“M*A*S*H” was a groundbreaking series when it first aired in 1972. The show was the first sitcom to use the dark comedy theme. At the same time, it showed a different side of the US Military. It juxtaposed the worth of the individual against arbitrary authority and senseless death. The series was also topical, taking on things like Watergate and the Vietnam war through the Korean War-era allegory. In short, it was something that audiences had never seen. They loved it. The show ran for eleven seasons.
However, it isn’t the subversive undertones or dark humor that stands out in the minds of many “M*A*S*H” fans. The thing that sticks out like a well-dressed sore thumb is Corporal Klinger. Jamie Farr played the crossdressing corporal. Audiences and producers alike loved the character. But, he was originally only supposed to be in a single episode.
Jamie Farr spoke about his character’s origins and staying power in an interview with The National Museum of American History in 2017.
Jamie Farr Talks About His “M*A*S*H” Character
Farr didn’t have to audition for the role of Maxwell Klinger. He previously had a role in a comedy called “F Troop” about a remote Civil War outpost. Gene Reynolds directed that sitcom and later became a producer for “M*A*S*H.” When Larry Gelbart came up with the idea for Klinger, Reynolds knew Farr would be perfect for the part.
When Farr’s agent called and told him he had a role on “M*A*S*H” he didn’t ask any questions. At the time, Jamie Farr was out of work and struggling. So, the chance to pick up a $250 paycheck for a day on a sitcom was a godsend.
When Farr arrived on the set of “M*A*S*H,” he was confused. There was a Women’s Army Corps uniform in his trailer. So, he believed he was sharing a trailer with an actress. When he found out that he was to wear the knee-length skirt, he was taken aback. However, he put it on and got a huge laugh out of it. The rest of the cast and, more importantly, the “M*A*S*H” producers had the same reaction. Klinger made such an impression that they asked him to come back. He was in a few episodes of the first season. Then, the character appeared in 12 episodes of the second season. By the third season, they made Farr a regular member of the cast.
Jamie Farr said that the bright colors of his costumes probably played a part in the character’s popularity. “The show was shot in color, but everything, the Jeeps, the tents, the uniforms, were olive drab,” Farr explained, “so I think Klinger’s outfits were the only things that brought color to the show.”