Why Klinger Always Wears Dresses In MASH

CPL Maxwell Klinger stood out in MASH because of his eccentric sartorial choices, but there's a deeper meaning to his dresses in the show.

MASH’s Maxwell Klinger has made a name for himself for wearing dresses in the series. Alan Alda’s Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce was arguably the show’s true protagonist, but without a great ensemble around him, the critically-acclaimed comedy wouldn’t be the iconic series it ultimately became. Each character had their respective signature trait, including Toledo, Klinger, who was best known for his odd sartorial choices. Instead of dressing up like an army man, he chose to sport elaborate dresses.

Played by Jamie Farr, Klinger wasn’t introduced in MASH until season 1, episode 4, “Chief Surgeon Who?” Originally a segment character, who only appeared for a comedic bit, he grew in popularity over the years, and by the end of the show, he was already one of its main characters. Klinger’s penchant for wearing fashion-forward dresses made it easier for him to stand out and eventually become a fan favorite. That said, in light of the show’s anti-war messaging, there’s actually a bigger reason for his commitment to dressing so femininely in the series.

Klinger’s Dresses Were His Way Out Of The War In MASH

The reason why Klinger wore dresses in MASH relates to his desire to leave the war. Gunning for the elusive Section 8 that would deem him unfit to serve the military, he was persistent in his ploy for several seasons in the series until he stopped cross-dressing in MASH season 8. Co-creator Larry Gelbart supposedly based the character on comedian Lenny Bruce who was discharged from the U.S. Navy for partially wearing women’s uniform during World War II. Klinger wanted to be let go from the military for military ineptitude or undesirable habits or traits of character, hence the dresses.

Slowly, Klinger stopped wearing dresses. One reason for that stemmed from the character taking on a more prominent role as the company clerk on the heels of Gary Burghoff’s Radar leaving MASH. Secondly, Farr didn’t want his kids, who were young at the time, to be teased because he wore dresses on TV. Instead of drawing attention to the change in direction with his character, it was decided for him to be eased out his cross-dressing ways. But by then, MASH has already done everything that it could do with the gag. So changing things up actually turned out to be a good move for the series.

What Happened To Klinger After The War

mash cast exits show good reasons

Interestingly, after spending almost a decade trying to get out of Korea and back to Toledo, Klinger stayed behind at the end of MASH. Towards the series’ end, the character fell in love with a Korean refugee, Soon Lee. Unlike his previous marriage which ended in divorce, the couple was very much in love with each other. However, while their original plan was to go back to Ohio where they would settle down, Soon refused to leave the country until she found her family. Rather than convince her to change her mind, Klinger decided to stay behind as well and help her with the goal before leaving for the United States together.

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