‘M*A*S*H’ Star Mike Farrell Reflects on Show’s Impact Ahead of Reunion Special

Mike Farrell and Alan Alda on MASH
Everett Collection

Mike Farrell knew he had a lot to live up to when he joined the 4077th Unit and cast of M*A*S*H as Captain B.J. Hunnicutt. The well-versed actor already had an impressive career including a stint on Days of Our Lives. However, this was a completely different kind of pressure coming into season 4 of a highly successful series after the exit of Wayne Rogers, who played Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre.

He was up to the challenge with viewers connecting with the devoted family man and what would be a long-time bond with Alan Alda’s Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce. Viewers will ever forget the shot during the historic series finale where B.J. yells out that he left a note for Hawkeye. As he flies away in the helicopter, he soon notices that his good friend spelled out the word “Goodbye” with rocks on the ground.

It’s these types of iconic moments and characters that are celebrated during FOX’s upcoming M*A*S*H: The Comedy That Changed Television. Executive-produced by John Scheinfeld and Andy Kaplan, this two-special delves into the Emmy-winning run over 11 seasons through the perspective of the cast and visionaries behind the scenes.


David Ogden Stiers (center) with Mike Farrell (left) and Alan Alda

Joining Farrell and Alda on the doc is Gary Burghoff (Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly), and Loretta Swit (Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan) to name a few, as well as series executive producers Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalfe. Those who have since passed, including show creator Larry Gelbart, Rogers, Larry Linville (Maj. Frank Burns), Harry Morgan (Col. Sherman T. Potter), and McLean Stevenson (Lt. Col. Henry Blake) are spotlighted through archival photos and footage.

Here Farrell opens up about his emotional reaction to the special. The 84-year-old also describes what it’s like to see the beloved sitcom still resonate more than 40 years after it ended.

Michael Farrell


How often do you go back and watch the episodes?

Mike Farrell: The popularity of the show continues to astonish me and thrill me, frankly. I get constant emails, and mail, calls to keep it fresh in my mind, and its extraordinary impact. I don’t make a point of looking for it on television, but sometimes it’s there. And when it’s there, I can’t stop looking at it and watching those people I love so much and care about. To see and remember who they were and what we did together, it’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m so thrilled to be a part of it that it’s hard to put into words.

I remember seeing Alan Alda share a photo of you two toasting the 50th anniversary of the show. How is it for you to still have these close connections after all these years?  

For us, it’s a family situation. We enjoyed working together and having this kind of bond that continues to this day. We talk about how much we love each other and stay in touch regularly. It has been something that brings an ongoing extraordinary rush of gratitude and appreciation for all of us here. Then you see David Ogden Stiers, Harry Morgan, Larry Linville, and others on the special. There is that sense of longing for somebody who you knew, loved, and enjoyed working with. It’s piercing at the heart when you see that sometimes. For me, I’m overwhelmed with the warmth that comes back in seeing Harry, remembering the relationship we had not only during the show but also afterward. Watching Alan and his incredible wit and hijinks. Some of those things stay with me today. When I tell stories, I can’t help but get misty about those memories. It’s an everlasting love affair for me.

It’s fun to think about what would have happened if social media had been around during M*A*S*H’s original run. For example, B.J.’s mustache would be a hot topic of conversation. 

People often ask me, “What do you think of the mustache?” I will say my mother hated the mustache. The mustache was a fun thing. Alan called me at the beginning of one season and said, “They think we are too much alike. What do you think about growing a mustache?” I thought it was a great idea. We made a lot out of it, which was fun to do. I wore what started as a red long shirt. Through many washes, it came out pink. I thought it was hilarious to be wearing a pink shirt in the middle of all that. I get many comments from people in the gay community who tell me they loved my pink shirt and ask if that was a signal. I tell them no, but that I’m glad they noticed it.

One of the topics that gets tackled in the special is B.J.’s character and moment of infidelity with a divorced nurse. After all this time, I even saw a Reddit thread asking if B.J. cheated on his wife Peg. 

I remember when I first met with the guys and they were talking about the possibility of Wayne leaving. I told them the one thing I didn’t want to do as an actor was come in and step in the boots of Trapper. They understood. They had in mind a fellow who was married, not a womanizer like Hawkeye or Trapper, who had a child at home. And he is going to be true to his wife and family. You’re talking about modeling fidelity on television, I didn’t mind that at all. We laughed. It stayed that way. One year we did a show where Blythe Danner was the guest star. She and Hawkeye had been having a love affair in medical school, and she was temporarily assigned to our station. She was married, but the affair popped up again.

There is a scene where Hawkeye asks B.J. if he has ever been unfaithful. I said never. He said, “You ever tempted?” I said, “Tempted is a different question.” He said, “So, you have been tempted?” I said, “No, it was a different question.” It was a good gag. Larry Gelbart, who wrote the scene was on the stage when we finished that shot. I said, “Larry, that was wonderful, but let me suggest the idea. The fact B.J. is a faithful husband is great by me, but to suggest a man was not tempted goes too far. I don’t think we need to paint in that pristine manner.” He said that was a good thought. A year later Gene remembers that conversation with Larry. He asked, “What do you feel about B.J. falling off the fidelity wagon?” I said, “It depends on how you resolve it.”

The cast of M*A*S*H - Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, Gary Burghoff, William Christopher, Alan Alda, David Ogden Stiers, Harry Morgan

How do you feel it came out? 

I loved the whole process that they cared enough to hear me out, and decided it was worth dealing with that question. I thought they resolved it in a classy way. B.J. was upset about what he had done. It was brief and a misstep. He was miserable about it. Hawkeye gave him hell because he was going to write home and tell Peg. He said, “Don’t do that to her. If you must confess for whatever the transgression, wait until you get home where you can be with her and talk to her.” I thought it was great that they were willing to explore the kind of experience people are put through in these circumstances.

It was almost like it didn’t matter how far they went, he would feel the same way. 

Exactly. But the idea of them spending the night together in a bed, under those circumstances, and didn’t go far, sounds a little stretched to me.

When was the moment you felt how big a show M*A*S*H was? 

I was in Southeast Asia during one of our breaks after my second or third year on the show. When I went around, I was astonished that no matter what part of the world, the show meant something to them. This one man said, “Your show constantly underscores for me the meaning of peace and the need for peace in this world.” I came back to set and Alan and I were sitting together during the first day of the season back.  I said, “Are you hearing what I’m hearing out there?” He said, “Yeah, we need to be aware of the way the show is affecting people.”

We decided on a regular meeting as a cast and talked through the issues of the day. Alan and I both made it a point that this show is having an impact that is beyond just being a popular television show. We need to be seriously committed to making sure we do the best work we can do. Everyone got it and agreed and rededicated ourselves to commit to doing meaningful work because of the audience’s respect and appreciation for the show.

What are your overall thoughts on the FOX special? 

I watched it with tears streaming down my face while laughter burst from my mouth. It was an extraordinary tribute. Not only to the show and people involved but people involved behind the scenes. I’m glad they included the clip of Gene, Larry, and in particular Burt Metcalfe, the casting genius who brought many of the characters to the show; me included. He was a powerful force in maintaining the integrity of the show. It was deeply touching and I think the audience will love it. It shows the significance and the work of the characters the way the show was built and what it became. I was thrilled when I saw it.

How do you think the show would do in today’s TV landscape? 

I think it would remain a touchstone for people I can’t tell you how many veterans have contacted me. Even children of veterans. They would say. “My dad would never talk about his experience in the war until he saw your show. Then he would say, ‘That’s the way it was.’” That it has stayed relevant and meaningful to people for generations speaks volumes about the show.

M*A*S*H: The Comedy That Changed Television premiere, January 1, 8/7c, FOX