“M*A*S*H” fans lost one of the stars of the show unceremoniously when Wayne Rogers decided to leave the series after three seasons. Rogers played Trapper John, usually acting opposite of Alan Alda’s Hawkeye. He was a big part of the show’s makeup during those early seasons.
So fans might have been shocked tuning into Season Four to discover Trapper John M.I.A. The show explained John’s and Roger’s absence as the military having discharged the character. But behind the scenes, Rogers and the show’s creator engaged in a contract dispute and even a lawsuit, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Rogers had abruptly decided he didn’t want to be on the show anymore. Initially, Rogers and Alda’s characters received equal screen time and material. But over time, Rogers felt the creators had started to slight John as a character. They gave more of the weightier comic material to Hawkeye, leaving John to act as the man rolling his eyes at Hawkeye’s antics. Additionally, Alda started to gain more control creatively, even directing some episodes of the show.
Rogers left the show because he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Alda anymore. In an effort to keep him on the show, producers sued Rogers for breaching his contract. After all, an actor can’t just quit during the middle of production on a show. But it turns out Rogers had pulled a fast one on the producers.
Wayne Rogers Leaves the Show
Rogers had never actually signed his contract. At the show’s debut, Rogers objected to signing the contract because he didn’t agree with a “morals clause” within the contract. Morals clause dictated an actor’s behavior. And Rogers believed such clauses were outdated. So, Rogers joined the show without ever actually signing his contract. The creators of the show didn’t realize they were essentially working with a free agent.
So when it came time for the lawsuit, the creators of the show didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Rogers walked away from the show. And Trapper John was dropped from the show.
Later, the spin-off “Trapper John, M.D.” went into production. That show’s producers asked Rogers to reprise the role. But Rogers turned them down. He said he didn’t want Hollywood to typecast him as a physician. Pernell Roberts ended up taking over the role for that show.
Rogers continued to appear in various films and TV shows throughout his career. He passed away in 2015 at age 82.