MASH was used to several cast exits, but it also featured a subtle recasting early on its run. Premiering in 1972, the CBS war comedy went on to run for 11 brilliant seasons, only getting better as it went along. Set in the Korean War in the ’50s, MASH centered on the 4077th mobile army surgical hospital and the personnel that ran it. While the show was essentially an ensemble, it eventually became clear that Alan Alda’s Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce was the anchor character of the series. However, MASH‘s success was only made possible by the string of supporting characters that he was surrounded by.
Despite its show’s increasing popularity, MASH had a cast exodus early in its run. Original cast members such as McLean Stevenson as Henry Blake and Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre left the series for personal reasons. Eventually, Larry Linville’s Frank Burns and Gary Burghoff’s Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly followed. This paved the way for the arrival of several new players such as Mike Farrell’s B.J. Hunnicutt and Harry Mogran’s Sherman T. Potter, among others. There were several original actors who stuck with MASH throughout its run, but there was one character who was recast just after the pilot.
William Christopher Didn’t Play Father Mulcahy In The MASH Pilot
Only three original characters from MASH appeared in all 11 seasons of the show. Hawkeye, Margaret, and Father Mulcahy. While the first two were played by Alda and Switt all throughout the show’s run, the 4077’s spiritual leader was actually recast. In the MASH pilot, Father Mulcahy was actually portrayed by George Morgan. Interestingly, the outfit’s Padre was prominently featured in the episode where Hawkeye and Trapper staged a secret party to raise money for Ho-Jon’s college in America. The duo raffled a pass to Tokyo with one of the nurses, and because the whole thing was rigged, Father Mulcahy ended up winning.
Despite being prominently featured in the MASH pilot, Morgan’s Father Mulcahy barely made any impression. He didn’t have a lot of lines and most of his scenes were just a shot of him doing random things. When he won the raffle, fans only saw some kind of reaction from him, but before he could even continue, the party was cut short when Blake and his superior came in to stop the gathering. Suffice it to say, Morgan’s version of Father Mulcahy wasn’t memorable enough, hence why the recast to William Christopher, who inhabited the role for more than a decade, is often overlooked.
Why George Morgan Was Recast As Father Mulcahy
Years after MASH ended, executive producer Larry Gelbart wrote on alt.tv.mash Usenet group that he and fellow EP Gene Reynolds decided to make the switch. “For reasons having nothing to with that gentleman’s ability, Gene Reynolds and I decided [to] go with Bill Christopher in the role,” he explained. Reynolds subsequently offered additional context via posting on the same board (via mash4077tv), writing “George Morgan is a perfectly fine actor. We wanted someone who had a quirkier personality – one we wouldn’t have to write into the script.”
Ultimately, they wanted someone who was more impressionable in the role — something that Christopher was. Despite not always being at the center of attention, he was still an integral part of 4077, and he made the most out of every single time he was under the spotlight. Like every character, he had his own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and it was enjoyable to see him interact with the sillier cast of MASH.