M*A*S*H actor Mike Farrell had to beat some pretty tough odds to get the role of B.J Hunnicutt on the series. In fact, he was once up against Boardwalk Empire star James Cromwell. Cromwell, who at the time was just at the very beginning of his career, actually features on an episode later in the series.
In the episode titled Last Laugh Cromwell guest stars as Leo Bardonaro, B.J’s friend. But Cromwell was amongst the many talented actors who auditioned for the role of Hunnicutt. Farrell, however, bested the competition and landed himself the role on M*A*S*H.
He described what it was like to The Hollywood Reporter.
“My agent calls and tells me there’s a possibility that Wayne Rogers is leaving. They want to know if I’d be willing to come over and have a meeting. I was as nervous as a kitten going to this interview because I thought this show was so incredibly wonderful,” he said. Hunnicutt joined M*A*S*H for its fourth season, meaning it was already on air with Ferrell and Cromwell auditioned for the part.
“Gene, Larry [Gelbart] and Burt told me they couldn’t promise anything. They just had to prepare in the event Wayne leaves. It was a short time after that I did a screen test with Alan,” he continued. Wayne Rogers played Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre. He did wind up leaving M*A*S*H
“A day or two later, I’m visiting my mother when my agent calls and says, “You got it.” I said something along the lines of, “I can’t talk right now,” and hung up. I ran in, hugged my mother, and then ran out to my car and drove to my agent’s office. I raced in and grabbed him, screaming, into a hug,” he detailed.
Farrell Once Pondered why Rogers Left ‘M*A*S*H’
Mike Farrell once speculated about why Rogers left the show.
“I suspect it was because when he joined the show it would be a ‘twofer,’ that he and Alan would be equal in terms of their roles,” he said in an interview with Studio10 “But Alan is simply too strong a character, too bright a light. And I believe that Wayne began to feel it wasn’t the show he wanted to be second-banana in, and he moved on.”
Wayne Rogers, however, never quite stated a reason, saying he left because of a contract dispute. While Rogers’ exit was initially disappointing, many fans fell in love with Hunnicutt. Farrell went from a fan of the show to playing a pivotal role in it.
Many feel his acting alongside Alan Alda was truly spectacular, and made the show just that much more entertaining. Farrell later played Hunnicutt all the way through M*A*S*H’s infamous finale, which is the most-watched scripted episode of all time.