Episode Spotlight: Good-Bye Radar (Part 1)

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Good-Bye Radar (Part 1)” (#173, 8×04)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, October 9th, 1979
Written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs
Directed by Charles S. Dubin

Capsule Summary: The 4077th’s generator goes out while Radar is on leave and when he returns everyone assumes he’ll be able to scrounge one up. But he can’t and to make matters worse, he learns his Uncle Ed has died, meaning he can get a hardship discharge.

Gary Burghoff’s farewell episodes are tough to watch. Not because the 4077th (and viewers) are saying goodbye to Radar but because the Radar depicted in this episode and “Good-Bye, Radar (Part 2)” is so different than the Radar from earlier seasons.

It wasn’t a case of the character evolving — although certainly Radar did evolve, particularly after Season One. No, it seems obvious that Gary Burghoff was unhappy and burnt out from playing Radar for so many years and for whatever reason allowed that to come through in his portrayal of Radar in these episodes.

According to scriptwriter Ken Levine in an October 2006 blog post, Burghoff refused to wear his iconic jeep cap for these episodes. Levine and his writing partner David Isaacs co-wrote both episodes, which were the last scripts they penned for M*A*S*H.

Burghoff appeared in brief scenes featuring Radar, without his jeep cap, on the telephone in two other Season Eight episodes (“Too Many Cooks” and “Guerilla My Dreams“). Not wearing the cap aged Radar and made it very obvious that Burghoff was playing a character much younger than he was. Which of course was one of the reasons Burghoff gave for wanting to leave the series.

Everyone is happy to see Radar

Radar acting out of character aside, you have to feel bad for the guy. He gets bumped from his flight for a cardboard cutout, meets a cute nurse and thinks he’ll get to spend six hours with her only to be forced onto a cargo plane, has to hitch a ride in a jeep only to be kicked out for G.I.s and finally returns to the 4077th in horse-drawn cart.

Sure, he’s greeted with a hero’s welcome but is he allowed to take a shower or grab a bite to eat? No, it’s right to work. And to top things off, his office is so messy there’s a second mess under the first one.

Who knew Colonel Potter was such a MacGuyver and could build a Wangensteen suction out of odds and ends from the kitchen? You can read more about Owen Wangensteen and his suction here.

This episode also featured the last appearance of Johnny Haymer as Zelmo Zale, seen attempting to fix the generator under Klinger’s instruction.

I don’t know what to think about the main plot of the episode being about the 4077th searching for a new generator. Would the U.S. military really let one of its MASH units go without a generator? Would it really be up to the 4077th to find a replacement? We’re not talking about a movie projector or a basketball hoop. A generator is a vital part of the hospital.

Also, how would nobody have noticed that the backup generator was missing? Perhaps that is why Zale left the 4077th. Somebody had to take the fall for the generator disappearing.

16 Comments

  • It’s no surprise here that I’m not too fond of this episode, nor part two. I can sympathize with Gary, I know what it’s like to experience burn out, so I can understand if he wasn’t up for playing Radar again… not sure if that has anything to do with why he refused to wear the jeep cap, but I and some others have noticed that for some reason, Gary seemed to have something of a white guy afro going on (sure his hairline receded quite a bit since the beginning, but look how big and puffy his hair was in these episodes).

    I also wonder just whatever happened to Zale… he was replaced later in the season by Rizzo, even though Rizzo was the Motor Pool Sergeant. It’s also interesting to note that Rizzo was originally intended to be Radar’s replacement. G.W. Bailey tested in the part to replace Radar, however, I’m guessing the writers and producers saw Radar wasn’t quite as replaceable as Trapper, Henry, and Frank had been, and instead decided to promote Klinger to company clerk.

    Also, Ken Levine has also mentioned that “Good-bye, Radar” was originally intended to be the Season Seven finale, but CBS was nervous about that idea, and decided they didn’t want to end the season with such an episode, and also later decided they wanted to turn Radar’s farewell into a two-parter for November Sweeps.

    • Jon says:

      I’ve read this quote from Ken Levine as well about wanting to save this 2-parter for November Sweeps. I don’t understand then why CBS aired it so early in the season on Oct. 8 & Oct. 15. Judging by the book “Watching MASH” which lists episodes in production rather than airdate order, I can see that these were also filmed after a few episodes that aired later, like “Private Finance” & “Mr. & Mrs. Who?”. Maybe CBS wanted to keep Radar in every episode until he left, with his 2 phoned-in appearances. The only episode where he didn’t appear in S8 that aired prior to “Goodbye, Radar” was “Are You Now, Margaret?”.

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      It seems that Radar did wear the cap at least once in the scene with Klinger in the OC when he orders a grape Nehi hold the straw. His hair is so puffy that it’s hard to tell he’s wearing the hat because it’s sitting so far back on his head. But it does seem to be there for that scene.

  • CrabappleCove says:

    Last year, I read Gary Burghoff’s memoir/autobiography “To M*A*S*H and back”. He portrays a good deal of his off-screen life during the years that he was on M*A*S*H. His marriage was wrecked, in large part due to the long work hours of shooting a TV series. If the story that Burghoff relates is true, I can see why he wanted out of M*A*S*H, and it would account for his portrayal in this final two part farewell. He was basically dragged back to film two more episodes of a series that his heart had not been in for several years.

    Thanks for pointing out the departure of Zale. I always liked his character (he never fails to crack me up in “Soldier of the Month” — “Ask me what’s the capitol of Cleveland!”).

    • There’s been all kinds of stories from the others regarding Gary behind-the-scenes: Mike Farrell has said he had a tendency to be real bitchy with people, Loretta Swit and Larry Linville said he’d always show up for work late and would use the same excuses over and over again, and director Jackie Cooper hated him (and Alan Alda too) saying he was like a diva on the set. I know Gary doesn’t deny that his behavior became increasingly negative while on the set, though you kind of have to give him the benefit of the doubt, as burn out hadn’t been officially diagnosed back then, so he knew he had all this negativity building up, he just didn’t know why.

      At least he did genuinely enjoy playing Radar, but like with Larry with Frank, he did all he could with Radar.

      • Tuttle says:

        I remember Gene Reynolds saying in an interview that Burghoff had some kind of sleeping disorder and would often oversleep. Reynolds said that they tolerated it because Burghoff was so brilliant in the role.

    • Doc Funnypants says:

      Seeing Radar’s final episodes knowing how Gary Burghoff was on set makes it difficult to watch. On the other hand, he was so brilliant in the role, you can forgive him for acting entitled.

      Radar: Where in Korea am I going to find a frozen custard machine?
      Radar/Klinger: (in unison) What’s a frozen custard machine?

      Just curious, when did frozen custard machines become popular and where did the first one come into use.

  • Tuttle says:

    I always found Radar’s last scene unsettling. When he climbs into the jeep and says “let’s go”, I felt like I was watching an angry and bitter Gary Burghoff and not Radar O’Reilly. It’s a shame he chose to go out that way. An ignominious end to a beloved character.

  • hrflyer says:

    Something always felt a little ‘off’ about these two episodes. The fact that he didn’t wear his cap is a new piece of trivia I didn’t know about and it certainly explains why he looks different (along with sprouting the ‘white afro’.)

    Along with that, his voice and definitively his demeanor are very much different from previous years. The whole show felt forced. Unlike Henry’s farewell which was emotional, this one fell flat. It also signals the start of Klinger’s overacting on the show (the start of lines such as “You rang, your royal Colonelness” – or something like that).

    • As far as the voice goes, I understand Gary spent all those years pitching his natural voice in order to make Radar sound younger (much like David Ogden Stiers gave Charles that stuck-up accent to emphasize what a snob he is), and that for this, he just wasn’t up for doing it anymore.

      As for Klinger, I personally always found him to be that way on the show just in general; it seems like of all the characters on the show, his performances tended to have something of a, “High school dramatics club” flare to them.

  • Jon says:

    This episode also has the last of what for me was a running (and for me somewhat disgusting) set of jokes from Hawkeye to Radar about the latter’s alleged lack of personal hygiene. The earlier episode “Images” had another one of these, as well as 1 or 2 others. I never got these, as Radar was probably as clean as anyone else there, even running into the showers in his towel (which fell off as he entered) in “The Sniper”.

  • lilgtogirl says:

    I feel like I have found kindred spirits here. With M.A.S.H. being on Netflix, once again I am able to watch my favorite show, and the Radar departure episodes always let me down. I believe that Mr. Burghoff had the right to leave, to feel exhausted and to want more out of his career. But you owe a little something to the people who made you famous, who watched every week, and who loved you enough to make you an idol. In the end, he was just a bitter man who spit on MY Radar as he left town. Now its hard to watch the show from the beginning, knowing how he ruins it later. I wish him well, but thanks for nothing.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Radar: A generator is just a 3 call finagle. A couple boxes of toilet paper here, a canned ham there, and there’ll be all kinds of trucks coming in with all kinds of generators.

    Perfect proof of Radar’s resourcefulness.
    Hearing about Gary Burghoff’s on-set attitude sours me when watching his last episodes, though I don’t blame him for feeling burned out after all those years playing Radar.

    Charles: I can’t wait to hear the dinner bell a-clangin’.
    Land o’goshen, that’s the life.
    Absolutely dead-on wordplay by Major C.E. Winchester III.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Just read about Dr. Wangensteen’s machine and am fascinated by its intricate design. I’m amazed that when this episode aired originally, Dr. Wangensteen was still alive. I wonder how he must have felt hearing his name referenced on the show.

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    I really don’t care if Gary Burghoff didn’t like having to wear the jeep cap or pitch his voice lower or play someone much MUCH younger than him. It’s called being an actor. That’s your job. Frankly, his whole story about burnout may have been true but carries less weight when you realize he tried to revive Radar in the Walter spinoff. Why not take other role than Radar you’re sick of character? Maybe nobody was offering anything else? I don’t know. He acted arrogant on set by all accounts and whatever the reason, he was aware he was doing it at the time. (My theory is his diva-like behavior had to do with being the only original castmember from the movie, so he thought he had the right to act like a big movie star.) His claim that he was dragged back to do two episodes was not corroborated by anyone else. In fact, Burghoff offered to come back and do a big finale for Radar. He was happy to do it. I remember it very clearly because Larry Linville and Wayne Rogers refused big sendoffs (or any sendoffs at all).

    Burghoff has offered a few explanations for his departure. Sometimes it’s to spend time with his family, other times it’s burnout. Maybe it was both. Either way, if you agree to come back for a send-off, the last thing you do is play yourself when yourself is a grumpy, rude, bitchy manchild who bears little resemblance to the character you’ve been playing since 1970. If I took a job and refused to wear the required uniform and chose to do things my own way, I would be called on it regardless of the reason. I guess I’m just tired of all these egomaniacs leaving the show because they think they will be bigger stars on their own or their lives will be better without the show. How many people have to leave the show and fall on their faces before the cast realizes what a great gig they have? It happens on lots of shows and rarely do the actors have bigger success anywhere else. After his behavior on these two episodes, I was glad to see him leave. Prior to this, he had been on R&R for what seemed like months anyway so we had already gotten used to his not being there. Klinger is an over-excited, over-eager, over-actor. But at least he’s happy to be there. At least he tries very hard to be pleasant and doesn’t judge people for their mistakes.

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