“Who cares how much fun you’re having, it’s not your birthday!” Margaret Houlihan shouts at Klinger in the MAS*H episode “The Birthday Girls.”
This outburst follows her valiant attempts for half the episode to conceal her birthday and celebrate the day in her own special way. When the stars do not align on her dream birthday plans, Houlihan and Klinger end up stranded miles away from camp, and the unlikely duo finds themselves bonding over a night spent in a broken-down jeep.
Jamie Farr told the Television Academy that Loretta Swit’s performance in this fan-favorite episode was the reason Swit won an Emmy that year.
Over Swit’s time on MAS*H, she was so incredible, she was nominated for an Emmy every year for a decade from 1974-1983, winning twice.
“Loretta as Major Houlihan was absolutely sensational,” Farr said.
“She won her Emmy for a show called ‘Birthday Girls,'” Farr said. “It’s where she and I go off, and I’m driving the jeep and the jeep breaks down, and [we] find out it’s her birthday and Klinger has a cupcake with a little candle in it. They become buddies now, all of a sudden. They become friends. They had some nice moments.”
MAS*H fans know that Swit evolved the character of Margaret Houlihan drastically over the show’s many seasons, and many people involved with the show agreed that out of everyone, she took playing the part perhaps the most seriously.
“I don’t think people know how hard these people worked,” MAS*H creator Larry Gelbart told the Television Academy. “Loretta was always just the most hard-working.”
It seems like everybody can cite an example. Farr said unlike some starlets whose hair and makeup could delay set start times, Swit was always ready for cameras to roll. MAS*H medical consultant Walter Dishell said she was always interested in doing things exactly right to portray her character authentically, as “an excellent nurse that people depended on.” Gelbart said he could always count on her to take the material he provided well beyond what even he imagined.
“I wrote her once that I polished the words, but she made them shine,” Gelbart said. “She always surprised me. She always found a little something I didn’t see in the line that just enhanced it and made it that much better.”
Her work on the show demonstrates what can happen when a hard worker is given space to do the best job she can do. “She’s a great performer,” Harry Morgan chimed in during his Television Academy interview. And perhaps just as important in terms of cast chemistry: “She was fun to work with.”
Commanding respect for her professionalism as an actor, endearing herself to cast and crew, and winning awards for giving the show her absolute all, Loretta Swit was clearly one-of-a-kind on a cast that quickly came to see her as one of the guys.
As a veteran actor of TV, Morgan bonded with a lot of costars in his time in Hollywood, but it was Swit who he said ended up moving just four or five houses down the street toward the end of his days.
“Loretta’s a dear person,” Morgan said. “I love her very much.”