Discuss: What If Wayne Rogers Never Left M*A*S*H?

Last week’s inaugural Monday M*A*S*H Discussion was a huge success. Who knew M*A*S*H fans are so passionate about music heard on the series? More than 20 comments have been left so far. If you haven’t yet shared your opinion, don’t worry, there’s still time.

Today’s topic is one of the first I thought of when I was thinking about starting a weekly discussion post: What if Wayne Rogers never left M*A*S*H?

Welcome to Korea–Colonel Potter

Unlike the other actors who left the series, we actually know a little bit about what M*A*S*H would’ve been like had Wayne Rogers stuck around. His departure took place during the hiatus between Season 3 and Season 4. The producers and writers were forced to start breaking stories for Season 4 without knowing whether they’d be writing dialogue for Trapper or some other character.

If Rogers had stayed with the series, Season 4 would’ve started with “Change of Command” and the introduction of Colonel Potter as Colonel Blake’s replacement. It’s not hard to imagine Trapper’s reaction to Frank as temporary commanding officer of the 4077th, prior to Potter’s arrival. Perhaps he and Hawkeye would pull some pranks on Frank. Perhaps “Change of Command” would include an additional scene or two in which the characters mourn Henry.

The remainder of Season 4 would play out the way it did, except with Trapper instead of B.J. I think “The Late Captain Pierce” would be more amusing with Trapper. Hawkeye’s “Wherever they come from, they’ll never run out” quote would need to be altered if Trapper didn’t go home. Instead of “Dear Peggy” perhaps Season 4 would include a “Dear Louise” episode in which Trapper wrote his wife.

We don’t have to speculate about Trapper and “The Interview” at the end of Season 4. Larry Gelbart wrote a lengthy interview for Trapper back in February 2006.

Let’s Discuss

If Wayne Rogers never left, how would M*A*S*H be different? Many episodes that worked with B.J. wouldn’t work with Trapper. Others might, with some tweaks. “Period of Adjustment,” for example, could work with Trapper.

Would the character evolve as the series progressed? Would he continue to clown around with Hawkeye or grow bitter as the war dragged on? Consider how Trapper acted in “Radar’s Report” when he considering killing the North Korean POW. If Trapper had to cut a rope while in a chopper, condemning a wounded soldier to death–the way B.J. did in “Bombshells”–it might send him over the edge.

Do you think Trapper would continue cheating on his wife? Perhaps he and Margaret would have a fling. After all, we know Margaret found him attractive. Or maybe the presence of Colonel Potter would make Trapper think twice about his marriage and change his womanizing ways.

How would Trapper react to Frank’s departure? To the arrival of Charles? To Radar leaving the 4077th? Would he grow a mustache the way B.J. did? How would he say goodbye to Hawkeye when the Korean War finally ended?

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

24 Comments

  • BDOR says:

    I would like to think that considering M*A*S*H started focusing more on character development starting around Season 5 (mainly because Larry Gelbart left, and his focus was more on the anti-war satire) that the writers would have finally let Trapper grow and evolve a little, and who knows, maybe Trapper could have grown into a more fleshed-out, multi-dimensional character.

    I don’t dislike Trapper, but of all of the main characters, he’s my least favorite, and it’s nothing to do with Wayne – he did the best job he could with what little material he had to work with. Again, I mostly blame the writers for not doing much with Trapper other than making him Hawkeye’s sidekick . . . that, and I think making him interchangable with Hawkeye was a mistake – I know that was intentional so that either one of them could carry the show, but it made the characters too similar in personality, and IMHO, their schtick (always pranking and tormenting Frank, always boozing their brains out, always chasing nurses, always disregarding whatever trouble they gotten into) was already starting to get old by Season 3. That being said however, I do think that Wayne had better chemistry with Alan than Mike did – even though B.J. was a more rounded character, and his relationship with Hawkeye stayed interesting because of their differing personalities, Wayne and Alan’s close friendship shone through the lens of the camera, and it’s fun to watch how Wayne can never keep a straight face whenever Hawkeye and Trapper’s schemes fall into place.

    One thing I will say about Trapper is that we’ve seen on a number of occasions that he took his work very, very seriously, and I think that was an area that could have been explored more – not necessarily like with Trapper was on the verge of killing the POW for causing his patient to die from the contaminated IV, but maybe more like his subplot in “Showtime,” where he obsesses over a surgical case seemingly not getting better.

    So, again: Wayne was a good actor, and his chemistry with Alan was first rate, but the writers could have done more with the character, so had Wayne stayed, I would have liked to have seen Trapper evolve beyond just being Hawkeye’s sidekick.

    • penguinphysics says:

      In a similar way, I would be very interested to know how the writers would have handled the fight near the end of “Preventive Medicine” Which of the two would have been on the side of opening up the amoral colonel and who would have opposed it?

      With MASH becoming the ‘Hawkeye & Friends’ show, my guess would be that Trapper would be the mutilator in that case and Hawkeye the voice of opposition. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

      • BDOR says:

        Well, it’s really iffy, when you consider both Hawkeye and Trapper were in cahoots when they did the unnecessary appendectomy on Flagg in “White Gold,” while Henry just looked the other way. I really can’t see Trapper and Hawkeye having the same fight that B.J. and Hawkeye did – Trapper could be as much of a schemer as Hawkeye could. I think I could see a similar aftermath though, where they both are kind of numb after the surgery and realize they merely treated a symptom, but the disease still goes merrily on.

      • Farret Face says:

        Actually, it’s great that you brought up that moment in particular. The whole thing came about because Mike Farrel had an issue with the script as it was written originally, since he didn’t believe a doctor should be cutting into healthy people like that, no matter the reason, so they ended up writing that stance into the script. So without the cast change (or even if they had a different actor playing BJ), the episode would have been very different from what we actually got.

      • BDOR says:

        True: Mike and Alan ended up arguing with each other almost verbatim the way we see it on screen in that episode, and I think both of them realized this was something they needed to do for the camera.

      • 007 says:

        Hah funny to see you call it the ‘Hawkeye & Friends’ show. Thought that was just a term I used. It’s really true though.

    • Farret Face says:

      I’m on a similar page as you are with his character. I do like him, and wouldn’t put him as my least favorite character (that would probably be Frank, though I also like what he brought to the show, especially after my recent rewatch), but I agree about his lack of development and similarity to Hawkeye’s character.

      As far as story potential, I’ve often felt that, out of the main cast members who left, he might have been the most interesting to see throughout the changes of the series (though Henry could have been good too). Despite the severe lack of focus on his character in those seasons, when they actually did give him the spotlight, it showed how interesting and dynamic his character could be. As you pointed out, he could be a caring and dedicated doctor, which was shown in both a positive light, or a negative one like with the P.O.W. in “Radar’s Report.”

      I’d also be interested in seeing how they would handle his relationship with his family, compared to how they handled it with BJ. We know that he wasn’t faithful to his wife like BJ was, so he wouldn’t have had episodes like “Hanky Panky” or “War Co-Respondent” (which I know you wouldn’t miss, lol), but maybe he could have had a different take on those episodes, where he questions his cheating. Also, to go along with his family life, one aspect I loved was his relationships with kids. Obviously “Kim” is the main example of this, as he gets so caught up in becoming an adoptive father, but another moment I really liked was when he was giving shots to the Korean kids. I would have loved to see more of that if he had stayed. In fact, it makes me wonder how good of an addition he’d be in episodes like “The Kids,” and “Yessir, That’s Our Baby.”

      • BDOR says:

        More good points. Going back to Henry for just a moment, Henry actually started to show signs of growth during his last season: he was dead-dog serious about the situation of sending a surgeon, nurse, and corpsman to the Aid Station, and was actually a competent commander for once – I feel like had Mac stayed, Henry probably could have grown into his position as Commanding Officer, and who knows, Margaret and Frank may have eventually developed a little more respect for him when they see he can, indeed, make serious decisions.

        Getting back to Trapper and his family life, I agree with you completely – I’m not sure he was ever really truly in love with his wife, given his infidelity, but it was clear that he treasured his little girls, and I feel like he probably was a very caring, and devoted father, but otherwise just had issues with commitment and marriage. “Kim” really was his best episode ever.

        Again: Trapper did have potential, but that potential was totally wasted.

      • 007 says:

        @BDOR I definitely think Trapper loved his wife. The infidelity thing was really just his way to deal with the war, much like Hawkeye’s way to deal was constant joking. This is actually pretty common in the military at war. It’s not right, but it’s common, and I have no doubt once he got back to the states, he was super loving and faithful.

        In the book Duke was the married one who cheated the whole time, and he too went home and was loving and faithful to his wife.

  • 007 says:

    This is a really hard topic in a way to talk about, because we also have to ask if Larry and Gene would have still left or if they had stayed as well in this hypothetical situation.

    Assuming everything else was exactly as it was, with just Wayne staying, hmm lets think.

    So obliviously some episodes just wouldn’t work. The joker is wild, hanky panky, and war cor-respondent, although that 3rd one could potentially work with Trapper.

    We saw inklings of him still having a close relationship with his wife, despite his cheating ways, such as when he wrote her to talk about adopting Kim. I feel like as the war went on, and especially as the show moved more into drama like it did with the departure of Larry and Gene, that we’d see him transition into being a bit more faithful, and honestly not THAT much different from BJ.

    One thing I would have absolutely loved to see is Trapper and Charles. Trapper had a way of making fun of Frank with his playful sophisticated tease that I think would have been absolutely perfect to do with Charles. I think episodes like The Winchester Tapes could have played out almost exactly the same.

    Really thinking about it, I think Trapper would have ended up much more similar to BJ than we think, just because by the end they really tried to make BJ go off and do his own pranks and jokes too, which is something Trapper would do. I do think Trapper would have done a much better job of it though, because BJ always seemed to be doing his out of some weird sick pleasure or jealousy, where as Trapper just had a fun time with Hawkeye. I’m probably bias’d though because Trapper and Blake were my favorite characters, where as BJ’s one of my least favorite.

    BTW, random, but if you haven’t seen these, check out the first couple commercials in the below link. Wayne and Harry in the same commercials! Not even sure how these came to be. I guess Harry was signed to play Potter before Wayne decided not to return, but then why would Harry be in the commercials since we wouldn’t know him as Potter yet?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7Dqe4GQtjI

    • BDOR says:

      Trapper and Charles would have been an interesting dynamic, because they had one thing in common: both hailed from Boston. I can imagine Charles would probably treat Trapper with less than dignity, because Trapper probably came from a part of Boston that was virtually non-existent to the Winchesters; I can totally imagine an exchange such as this:

      CHARLES: How is it that I come from the same place as such an impulsive, boozehound such as yourself?

      TRAPPER: Oh, beats me. Guess Boston’s a good place to get lucky. (Laughs hysterically)

      CHARLES: From this moment onward, I am going to pretend that you come from a completely different Boston than Massachusettes.

      TRAPPER: Fine with me. How about Boston, La La Land?

      CHARLES: Don’t be absurd, there is no such place on this planet.

      TRAPPER: Hey, what’s the diff as long as we’re pretending?

      • 007 says:

        CHARLES: From this moment onward, I am going to pretend that you come from a completely different Boston than Massachusettes.

        LOL oh man that is totally what Charles would say. That’s hilarious.

  • Crabapple Cove says:

    Over my years of commenting at this site I have made no secret of my affection for the character of Trapper, so it should come as no surprise that I would love to have seen him continue in the series beyond season 3. In addition to “Kim” which most regard as Trapper’s best episode, I strongly believe that he is terrific in “Ceasefire” as well. His willingness to remain skeptical while the rest of the camp celebrated the ‘end of hostilities’ gave Trapper John a rare chance to shine.

    I can’t rememeber the precise episodes, but another aspect of Trapper is that he was the only character (other than Margaret of course) who at least tried to give Frank a fair shot as a doctor and person (of course, no amount of help could improve the hapless Maj. Burns).

    The one thing that never computed with me regarding Trapper is he total disregard for his marriage vows (the one area that I score BJ over Trapper). Frank’s infidelity is very clear — he just shes Mrs. Burns as his ‘security blanket’, but with Trapper I just never understood it — if he had kids he loved with his wife, was willing to adopt Kim with her, and seemed to truly love her, why would he then be so cavalier about his adultery? I hope that had he stayed he would either have become a devoted husband, or done the honorable thing and divorced his wife.

    • BDOR says:

      Frank seemed to genuinely want to be friends with Trapper. Two moments that stick out in my mind are “George,” where he and Hawkeye stage that disagreement in front of Frank where he pretends to agree with Frank, to which he responds, “Y’know, Trap? I always felt like you and I had the makings of a real friendship, Trap.” Likewise in “O.R.,” Trapper and Frank share that tender little moment in the break room where we learn more about Frank’s abusive childhood, and asks Trapper that he and Hawkeye stop razzing him, and even asks to be friends, to which Trapper agrees . . . then ends on a funny note with, “Now shut up, Frank, or I’ll kill ya.” Even after his discharge, Frank admits to Margaret he wished it was Hawkeye who left and Trapper who stayed, because, “He’s still better than Pierce.”

      And I forgot about “Ceasefire,” but I agree, that was a really human scenario for Trapper: I like how he was seen as the only one being realistic about the ceasefire, but everybody else (well, mostly Hawkeye) saw him as a cynical pessimist; I’ve been in that position many times myself, so I can relate to how Trapper felt . . . for many years, my personal philosphy was that it’s better to assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised as opposed to getting your hopes up and face disappointment.

      • 007 says:

        Yea I always got the impression Trapper was mean to Frank just because Hawkeye was. He was definitely more sympathetic but the writers made him follow what Hawkeye did because after all, MASH is really the Hawkeye and friends show.

      • Crabapple Cove says:

        Ha ha… sounds like you and share a common view of the world BDOR! I prefer to expect nothing and then be pleased if something actually works out.

        I think my pessimism is why I have always been attracted to sarcasm such as the Marx Brothers and the early seasons of M*A*S*H.

        (it is also why I prefer to watch Babylon 5 over Star Trek — I like Star Trek too, but I prefer Babylon 5’s more realistic view that man is never going to achieve ‘peace and harmony’ on planet Earth as depicted in Roddenberry’s vision)

    • 007 says:

      Agree with everything you just said. I too am a huge Trapper fand and think he’d eventually become more faithful as time went on. It was out of character in a way and not really necessary.

      Trapper in the show is basically a mix of Hawkeye and Duke in the book. In the book Trapper is single, a ladies man, the chief surgeon, dark hair etc. Hawkeye in the book is blonde, married, and faithful. Duke is brown hair, married, and unfaithful.

      They made Hawkeye in the show, the character of Trapper from the book, and they could have just made Trapper the character of Hawkeye, basically like the movie, but for some reason they decided to throw the cheating aspect of Duke into Trapper as well, I guess to make it more fun for him to be with Hawkeye, but wasn’t really necessary. I like to think by the end, we’d see more of the book Hawkeye (Trapper).

  • Steven Andrew Nunamaker says:

    I think that they had left Trapper in when Charles came when the series is over who have after Mash in Boston with Charles and Trapper being thoracic surgeons at the same Hospital what you been hilarious and probably last 10 years

      • 007 says:

        Took me a few reads, but think he’s saying if Trapper had stayed to the point Charles was there, the dynamic would have been good enough that they could have had After Mash set in Boston with both Charles and Trapper being thoracic surgeons. The show would have been hilarious and could have lasted 10 years.

        I tend to agree to a point. I think Charles and Trapper would have been great to see.

  • Dan says:

    I had thought in the past that Trapper stayed, then BJ showed up. I could only imagine the pranks that the 3 of them would have pulled on Frank then Charles 🙂

    • 007 says:

      I’ve often imagine something like this. How cool would it be to have all of them there. Potter in command, Blake as his first officer. Frank and Charles as the majors, and Trapper and BJ there with Hawkeye and everyone else.

  • Dan says:

    Very cool, also Hawkeye, Trapper and BJ would have gotten promotions.

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