Watching “M*A*S*H” on CBS, a character who viewers love is Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly. Did you know that same actor appeared in the movie?
Gary Burghoff played “Radar” in director Robert Altman’s film version of “M*A*S*H.” He then stayed on as a member of the TV cast for seven seasons, according to an article in History101.com.
In fact, Burghoff is the only actor who played the same role in both the movie and TV show. “Radar” was the right-hand man in the office for both men who led the 4077th throughout its run on CBS. Lt. Col. Henry Blake, played by McLean Stevenson, was originally in one of the lead roles on the TV series.
Gary Burghoff Character Offers Comic Relief on ‘M*A*S*H’
When Stevenson left and Blake’s character was killed off the series, veteran actor Harry Morgan joined the cast as Col. Sherman Potter. Morgan, who earlier had been an integral part of “Dragnet” starring Jack Webb, stayed on with “M*A*S*H” until the series’ ending.
Gary Burghoff provided comic relief throughout his role. When Col. Blake would call for “Radar,” he would respond either with a “Yes, sir” or already know what Blake needed. The character appeared to have a “sixth sense” when it came to what Blake or Potter needed.
In scenes where both Blake and Potter were meeting with, for instance, “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit) or Maj. Frank Burns (Larry Linville), he’d ask for some folder from O’Reilly. The minute he starts talking, then “Radar” enters the office with the proper paperwork. It was one of those quirky-yet-funny moments in the midst of a serious subject, the Korean War.
Burghoff Changes Character a Bit For TV Show
The TV show’s first couple of seasons were truly played for laughs. It held a little bit of the same energy from Altman’s film, but it was truly different. Burghoff offers some insight into the differences around his role of “Radar.”
“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,” Gary Burghoff said in an interview with Ken Levine. “I continued these qualities for a short time 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 ‘hellhole’ they were stuck in,” Burghoff said. “With (writer and TV show co-creator Larry) Gelbart’s help, I began to mold Radar into a more innocent, naïve character as a contrast to the other characters.
“So that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just REACT from a position of total innocence,” he said.
With that sense of Midwestern innocence – after all, O’Reilly was from Ottumwa, Iowa, Gary Burghoff’s work gave the show something it needed to balance out the realities of war. “Radar” showed a sense of compassion and empathy not only for his fellow ‘M*A*S*H’ officers but even those in the midst of battle, too.