1979, although he returned the next year for a two-part sendoff to Radar.
And Burghoff, after the show, also made a life change. Ever-evolving, Burghoff began painting, post M*A*S*H, specializing in wildlife.