We all loved Gary Burghoff on M*A*S*H. And you could make a case that the show wasn’t the same when Radar made his exit.
But did he have a nice acting life before and/or after M*A*S*H? Let’s take a glance.
Burghoff was in the movie version of M*A*S*H and then he reprised his role when CBS picked up the comedy/drama about the life of doctors and nurses treating soldiers during the Korean War. Burghoff’s career break came in 1967 when he was cast in the off-Broadway production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Yes, he played Charlie Brown.
His first film role was M*A*S*H, the 1970 movie that starred Donald Sutherland as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce and Elliott Gould as Dr. Trapper John McIntyre. Burghoff’s Radar was based on a real-life person. The character was inspired by Don Shaffer, who served with Richard Hooker. And as M*A*S*H experts know, Hooker wrote the book, which inspired the movie that helped launch the classic TV show. Shaffer was born in Iowa and went by the nickname Radar.
Yet there were two different versions of Radar. Burghoff portrayed the 4077 clerk as a schemer in the movie. But he took on a child-like, naive quality on the TV show, sleeping with a teddy bear, reading comic books and drinking grape soda. Folks say Radar was the soul of the show. You could juxtapose the horror of war against the character’s gentle nature. And on On M*A*S*H, Radar always heard the helicopters carrying the wounded before any of the doctors and nurses.
M*A*S*H executive producer Gene Reynolds said of Radar:
“Beautiful character, very funny. Marvelous actor, very gifted actor. And he was, for us, he was like a little boy in the camp. Kids could identify: I could be Radar. Then identified with M*A*S*H through Radar.”
Burghoff received six Emmy nominations for his work on M*A*S*H, winning Outstanding Supporting Actor in 1977. Alan Alda accepted the award on his behalf. But in 1979, Burghoff said he was suffering from burnout. He wanted to leave the show to spend more time with his family. Since he gave plenty of advance notice of his departure, M*A*S*H was able to tell the character goodbye and give him a proper farewell.
So what did he do after his M*A*S*H departure? He continued to make the rotation through a variety of game shows including Match Game, Tattletales, and Hollywood Squares. He guest-starred on shows like the Love Boat and Fantasy Island. It was pretty standard stuff for a 1970s TV star.
And, Burghoff also did a post-M*A*S*H spinoff devoted to his character. CBS filmed W*A*L*T*E*R, a takeoff on Radar’s real name. But the network didn’t pick up the pilot.
Burghoff also had a fascinating, non-acting life. He could play the drums (he did so in an episode of the show) and he trained as a tap dancer. After M*A*S*H, he became an artist, specializing in wildlife.
At a showing in New York in 2004, Burghoff said he wanted to show the animals as innocent and vulnerable.
”I’m hoping to make the viewer see the beauty and soul of the animal,” he said.