Anybody involved with M*A*S*H is certified television royalty. The Korean War-set comedy/drama is the rare show that captures both incredible critical acclaim and astounding audience viewership. It’s no surprise that M*A*S*H is considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It also launched its cast into the collective consciousness, with many of its actors now most-recognized for the characters they portrayed on the show’s 11 seasons.
While most of these actors are associated primarily with the characters they played on M*A*S*H, it’s hard to picture who they were or what they did before the show entered production. So, here are seven stories about who that cast was and what they did prior to M*A*S*H.
1. Alan Alda
Alphonso D’Abruzzo was born in New York City on January 28th, 1936. The son of actor Robert Alda, the man who would become Hawkeye plied his trade in the family business, beginning a theatrical career in Barnesville, Pennsylvania at the age of 16. Later, Alda trained with improv troupes “Second City” and “Compass,” honing the skills that would later bring him Emmy-winning acclaim. Alan Alda was the creative team’s first and only choice for the role of Hawkeye.
2. Gary Burghoff
Prior to becoming Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, Gary Burghoff was a relatively unknown actor, appearing in the off-Broadway production You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. But before he ever even considered acting, music was Burghoff’s calling. While attending high school in Delavan, Wisconsin, Burghoff joined a local orchestra, where he drummed, sang and regularly appeared in clubs around Milwaukee. Upon graduation, he moved to New York City, where he studied acting with such luminaries as James Tuttle, Sandy Meisner and Charles Nelson Reilly.
3. Loretta Swit
Hailed at the time as one of the most interesting, multifaceted characters on TV, Loretta Swit’s portrayal of Margaret “Hot Lips” Houilhan was the primary female voice throughout M*A*S*H‘s run. Prior to her famous turn as Houilhan, Loretta Swit’s first job in show business was teaching dance lessons to children, before she moved to NYC to studay at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She would later tour with a Florida theater company performing The Odd Couple alongside E.G. Marshall and Shelley Berman. On TV, she’d have guest roles on future hits like Gunsmoke, Mannix and Mission: Impossible.
4. Larry Linville
For five years, Larry Linville presided as the local antagonist in M*A*S*H, and viewers loved seeing Hawkeye and co. get the best of Frank Burns’ unreasonable, petty ways. But before he was the unit baddie, Larry Linville was a military hopeful. A childhood interest in planes led Linvilled to enroll at the University of Colorado to study engineering, with his eventual goal being to fly jets for the United States Air Force. However, that interest was quickly supplanted by a burgeoning acting career, and he won a scholarship to London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before performing alongside Ingrid Bergman in Broadway’s More Stately Mansions.
5. Wayne Rogers
Graduating with a degree in history from Princeton University in 1954, Wayne Rogers joined the U.S. Navy as a navigator aboard the U.S.S. Denebola. Happenstance led him to acting: While docking in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Rogers visited an old friend who’d become a director. Upon attending a rehearsal, Rogers immediately caught the acting bug, going on to appear in movies such as Once in Paris, Cool Hand Luke, and Chamber of Horrors.
6. McLean Stevenson
Here’s an interesting bit of political trivia: McLean Stevenson was the cousin of two-time presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson II, and served as press secretary for both campaigns. McLean Stevenson’s life briefly paralelled that of his character Lt. Col. Henry Blake when Stevenson served a tour with the medical corps. Stevenson would later appear onscreen in The Doris Day Show and The Tim Conway Show before landing his role in M*A*S*H.
7. William Christopher
With his portrayal of Father Mulcahy, William Christopher provided a necessary reprieve from the stress and problems experienced by the other characters. But before becoming ordained, Christopher found his calling in his third grade play, where he played the part of Ilgamood the Groundhog. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wesleyan University, Christopher grew from beneath Ilgamood’s considerable shadow with roles in The Patty Duke Show, Hogan’s Heroes, and Gomer Pyle, USMC. Eagle-eyed viewers can also find William Christopher in two episodes of The Carol Burnett Show.