Nurses of the 4077th:
Nurses from the Opening Credits

Introduction

There is a brief scene in the opening credits to M*A*S*H in which a group of five nurses are shown running towards the chopper pad. The identity of these “running nurses” has been a mystery for decades, one that has intrigued and confounded fans of the series. Although they’re in just about every episode, very little is known about these actresses. A handful of episodes during Season Eleven did not include this scene; the opening credits were trimmed down to make room for more commercials and the “running nurses” got the boot.

During the first minutes of the Season One episode “Sticky Wicket” (originally broadcast March 4th, 1973) the camp is seen responding to Radar’s warning that incoming wounded are on their way. Footage that appears to have been shot at the same time as the opening credits is shown, including a few seconds with the “running nurses” bursting out of the nurses quarters. This footage mirrors the scene in the extended opening. Here’s an animated GIF that combines the scene from “Sticky Wicket” with the better known footage from the opening credits:

Footage from Sticky Wicket and the opening credits
Footage from “Sticky Wicket” and the opening credits

Notice how well the two scenes fit together. Four of the nurses are shown wearing their hats in “Sticky Wicket” as they exit the nurses quarters; in the footage from the opening credits, only the two nurses in the back are wearing hats while those in the middle are holding theirs. It’s likely that a lot of extra footage was filmed when the opening credits were being put together. Perhaps “Sticky Wicket” ran short and some of this footage was included to pad out the episode.

Identifying the Nurses

When I first wrote about the “running nurses” in July 2007, only two of the actresses involved had been named: Gwen Farrell and Marcia Gelman. In January 2009 I was able to identify the lead nurse as Kathy Denny Fradella; Ms. Fradella was kind enough to confirm that she was indeed the lead nurse in September of that year. In November, the son of Sheila Lauritsen left a comment at this page revealing that she was the blonde nurse running near the front of the pack. And in January 2010 the final nurse was identified as Sandra Hull (also by a child leaving a comment here, incidentally).

Gwen Farrell

According to several messages at the alt.tv.mash newsgroup from M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbart (see this message and this message, both from 1998, via Google Groups), one of the “running nurses” is Gwen Adair, who went by Gwen Farrell during her time on M*A*S*H.

Gwen Farrell in the Opening Credits Gwen Farrell in Springtime
Left: Gwen Farrell in the Opening Credits; Right: Gwen Farrell in “Springtime”

She is on the far left in the “running nurses” scene and later appeared in dozens of episodes over the course of the series, although she was only credited in nine (see the Same Face, Different Name section for more). Gelbart also stated that four of the five actresses (including Gwen) were in other episodes.

Marcia Gelman

The actress in the middle, who is obscured by Sheila Lauritson at times, appears to be Marcia Gelman, who was credited in the episodes “The Sniper” and “The Incubator” during Season Two.

Marcia Gelman in the Opening Credits Marcia Gelman in The Sniper
Left: Marcia Gelman in the Opening Credits; Right: Marcia Gelman in “The Sniper”
Kathy Denny Fradella

More than anything else, the identity of the brunette at the front of the “running nurses” scene has baffled fans of M*A*S*H for years. In January 2009 I stumbled upon the following question and answer in the “TV Talkback” section of the May 26th, 1978 edition of The Los Angeles Times [1]. Someone wrote in with the following question:

On the opening sequence of MASH there is a brunette nurse out front and running fast toward the chopper pad. Can you tell us who she is? My husband is quite taken with her.
F.R., San Diego

Will you believe this? Even 20th Century-Fox, where the series is filmed, doesn’t know. That opening sequence was filmed seven years ago when the series began. The studio had an “extra call,” with the union supplying several extras for nonspeaking roles in backgrounds scenes. Several girls were picked for that opening scene and instructed to run toward the cameras. After they were paid, that’s all they did that day. So if that brunette is out there in the Hollywoods somewhere, please identify yourself so that F.R.’s hubby will be happy.

Thankfully, about a month later in the April 16th, 1978 edition of the paper, the brunette in question did write in to identify herself [2]. Here’s what she had to say:

I was delighted that someone out there wondered who I was? (TV Talkback, March 26). Yes, I’m the brunette on the opening title shot of “MASH” seen running towards the camera. It was seven years ago that I ran out of that tent toward the helicopter pad at 20th Century-Fox ranch. The producer was Gene Reynolds. He lined up about 20 girls and we literally raced for the job. I had run in high school, so I was more than eager to compete. I’ve since acted in various series, “Kojak,” “Starsky & Hutch” and others. Thanks again, and thanks to F.R., of San Diego, for asking.
Kathy Denny Fradella,
Van Nuys.

During the closing credits to the installment of E! TV Tales focusing on M*A*S*H (originally aired April 21st, 2002) Gene Reynolds explained that while working on the opening credits, each time the sequence with the “running nurses” was filmed, the brunette would invariably wind up in front. Now we know why: they were running for the right to be in the opening credits and Kathy Denny Fradella was a fast runner.

Kathy Denny Fradella in the Opening Credits Kathy Denny Fradella in the Opening Credits
Kathy Denny Fradella in the Opening Credits

In February 2008 Mary sent me an e-mail that suggested actress Michele Lee — famous for her role on the prime time soap Knot’s Landing — might be the brunette in the opening credits to M*A*S*H. Mary heard Ms. Lee say in a television interview years ago that she was the nurse at the front during the opening credits and that she is paid a small amount of royalties for her the use of her image. This contradicts the information from The Los Angeles Times.

Furthermore, on September 8th, 2009 I received an e-mail from none other than Kathy Fradella herself confirming that she was indeed the brunette at the front of the “running nurses.” Here’s what she had to say:

Hello my name is Kathy Fradella (Baker) I am the brunette nurse that runs in the front during the opening credits of mash. I stumbled across your website and thought I would comment, just in case you still thought it was Michele Lee. I worked on the show as an extra the first season. I went on to do stunt work and small bit parts as an actress. I am still living in Southern California. Since Mash I have married and had two children (grown up now).

I am no longer working in the film industry.

I hope this solves the puzzle.

Thank You!
Kathy (Mystery Nurse)

Kathy was also kind enough to send me two pictures of herself with permission to post them:

Kathy Denny Fradella Headshot Kathy Denny Fradella Headshot
Kathy Denny Fradella Headshots

I asked if she had any memories of her time spent on M*A*S*H and she recounted the following:

One memory I do have is how awfully hot it was shooting at the Malibu ranch. It must have been 105 degrees out there in the summer time. With all the army gear on,hats,boots and all we would be miserable. So we would have water fights when we were waiting for the crew to line up the next shot.

Water fights with the likes of Alan Alda and Loretta Swit? Sounds like a fun time.

Sheila Lauritsen

In November 2009, Josh posted in the comments that the blonde nurse running up front is none other than Sheila Lauritsen (you can read more about her in the Same Face, Different Name section). I had wondered if Lauritsen was the blonde in the opening credits but wasn’t certain. Thanks to Josh, now we know for sure. And he should know. Sheila Lauritsen is his mother.

Sheila Lauritsen in the Opening Credits Sheila Lauritsen in Dear Dad...Three
Left: Sheila Lauritsen in the Opening Credits; Right: Sheila Lauritsen in “Dear Dad… Three”
Sandra Hull

S Webb posted in the comments in January 2010 that the nurse in the background with dark hair and a hat is his mother, Sandra Hull, who was an uncredited extra. Hull also did lighting work with actresses Raquel Welch and Margo Thomas but is no longer acting.

Sandra Hull in the Opening Credits Sandra Hull in the Opening Credits
Sandra Hull in the Opening Credits
Running Nurses in “M*A*S*H — The Pilot”

During the uncut and extended opening credits to the first episode of M*A*S*H (“M*A*S*H – The Pilot,” originally broadcast September 17th, 1972) Lt. Dish, played by Karen Philip, is seen leading a large group of nurses — including Leslie Scorch, played by Linda Meiklejohn — out of the nurses quarters. There appear to be at least eight nurses running out of the nurses quarters, if not more. This scene, and the extended opening sequence as a whole, has been cut from most syndicated airings.

Lt. Dish & Nurses, from M*A*S*H — The Pilot Episode Lt. Dish & Nurses, from M*A*S*H — The Pilot Episode
Lt. Dish & Nurses, from “M*A*S*H — The Pilot Episode”

References:

1 “TV Talkback.” Los Angeles Times. 26 Mar. 1978: N27.
2 “TV Talkback.” Los Angeles Times. 16 Apr. 1978: P4.

Last updated November 3rd, 2013

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