Many eyebrow-raising officers visited the 4077th who seemed like complete jerks, but one of the coldest hearts that Hawkeye and B.J. ever encountered was Colonel Coner, who arrived in the episode “Some 38th Parallels.” Played by veteran character actor Kevin Hagen, Coner appears blindly reckless, not sensitive to losing many soldiers while executing his missions.
These kinds of characters were MASH’s biggest villains, but some fans of classic TV may have been shocked to see Hagen play this cruel colonel, surely knowing Hagen best for playing the lovable Doc Baker on Little House on the Prairie, which aired the same time Hagen appeared on MASH.
However, Hagen is one of those veteran character actors who got his start playing villains. His appearance on MAS*H, which arrived two decades into his career, was actually much more in character for the actor — far more so than the beloved doc from Walnut Grove that he later made iconic in Michael Landon’s hit family series.
The first time Hagen appeared on TV was in a 1957 episode of Dragnet called “The Big Tease.” Hagen played one of two brothers who robbed their grandfather’s life savings and tried to blame it on his much younger girlfriend.
Hagen developed intense feelings for acting while appearing in more than 130 different TV shows. Once he said in an interview with the Grands Pass Daily Courier, “I just found it absolutely became part of me. It was something I couldn’t walk away from. Do it or die.”
These bit parts as bad guys led to a bunch of roles as villains in Westerns like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Rawhide and many more, the typecast especially taking hold after Hagen appeared as a murderous army deserter in the 1965 James Stewart movie Shenandoah.
It was these dark roles that Hagen tapped back into for his MAS*H appearance, making it easy for audiences to forget we usually saw that actor dispensing folksy wisdom on Little House. As much as Hagen loved working on Landon’s series, though, he confirmed in a 1985 interview with The Oregonian that he liked being a bad guy best.
“It was fun,” Hagen said. “You could be as mean as you wanted to be.”
Of course, if anyone could convince a long-time bad guy to go soft, it was probably Michael Landon, who leapt from the action-packed Western Bonanza to the sweet family drama Little House on the Prairie. Hagen, in an interview with Zunshine, expressed a lot of fondness for Landon, saying his jokes had people laughing behind the scenes and “his special and unique laughter I can still hear.”
Just know that when you see Hagen on MAS*H, you’re seeing the actor in a role that’s more his style, as a very experienced villainous character actor who was willing to give good guys like Hawkeye and B.J. a real monster to gape at.
“There’s a heavy in all of us,” Hagen said, suggesting his villainous roles might be more relatable than people like to think. You can bet after watching that Hawkeye and B.J. certainly do not see eye to eye with Coner!