Starring in a series as long-running as the classic TV show MAS*H is a tough job. After more than a decade with the same show, it’s not uncommon for actors to report boredom or a desire to move on to new projects. Loretta Swit, the actor behind Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, was no exception.
During the 10th season of MASH, Swit began to feel that she’d had enough of Margaret and the 4077. Her perspective changed, however, the moment Dennis Holahan stepped on the set. “There were times when I wanted to leave MASH and do other things,” Swit told The Post-Crescent in a 1988 interview. “When I met Dennis I said to myself, ‘so that’s why I’m still here.’”
For Loretta Swit, it was love at first sight. And less than a year after meeting, the pair were happily married. “All I know is, when I met Dennis, suddenly I was bumping into furniture,” Swit said. “I was behaving like a kid. A week later, I knew I could live with him for the rest of my life.”
Though Margaret Houlihan had a long-standing flirtation with Hawkeye, the incurable bachelor paled in comparison to Per Johannsen, a character brought in to be a single-episode love interest for Margaret. Adorably, while Per and Margaret had their fling, Dennis and Loretta were falling in love in real life.
“Dennis played a Swedish army officer who came to visit the M*A*S*H unit,” Swit explained. “Margaret Houlihan immediately developed an enormous crush on him. Dennis’ character liked Margaret too, but he had been injured when his jeep went over a mine. He had nerve damage, he was impotent. Margaret didn’t care, she was in love. Suddenly, I realized, so was I…”
Loretta Swit and Dennis Holahan Describe Falling in Love on the Set of ‘M*A*S*H’
Though Loretta Swit said that she was never looking for love, true love found her regardless. For Dennis Holahan, seeing Loretta for the first time was nothing short of a shock. “That first morning we started to rehearse a love scene,” Holahan said. “Nothing has ever happened so easily for me, it was so natural, so magical. It was as if it weren’t just characters falling in love…but real people.”
After filming their scenes, Holahan worried that his feelings for Loretta weren’t genuine. Perhaps they had simply gotten caught up in the moment while faking a romance. He quickly realized, though, that this wasn’t the case.
“I was quite worried for a while,” Holahan said. “I wondered if this might not be another case of actors believing in their characters too much. The emotions stirred by that first rehearsal never waned, however, they seemed to set the tone for everything that was to come.”
Though the couple remained together for many years, their magical relationship ended in divorce in 1995. Rather than bitterness or regret, Loretta Swit feels that her time with Dennis showed her why so many people seek marriage in the first place.
“When I met Dennis, the concept of marriage became clearer for me,” the M*A*S*H star said. “It was the concept of living very happily with a partner for the rest of your life in a relationship that will always be fresh and challenging and interesting and … terrific!”