Discuss: What If M*A*S*H Had Another Female Main Character

21 Comments

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.

Today’s topic: What if M*A*S*H had another female main character?

Margaret and ???

Throughout its run, M*A*S*H had only one female main character: Margaret Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit. The evolution of the 4077th’s head nurse factored into numerous episode and storylines. Margaret never had another female character to interact with, only male characters like Hawkeye, Frank, Charles, and Colonel Potter.

But what if she did? What if M*A*S*H had another female main character? How would that have changed the series, changed Margaret?

Due to the setting, of course, there aren’t many options for an additional female main character. In fact, the only option would be another nurse, one of Margaret’s subordinates. There were several nurses who had recurring or supporting roles on M*A*S*H over the years. What would the dynamic of the series look like with a second nurse as a main character?

One obvious storyline for this hypothetical nurse character would be a romance with another main character. Hawkeye, perhaps, or Radar. But M*A*S*H already had a romance between Margaret and Frank when it debuted. It didn’t need another. Consider another scenario. What if a nurse joined the series when Radar left? A young nurse in her first posting, overeager and unaware of the horrors of war. Imagine the possibilities.

Can you think of any other scenarios in which M*A*S*H could accommodate a second female main character? Is it something you wish had happened?

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

21 Replies to “Discuss: What If M*A*S*H Had Another Female Main Character”

  1. This is an interesting one, because M*A*S*H seemed to try to ‘have its cake and eat it too’. I am referring to Nurse Kellye. She was around almost since the beginning and certainly had more lines than just about any other female supporting character. Her character would be a similar one to Klinger in that she would offer a perspective of the M*A*S*H experience from a subordinate point of view (in spite of the fact that she was a lieutenant) She could have been a terrific conduit to show how Margaret had a soft and human side that was never seen by the rest of the camp, but instead was known to the nurses (similar to the classic episode of the same name)

    From time to time, M*A*S*H would seem to play with the idea of having her be a more significant part of the overall story, but always seemed to back off whenever it seemed to be interfering with the dynamic of the main cast (just my opinion based on observations) It would have taken almost no effort to bump her up to a main cast member (a ‘la Klinger and Radar), but this never seemed to be even attempted until it was far too late (I speak of the 11th hour…er…season episode Hey Look Me Over), which, by that time, was too little/too late.

    If I had to offer a reason for the lack of any action in this direction, I would probably point at our favorite target: Alan Alda. Being the creative consultant, anything that might have interfered with Hawkeye’s apotheosis to television demigod would have been severely curtailed. Also, in spite of being publicly progressive and sensitive to social issues, I find Alda (in this time period) to have a severe streak of sexism in his character. I would not be surprised if he had shot down this idea (assuming it had ever been presented) because his ego would have a hard time recovering from any emphasis on a non-Hawkeye character (particularly a female one)

    1. ya know on facebook mash group i used to belong to was upset that i made almost that same observation about hawkeye … i sat back and watched every uncut no commercial on dvd episode and really watched it , background happenings microphone sightings what the other people are doing or expressing themselves to the main caracter at that time and noticed from early on the first few seasons i thought hawkeye was just hawkeye playing a caracter , overbearing etc cause i thought again in caracter but as the shows progressed to nearing the final episode / movie etc hawkeye was really a spoiled ass . no offence to all the hawk lovers but really hunnicut had way more class and was actually more funnier to watch , hes big not stupid knows how to be a friend for real and knows how to give and take a joke with class . even emotional , but about his family not him really in korea … anyway just noticed a lot he gets last word in on group discussion settings , quik example the episode where they thought col potter was sick when his last friend died and had a bottle sent to him , every time someone outside the tent says something and of course hawk has a yes or yea i know or ok , he couldnt even knock to be invited in by the col , suprised he didnt , he just said yea when asked that someone do it before father did … well hes a ass … ya have to really kick back and examine each episode , i can say im a true mash fan as im sure all of you are by your replies so try it youll really understand and see things you didnt before … i idi ….hey thanks for lettin me carry on … later …

      1. left out other example when the episode jokers wild was on i noticed just for a joke the legenth he would go to just not to be got , which he got , got ! anyway whats your opinion id really like to hear them

    2. In reply to you Penguinphysics I think you have hit the nail on the head about Alan Alda’s character
      in regard to his support of feminism and on his ego. Anyway they already had Nurse Kellye
      for that if needed

    3. I would like to add that with that streak of sexism in his character He was a big “supporter”
      of the feminist movement but the ERA Phyllis Schlafly already shot that down
      in a way I was glad that happened and some unsubstantiated gossip along the way
      [probably thrown at us for ego reasons.

  2. Interesting topic and something I never really thought about before. Thinking about it now though, I would have liked to see another female main character, if and only if it was done correctly though. What I mean by that is Margaret, while a good strong character, was written to be a total B for a very large part of the shows 256 (251?) episodes. I try really hard to like her character, and sometimes I can, but for the most part, she just sucks.

    If they had brought in another female character, she would most definitely need to be treated better by the writing staff. I’m also not really sure what role she would play. It would be nice to think of them bringing in either a young and naive, or young but sure of her self female to replace Radar, but that obviously wouldn’t be believable for the time period. Like RJ said, she’d basically have to be a nurse, and I’m just not sure how that would work.

    If you look at all the main characters of the show, they’re all kind of the leaders, or heads of the outfit in a way, with the one exception being the company clerk. You have the CO, the head chaplain, the head nurse, and the doctors. It would be strange to bring in another character who was a lower level person in the camp, and I just don’t see how you could bring in another leader type character being on the nursing staff. Obviously for something like a big hospital you could have multiple head nurses, but for a MASH unit it wouldn’t make sense.

    Also, I don’t like the thought of them bringing in a female character, only for her to end up in a relationship with any of the regulars. That makes me think of something like Monica and Chandler in Friends. It just wouldn’t work in a show like M*A*S*H. The last thing I would want to see in the show would be a main character in either a lasting or short relationship with Hawkeye. That worked much better with guest nurses that we don’t really see again.

    All that being said though, it would have been great to see Lt. Haven from Goodbye Radar Part I as a regular and love interest for Radar, especially if they somehow fixed it so they could have gone home together, but then again that wouldn’t be very realistic.

    So long story short, I would have liked it, mainly because of how crappy Margaret was a lot of the time, but given the time period and setting, I don’t think it would have worked.

  3. I just watched “Images” the other day, and that along with this topic makes me think that a new nurse, initially sensitive and maybe even a bit aloof and then progressively becoming more competent and perhaps even “desensitized” to the war could have added an interesting wrinkle to the main cast. We saw this played out in that single episode, and IMO they did a good job with it there, so stretched over a couple seasons, or maybe even just a single season, could have been to the series’ benefit.

    Plus, we saw some flashes of it with BJ’s debut, but we never really saw any of the main characters having to become accustomed to the horrors of war, from start to finish, in a full-fledged manner.

    Also, with such a male-dominated cast, another female would have naturally.helped balance that out…somewhat.

    ‘Course, they could have just promoted Kellye to main-character status, instead of bringing in someone entirely new. “Hey, Look Me Over” shows what could have been an interesting twist in the interaction of the main cast, had she become a part of it.

    Given the period in which the show is set, having a female character as another nurse is the most logical role, but it would have been interesting if they could have fit her in as something different. Another doctor? Probably unrealistic, and I’ve said before how much I detest “Inga,” BUT the germ of a good idea is there. Again, stretched over a season or more could have yielded some interesting plots.

    “War Co-Respondent” is another episode that comes to mind. I don’t like it much more than “Inga,” but had they somehow fit a character with the same job (or something similar) as Susan Saint James in that episode, it could have added a new viewpoint. It might have strained credibility; a situation like Sidney where she’d only show up occasionally would be more realistic, but if they somehow had her paper assigning her to cover a single M*A*S*H unit for the rest of the war, well, who knows.

    Good topic!

  4. Here’s a switch: this time, I’m the one who has nothing else to add that nobody else hasn’t already said. Like 007, this isn’t something I’ve given that much thought to, but like Penguin, I have considered the idea of Kellye’s role being expanded, just given how much she brought to the show with just her presence. Consider that Loretta Swit tried to leave M*A*S*H to go work on the series of CAGNEY AND LACEY (of which she appeared in the pilot movie), what if they did like with Klinger for Radar, and promoted one of the lower-ranking nurses into Margaret’s position if the character left for one reason or another (maybe transfered to Tokyo General, or a stateside base, or something like that): Kellye could have easily been that successor to Margaret.

  5. Even if they had wanted to add another main female cast member I wonder if it would have resulted in Loretta Swit leaving. If memory serves she almost left to take one of the lead roles in “Cagney & Lacey”. Bringing in another female probably would have pushed Swit to bolt just as Wayne Rogers & McLean Stevenson had done.

    However, I agree with the other posters, that as far as potential plot opportunities it would have been a valuable change in the cast.

  6. Personally, they should’ve just let Loretta go and made Kellye head nurse..with all due respect Loretta..I never cared much for Houlihan’s character..but I’ve always adored Nurse Kellye.

    1. I agree if They wrote her character to go to Tokyo General she would have been closer to
      her betrothed Donald Penobscot and maybe she could have kept a better eye on him Loretta Swit’s
      character could have been less screechy but Nurse Kellye would have made an excellent head nurse.

  7. I’m really late on this, but here’s a thought: what if Gail Harris from “Nurse Doctor” came back after graduating medical-school?
    Hawkeye really liked her, and Hot Lips begrudgingly respected her. She’d be a doctor, not a nurse, so neither Hot Lips or Nurse Kellye or any of the other nurses would have to leave.
    As you can tell by my other posts, I ‘m a big William Christopher fan, and I ship the Mulcahy/Gail pairing so hard, if he wasn’t a priest, they’d be perfect for each other, and I’d love to see his reaction to her coming back.What if Mulcahy couldn’t resist her for a second time, and they got into a forbidden, secret relationship like in “The Thorn Birds”? Oooh, be still my heart, how terribly romantic!!!

    1. Mulcahy just wouldnt have it in him . Unfortunatly , would have made a cool episode if he did have a affair , maybe instead of Hunnicut being unfaithful … But when Hawk was a prisoner for hitting Frank after Frank snapped him with the towel , remember Father taking a bite of Water Buffalo and realizing it was Friday , nah he couldnt cheat on the lord … but like you said might have been cool … guess will never know , unless M*A*S*H makes a come back , of course maybe a earlier time , same caracters , younger actors , show them actually forming a unit from nothing but tents supplies and themselves … just a idea for disney who owns the rights now i think … ok later enjoy /.

      1. Thanks, Stilldrummin62, for replying. It’s a wonderful site this is, where people can discuss their opinions and still be nice to each other when they disagree.
        Jesus loves you!
        JocularityGirl

  8. in kind of a way they did have one in nurse kelley … wasnt she on since season 1 and they even spotlighted her a few times the most famous was her and hawkeye discussing how she felt about him and the way he treated and ignored her R-A-G-G-M-O-P-P ! … plus she went on to aftermash as the voice on the intercom system , even though you never saw her in any episode , she hung in there … so thats my opinion … whats yours … yes i know the question requires a stronger part for a second female , might have worked if kelley was closer to the group , but really she could be a second female to the main cast … hope you like my view id like to hear yours …thank you … stilldrummin62

  9. I would have liked to see another female character- although I agree that it would be hard just to have her as just a lower level person in the camp. It would have been really fun to have her character act like one of the guys and end up in a relationship with one of the main characters (Hawkeye maybe). Having her with Margaret would be tricky though-since it might end up with Loretta Switt leaving the show. (In all honestly though- would she really be missed?) She does have a lot of moments where she is just a pain.

  10. I think someone discussed Star Trek and maybe sexism existing there
    I know Star Trek as very much a trail blazer for women on their shows

  11. I would like to add that with that streak of sexism in his character He was a big “supporter”
    of the feminist movement but the ERA Phyllis Schlafly already shot that down
    in a way I was glad that happened and some unsubstantiated gossip along the way
    [probably thrown at us for ego reasons.

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