Discuss: What If Klinger Hadn’t Become a Regular Cast Member?

Monday M*A*S*H Discussions offers fans the opportunity to offer their opinions on a wide variety of topics relating to M*A*S*H. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. My hope is these discussion posts will continue to elicit comments in the weeks and months after they’re initially published. Have a suggestion about something you think might be worth discussing? Let me know and maybe it will become my next Monday M*A*S*H Discussion topic.

HannibalMO suggested today’s topic and I think it’s a good one: What if Klinger hadn’t become a regular cast member?

(I’m seriously considering continuing these weekly discussions in 2018 and I don’t want to burn through my list of topics, so I may use a one or two additional topics contributed by visitors to the MASH4077TV.com this month.)

No Costumes, No Schemes

For those who might not know, Klinger wasn’t planned be a recurring character, let alone a full member of the cast. Klinger was supposed to make a single appearance in “Chief Surgeon Who?” during Season 1 and that’s it. Larry Gelbart wrote the episode and created the character of Klinger. Producer Gene Reynolds thought of Jamie Farr for the part and hired him. Later, while writing “Dear Dad,” Larry Gelbart decided to use Klinger again and Farr was brought back.

Klinger appeared in just six episodes during Season 1. He was in 12 episodes during Season 2 and 18 episodes during Season 3. Starting with Season 4, Jamie Farr received billing in the opening credits and Klinger became a regular member of the cast.

So, if you want to see M*A*S*H without Klinger, watch Season 1.

Let’s Discuss

Without Klinger, what would M*A*S*H be like? Less wacky, perhaps. Not as much fun, maybe. Can you imagine M*A*S*H without Klinger dressed up as the Statue of Liberty? The Queen of the Nile? Lady Godiva? Zoltan, King of the Gypsies? Without an escape attempt using a hang glider (“a big red bird with fuzzy pink feet”), eating a jeep piece by piece, or sitting atop a pole?

Particularly in his early appearances during the first three seasons, Klinger was mostly used as comic relief. There were exceptions, like his dark turn in “Dear Dad” or heading to the front with Hawkeye and Margaret in “Aid Station.” Cut out Klinger and the series doesn’t change much. It’s not until Season 8 that Klinger becomes more than a man who wears dresses and plots to earn his Section 8 discharge.

If Klinger wasn’t around to replace Radar, what would happen? After eight seasons depicting the company clerk as an integral part of series, would the producers have created a new character to take over for Radar? Or would the company clerk disappear from M*A*S*H, referred to but never seen? Is it possible Igor could’ve swapped his chef’s hat for a clipboard and replaced Radar?

Whether or not you enjoy Klinger and his Section 8 stunts, it’s hard to deny they’re a big part of the first seven seasons of M*A*S*H. It’s difficult for me to picture the series without him.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

18 Comments

  • 007 says:

    Klinger to me has basically three “eras” on the show. The first era is seasons 1-3 where he was often used as RJ said as comic relief, but also to show just how crazy and zany the 4077 was under the command of Henry Blake. It was perfect and hard to imagine the show without it, because it’s that zaniness that made the show what it was in those seasons.

    The second Klinger era is seasons 4-7. Here it just feels different with the absence of Blake and Trapper, especially since Potter reacts to it so differently. During this era they had more of the Klinger stunts instead of the focus on crazy dresses. I think the shift MASH made from comedy to drama just didn’t fit in well with Klinger. You need a full on comedy show in order for the dresses and stunts to work. When you have half comedy/half drama, it just seems strange and out of place. Honestly I think we could have done without Klinger, at least Krazy Klinger in seasons 4-7.

    The third era is seasons 8-11 where he’s basically just Radar 2.0. The show had gone full on drama at this point, but Klinger had also been around long enough at this point that the show would just feel wrong without him, especially with Radar having already left.

    I do also think it was most definitely a good idea to make Klinger the new clerk, instead of a new actor or Rizzo. It was way too late in the show to introduce a new actor, so Klinger was the best choice to soften the blow of Radar leaving. Rizzo would have just been completely wrong for a permanent replacement. He’s just not likeable enough.

    So long story short, since Klinger wasn’t a regular cast member until Season 4, I don’t think it would have been much of a big deal until Season 8. If he had stayed on in the same capacity as season 1-3 for season 4-7, it’d have been fine, almost better in a way, but by Season 8 he should have been become a regular, since we needed him then!

    • BDOR says:

      And this is basically what I would have said as well, except I never really thought of Klinger in terms of eras, I just thought of him as the weird hairy guy running around in dresses who was funny, then the regular guy who took over for Radar who wasn’t funny.

      Lack of Klinger definitely contributes to M*A*S*H’s “Early Installment Weirdness.” He was like an extra special little ingredient that helped sweeten the pot, and as if the dresses weren’t funny enough, a lot of his later schemes were a riot – especially his invisible camel, Habibi.

      • 007 says:

        Mother dying last year. Mother AND father dying. Mother, father, and older sister dying. Mother dying and older sister pregnant. Older sister dying and mother pregnant. Younger sister pregnant and older sister dying. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: Half of the family dying, other half pregnant.
        Klinger, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?
        Yes, sir. I don’t deserve to be in the Army.

      • BDOR says:

        Seriously one of the greatest early Klinger moments ever.

  • penguinphysics says:

    For me, Klinger offered an essential point of view that nobody else could have. He wanted out of the army (like many of the others) but he was willing to take steps to do so. The doctors certainly didn’t want to be there, but their sense of duty (and, more pointedly, their Hippocratic Oath) would not let them do anything concrete about it. Klinger offered us a view of a soldier who would do *ANYTHING* to get out. Without him, a critical character trait would be missing (or would have to be transferred to someone else, which would diminish those characters) By having Klinger be the one to try leaving, it left the others to develop their characteristics more realistically because the insane shenanigans would be totally unrealistic for any other characters.

    On a side note, I *MUCH* prefer Zale over Rizzo. Rizzo (in my opinion) was a dimwitted slacker who was a one-note character of dubious quality (at best) I loved Zale’s sarcastic remarks and even his rivalry with Klinger was occasionally used to hilarious effect (the boxing match comes to mind)

    • HannibalMO says:

      I never though of it like that, but Klinger was the only one willing to act on his desire to leave the Army. It’s interesting how his sense of duty took over once he became clerk. He still wanted out, but he knew he had an important job to do and was willing to take it seriously.

      • 007 says:

        If you think about it, he was also that way throughout the entire show too. I don’t recall any instance where his schemes interfered with his duties. He always did it in his off hours, and when things were happening like wounded coming in, even if he was still in a dress, he sprang into action and helped out immediately, without fail.

  • BDOR says:

    Slightly off-topic, but something else boggles my mind is the fact they toyed with the idea of Sidney Freedman taking over a company clerk. What sense does that make? Why would an Army psychiatrist end up being company clerk of a MASH unit? Unless that was supposed to be another example of the army screwing things up as they seemed to be depicted as doing routinely on the show (Private Paul Conway being made a rifleman instead of a cook, for example). At least that didn’t happen because Allan Arbus didn’t want to commit to a regular role.

    • 007 says:

      I was never under the impression that Sidney or Rizzo would be coming in as company clerk, but rather they would just be full time additions to the cast to make up for the loss of Radar. I could be wrong but it would make zero sense for either of them to be a company clerk. Especially Sidney, he was a Major!

  • Farret Face says:

    While I’d be lying if I said he was my favorite character on the show, a lot of great aspects to his character which would be sorely missed without him. Obviously there’s the great comedy that came with his attempts to get out of the army. Granted, it did get a bit stale at times, especially in the period just before he replaced Radar, but all the great visual comedy with his dresses, and his escape attempts (his hang glider, his fake letters from home, the inflatable raft scene, just to name a few) made it all worth it.

    But beyond the humor, I just love how they made him a decent, relatable person. As others have said, he didn’t really let his desire to escape the army get in the way of his duties. One moment I loved where he was able to do both was when he pretended to think he was back in Toledo, and kept coming up with in-character excuses for helping out. And of course, there were great little bonding moments between him and the other characters, like his bonding moments with Hawkeye and Margaret when they go to the aid station, when he stands up for Hawkeye and BJ after Margaret discovers that the wedding ring they gave her was a fake, and him giving Charles a Christmas meal after overhearing that Charles gave the orphans candy.

    As for what would happen if he hadn’t replaced Radar, I’ve heard that two options the writers considered were Sidney and Rizzo, though Allan Arbus turned them down, since he wanted to continue being a recurring character. As for Rizzo, I definitely thing Klinger was the better choice of the two. Granted, he may not have been as memorable of a character once he stopped wearing dresses and trying to get out of the army, but I still think he had his good moments, and was a big part of the heart of the show.

    • 007 says:

      That raft scene is so funny.

      Potter: You’d have drowned…
      Klinger: NO CHANCE SIR!

      The raft inflating in the office is hilarious.

      You definitely mentioned someone of my favorite Klinger moments that I had forgot about in my replies. Charles and the orphans, and standing up for BJ and Hawkeye especially. Another good one is him and Margaret in “The Birthday Girls”.

  • Chauncey Uppercrust says:

    First of all I want to say how much I am enjoying this new feature. Please keep it going! Here are a couple of ideas for discussions. Favorite nurse, favorite minor character, how would things have been if it had been about a group of people instead of turning into the Hawkeye show. I think Klinger is one of my favorite characters and I think his craziness adds a lot to the show. It was always interesting to see what he would come up with next. The big red bird with fuzzy pink feet always makes me laugh. ( why does he move his feet as if he is running when he is supposed to be flying?) HA!
    I also think it was a good idea to let the character grow when he became clerk. People do change and grow over time especially in a war. I do wonder how it would have gone if Roy Goldman had stepped in as company clerk. I think I must be his biggest fan and I wonder how he would have handled a larger part.

  • BDOR says:

    Now here’s some food for thought: what if Klinger was actually gay, like Larry Gelbart had originally written him as?

    For 1970s primetime television? I’m sure that would have been extremely controversial, and in fact, I’m sure there would have been measures taken to either have Klinger removed from the show, or have the entire show canceled from the airwaves altogether . . . after all, ABC meddled in THE ODD COUPLE a lot, because they were so afraid there would be even the slightest little implications that Felix and Oscar might be gay, hence why they were forced to include that opening narration, “Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy,” and establish active dating lives for both of them (not to mention all of Felix’s attempts to get back with his ex-wife Gloria).

    • 007 says:

      I don’t think it would have worked at all having Klinger be actually gay, even if it wasn’t the 70’s. First of all, at least until very recently, gay men and women could not be in the military, so it would have meant he really would get the discharge he wanted. He wouldn’t have to wear dresses, he could just sign papers from Sidney admitting that he was gay and be on his way.

      Secondly, and more importantly though, the entirety of his shtick, especially in the early years, was that he was a straight man doing all these things. All the funny and jokingly provocative comments that Hawkeye and Trapper would make, or a lot of the things Henry would say would have come off in a totally different and almost offensive light if he actually was gay.

      Also, with Frank, there would be a lot more hate and disgust for Klinger, which would, at least in my opinion, make it seem a lot less funny when Frank would be shouting at him. Characters like Zale and his hate for Klinger would seem more real and offensive too, instead of light hearted and funny to us as a viewer.

      • BDOR says:

        I have to try to find the link about it, but a few years ago, I read that at the real 8055 MASH, there was a Klinger who actually was a transvestite and homosexual, and from what I remember reading, he actually wanted to stay in the Army, and it was everyone else who wanted him discharged.

        But I agree, having Klinger be just a hairy guy running around in dresses and everyone else being like it’s just Klinger being Klinger is what made it work so well, and made it so funny.

      • 007 says:

        Yea exactly @BDOR. Some of the best Klinger moments were subtle ones like when Henry gets back from the Trial of Henry Blake and it’s basically no big deal that this guy in a dress walks up to them. It’s just the 4077th thing!

    • RJ says:

      Where did you read or hear that Larry Gelbart originally wanted Klinger to be gay? My understanding is the director of “Chief Surgeon Who?” told Jamie Farr to play Klinger with a lisp. When Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds saw the dailies, they didn’t like what they saw and had Farr come back in to reshoot his scenes.

      In his interview with the Archive of American Television, Farr recalls suggesting Klinger act normal–just a guy wearing a dress. “Let everybody else comment on him, not have him comment on himself. So that as far as he’s concerned, this is perfectly normal. This is very natural for what he’s trying to do. They said, ‘Great, try it that way’.”

      • BDOR says:

        That could be what I was thinking of. Haven’t heard about a lisp specifically, but I do remember from one of the documentaries about M*A*S*H (I think it was that BIOGRAPHY documentary included on the DVD set) that Jamie was instructed to play Klinger in a “flamboyant, over-the-top manner that didn’t work,” and like you say, Jamie suggested to just play it straight, like it’s just Klinger and his “dress of the day.”

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