“M*A*S*H” is a TV war comedy-drama series that premiered on CBS TV channels in September 1972, and concluded in February 1983. The show’s genre was also described as a situational and dark comedy; its premise revolves around the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. It followed the daily experiences of three doctors and their support staff working at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea; the hospital’s name is the acronym for the show’s title. Alan Alda played Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce, Wayne Rogers was “Trapper” John McIntyre, and Larry Linville portrayed surgeon Frank Burns. Some support staff, such as head nurse Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit, and combat medic Maxwell Q. Klinger, played by Jamie Farr, were unforgettable ensemble members throughout all 11 seasons.

With such a long time on the air, several characters were recast or written off, frequently because the actors quit or were fired. Gary Richard Burghoff, who played company clerk and bugler, i.e., signaling bass player Corporal Walter Eugene “Radar” O’Reilly, left the show after appearing in 170 to 180 episodes during seasons one to eight.

People initially suspected that he wanted to avoid typecasting when he exited in 1979, which was a genuine concern. The show’s early seasons aired while the Vietnam War raged on in reality, making actors memorable for people at home. Moreover, the show remains one of US television’s best-known and highest-rated works. However, Gary left for personal reasons, and whether he liked it or not, he remains recognized for his seven-year-long TV show stint; he was subsequently cast in under 15 projects between 1979 and 2010, when he quit acting. Gary evidently harbored no ill will towards the producers, since two projects were “M*A*S*H” spin-offs from 1984; he reprised his role in the sitcom “After MASH” during two episodes of season one, before appearing in the TV movie focused on his character, “W*A*L*T*E*R*.”

Gary left for family-related reasons

Gary might have been right to leave if he wanted to avoid being typecast; the show’s finale aired on 28 February 1983, and held the record for the most watched TV broadcast in US history until 2010, when the Super Bowl XLIV game between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts did slightly better.

Near the end of his run in the TV show, Gary struggled to set aside enough time to spend with his family, and divorced his first wife the year when he left. Moreover, behind-the-scenes information suggests that Gary felt that he wasn’t getting the credit that he deserved. Besides conflicting with some co-stars on set, and slowly becoming less passionate about portraying his character, there were rumors that he was often late, potentially because of sleeping issues, and slowed the filming.

Regardless, Gary was later satisfied with his decision, as it allowed him to focus on things that mattered more, such as running a business, fishing, spending time with his three children, and finding a new partner, later wife Elisabeth Bostrom.

Gary’s hand was slightly problematic

He was born on 24 May 1943, in Bristol, Connecticut, and lived in Clinton, Connecticut, before settling in Delavan, Wisconsin. Many people don’t realize that Gary was an avid tap dancer and a drummer, despite having localized dysmelia, specifically brachydactyly. This condition caused three fingers on his left hand to be much smaller than the ones on his right. Consequently, many fans thought that Gary had a terrible accident that caused the hand injury.

Although the producers tried to hide it, his hand was visible several times, including during the first scene of the first episode, when he held a football. That was important for another reason; the show drew many parallels to real wars, and reiterated that the characters didn’t volunteer but were drafted. With that in mind, his hand is a plot hole; Gary’s character would have used the birth condition to avoid mobilization, and would never have been in the military.

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A feature film started it all

Loyal fans of the show know that the TV series started as an alternative to the sequel to a 1970 feature film, “M*A*S*H,” directed by Robert Altman. Like the TV show, it was based on the 1968 book “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors” by Richard Hooker. Interestingly, while a few actors reprised their roles in the TV show, Gary was the only cast member who became a series regular.

Although he played the same character in both, he made a few changes the second time. Gary realized that the TV characters were developing in new directions and that the doctors understood the war’s nature. While his character equally disliked being there, he was a clerk and an instrument player. Therefore, Gary thought that he would be unaccustomed to the chaos, brutality, tough decisions, and difficulty of survival.

Moreover, his character was part of a unique record; the series became one of the first TV shows where brief partial nudity was approved, thanks to him. His butt cheeks were visible in “The Sniper,” the second season’s 10th episode, in a scene where he’s showering when he notices a sniper, causing his towel to slip while he rushes to find cover.

Gary couldn’t be a good father

He filmed seven seasons of “M*A*S*H,” and his character’s popularity was rising, so wasn’t at risk of appearing less frequently. He was nominated for six Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, and won one in 1977. Thus, viewers were shocked to discover that he was leaving the show. He explained that he decided to leave while relaxing in the pool at home one day. A plane flew above him, and instead of ignoring it or casually looking towards the sky, he froze, as his character would.

Besides noticing that his character’s traits are slowly seeping into his private life, Gary felt that he was experiencing burnout. Furthermore, he’d been having problems at home, mainly because he was an absent father. He started arguing with his wife, Janet Gayle, whom he married in 1971, a year before he made his TV show debut, and they had one daughter, Gena.

During a radio interview in 2006, Gary said, ‘Family became the most important thing to me. I wasn’t available as a father because of my work. That doesn’t stop when the work stops. Whenever you go out with them, you’re always torn from family to deal with public recognition.’ Gary also stated, ‘You either want to be rich and famous or a daddy – it’s almost impossible to do both.’

The show’s director also explained his exit

Charles S. Dubin, who directed many episodes, stated during his interview with Television Academy Foundation that he felt sorry for Gary. The actor expressed that he wasn’t getting proper credit for his dedication to the character and his work; Charles also confirmed that Gary’s private problems became evident on set.

He said that Gary broke down in tears and had to take a 15-minute break when they filmed “Goodbye Radar,” the two-part farewell episode. Charles thought that it was because his character fell in love with a woman, and was considering a future with her before they had to go their separate ways, which mirrored his life at home. That became apparent when Gary and Janet divorced in 1979, when the eighth season aired, four years after their daughter’s birth.

His co-stars criticized his personality

Gary’s co-stars, particularly Mike Ferrell who played Captain B.J. Hunnicutt, tried to change his mind and inspire him to stay. However, Gary wasn’t budging, even knowing that he might never reach that level of prominence afterwards. He had examples of the aforementioned Larry Linville and McLean Stevenson, who played Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake in the show, whose popularity declined after they left. Mike praised his acting chops, saying that he ‘may have been the best actor in the company thanks to his focus and ability to find the little gems of behavior that made everything seem absolutely true.’

Mike also tried to help him privately, according to a TV Guide magazine article from 1983 by Burt Prelutsky, a columnist and screenwriter who wrote eight episodes of “M*A*S*H.” Gary reportedly had personality problems, and felt that people were conspiring against him, so he was rude to everyone. He would allegedly throw big tantrums when people confronted him, and clash with the cast, particularly Alan Alda, who accepted his Emmy Award in 1977. Mike told him that his problem was that he could dish things out but couldn’t handle receiving critique on his performance.

Gary confirmed that he was fed up

Burt Metcalfe, the show’s writer and producer, explained Gary’s irritability through ‘a tremendous sleeping problem that made him late for call times, slowing the production and agitating people on set.’ Burt also claimed that the actor started disliking his role, and only kept going to keep others happy, so he was anxious to move on. Gary commented in 1984, ‘I’d given all I had to give to the part and the show. I care too much to give less than my best. I’d lost my vitality.’

CBS reportedly offered him $4 million to return, but he told them that he missed the simpler life, and the friends and family back home in Connecticut and Wisconsin. Gary claimed that he could’ve been wealthy if he renegotiated his contract, and switched to filming less than 16 hours a day or moved to “Newhart,” a TV show that offered him a prominent role in 1982.

CBS extended his last episode

Despite all the problems, CBS honored Gary’s contribution to the show by giving him a proper send-off. Instead of a quiet exit after the “Goodbye Radar” episode at the end of season seven, as was initially planned, CBS extended it and premiered in two episodes of season eight. Their move wasn’t entirely selfless, since episodes four and five aired during the so-called November sweeps, a significant period for the show’s rating.

Nonetheless, they gave his character enough screen time and a good exit; Radar learned that his uncle had died and that his mother struggled to keep the family farm functional. Once he realized that others would be fine without him, Colonel Potter, played by Harry Morgan, organized a hardship discharge for him. Radar also lifted his hat, which he had been wearing throughout the show, and showed his receding hairline, symbolizing that he had become a man. Interestingly, Radar was 18 in the show then, while Gary was 35 or 36 when he filmed the episode.

His focus was elsewhere after heaving

Despite Burt’s claims that Gray had planned on finding recognition for other roles, that didn’t happen. He even returned for two spin-offs, one of which was the TV movie “W*A*L*T*E*R.” It was supposed to start a new series with him in the central role, after his character became a policeman, but CBS didn’t proceed with it because of the movie’s low ratings.

Gary remarried in 1985 to Elisabeth Bostrom, and had two children with her before divorcing in 2005. He retired as an actor in 1995 and only returned once in 2010 to play Pastor Mahoney in an unrated, poorly received movie, “Daniel’s Lot.” Instead, Gary dedicated time to his hobbies, such as painting wildlife, fishing, and philately, a term used for studying postal history or collecting postage stamps. He was granted several patents, notably for Chum Magic, a fishing tackle tool that draws fish towards the fisherman’s boat, a different fishing pole, and a toilet seat lifting handle. He published a book in 2009, “To M*A*S*H and Back: My Life in Poems and Songs.”

Gary is a businessman

For years, he owned a frozen yogurt store in Lahaina, Hawaii, under his company, Smiles Inc. He wasn’t ashamed to work all jobs, from cleaning the premises to filling the machines. Moreover, Gary maintains a fish farm at his home in Malibu, California. He called these enterprises lifeboats, referring to fail-safes, claiming that ‘he would get into one of the lifeboats and pull away if anyone tried to limit his potential.’ Gary is now dedicated to painting, having started selling his art in 1993.

He should become a grandfather this year

He’s also devoted to Christianity, and his two sons, Miles and Jordan. Since Gary is inactive online, Miles announced that Elisabeth passed away in 2019, 14 years after she divorced Gary. Gena, Gary’s daughter, followed in her father’s footsteps and revealed that she wanted to be a professional actress. At the same time, Miles claimed that he fell in love with fishing, because his father took him to professional fishing competitions in which Gary sometimes participated. Miles also announced that he was expecting his first child in 2023 with his wife, Katie Westphal, meaning that Gary would become a grandfather this year, presumably for the first time.

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