“I don’t believe it,” Charles Winchester III says in a memorable M*A*S*H scene. “A pool ball? In the mouth?”
The episode is called “Trick or Treatment” and it’s a Halloween episode that aired in the show’s final season. In this moment, Winchester is being asked to help extract a pool ball from a soldier’s mouth, and though Winchester protests to wasting his time as a doctor on such foolishness, he does dutifully go to look after the soldier.
Cut to a closeup of the soldier with the six ball stuffed in his mouth.
He was played by George Wendt, who just two months earlier had become known to audiences as Norm on the Eighties sitcom Cheers. But in this MASH moment, he is not perched on a barstool spouting his famous “Normisms,” but seated on a gurney as Winchester’s patient, his words garbled by the pool ball shoved in his mouth. In an interview with bullz-eye.com, Wendt revealed how he pulled off this funny MASH stunt.
“It was rubber,” Wendt explained. “And they just squished it into my mouth and then it popped into normal size once it was in.”
For a lot of TV fans, this M*A*S*H moment is one of their earliest memories of Wendt as a comedic actor, but Cheers co-creator James Burrows points to an even earlier TV appearance you may recall.
A year before Cheers premiered and his MAS*H episode aired, Wendt appeared as an exterminator in an episode of Taxi called “Latka the Playboy.” Burrows directed that episode and in an interview with the Archive for American Television says it’s actually what led to Wendt getting cast on Cheers in the first place.
Wendt’s brief ‘Taxi’ appearance led to his ‘Cheers’ role.
“Well that was a no-brainer,” Burrows said. “We said, ‘There’s one person for this role.'”
Wendt was such a shoe-in that they originally named the character George, not Norm. But Burrows asked the writers to change it because of an experience he had on yet another legendary sitcom.
On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Burrows said that having Ted Knight play a character also named Ted created more confusion than you might expect. Not wanting to repeat history, he asked the writers to named Wendt’s character anything but George.
“So he became Norm,” Burrows said.
Although Wendt undoubtedly is best known as Norm still today, many M*A*S*H fans cite his one guest appearance on the military show as one of the funniest scenes in its history. But how many do you think attempted Wendt’s daring party trick? Well, now you know how it was really done — so don’t try this at home!