An iconic character on TV’s “M*A*S*H” is Corporal Max Klinger, who wore a dress in order to leave Korea. Klinger, in the early goings of the show, was written to be gay.
Jamie Farr, the actor who played Klinger all throughout the show’s run on CBS, said “M*A*S*H” series co-creator Gene Reynolds introduced him to his career-defining role. At the time, though, it was a role and a paycheck for Farr. That’s it.
“Gene took me to a trailer that had a women’s Army Corps uniform hanging with these high heels,” Farr said in a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought I was dressing with an actress. He said, ‘No, those are yours.’ I thought to myself, ‘What kind of character is this?’
‘M*A*S*H’ Co-Creator Leads Farr To Set For His Big Shot
“He takes me in my high heels and hairy bow legs to stage 9,” Farr said. “Everyone’s laughing. They gave me a couple of lines and Gene leaves. The director then tells me to play Klinger ‘gay.’ I was out of work and $250 paid my rent. So, I did my lines. My agent calls the next day and says Gene doesn’t want to do the part the way the director designated it. I came back and played it straight.”
This was just for one day’s worth of work in 1972. Farr would be asked back for more episodes in the second season, then became a full-time cast member in the fourth.
Now Farr had some real-life experience when it comes to the Korean War. Farr, Alan Alda, and Mike Farrell are the only “M*A*S*H” cast members who actually served in the U.S. military in Korea.
‘M*A*S*H’ Writer Gelbart Says Lenny Bruce Inspired Klinger
Writer and “M*A*S*H” co-creator Larry Gelbart said that the inspiration for Klinger’s role actually came from another talented-yet-haunted comedian, Lenny Bruce.
Bruce attempted to get out of military service in World War II by dressing up in a WAVES uniform. That impression remained with Gelbart, who tapped into the memory when it came time to create Klinger.
In episode after episode, Klinger would haunt either Col. Henry Blake, played by McLean Stephenson, or Col. Sherman Potter, played by Harry Morgan. He constantly would go and bug them, dress up, say he needed to go home to Toledo. Klinger would do just about anything to get a Section 8 and get out of serving.
When Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, played by Gary Burghoff, left the series, Klinger became Potter’s right-hand man. A little more serious tone to Klinger’s character took place at times, even though he still wanted out of the military.
Farr, who actually was born in Toledo, Ohio, stayed on the show until its finale. “M*A*S*H” reruns are shown on TVs all over the world.
Little did Jamie Farr realize one day’s worth of work in a dress would end up being a career-defining role. Farr doesn’t mind, either. Klinger has been good to Farr and he took advantage of an opportunity.