Discuss: Recurring Characters from Season 1


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 is: Recurring characters from Season 1

Too Many? Gone Too Soon?

Usually, my discussion topics are questions that ask readers to think about something from M*A*S*H and offer their thoughts and opinions. Today we’re shaking things up because there is no question to answer. What I hope to see is an open-ended discussion about the recurring characters from Season 1. (We’ve already discussed our favorite non-nurse minor characters from M*A*S*H.)

The first season featured a large number of minor characters in recurring or supporting roles. I’m including both Father Mulcahy and Klinger because neither William Christopher nor Jamie Farr were part of the main cast during the first season.

Here’s a quick list I threw together:

  • Father Mulcahy (13 episodes)
  • Ginger (11 episodes)*
  • Ugly John (9 episodes)
  • Leslie Scorch (7 episodes)**
  • Klinger (6 episodes)
  • Ho-Jon (6 episodes)
  • Spearchucker (6 episodes)
  • Margie Cutler (6 episodes)
  • Boone (4 episodes)
  • General Clayton (3 episodes)***
  • General Hammond (3 episodes)
  • Nancy Griffin (3 episodes)
  • Barbara Bannerman (3 episodes)
  • Kaplan (3 episodes)

*Ginger also appeared in multiple episodes during Season 2 and one episode during Season 3.
**Leslie also appeared in “Divided We Stand,” the first episode from Season 2.
***General Clayton also appeared in four episodes during Season 2.

If I’ve forgotten any recurring characters or made any mistakes, please let me know. I used the end credits to come up with this list, so any uncredited appearances are not included. Not on the list are Lt. Dish, General Barker, or Lt. Jones, all of whom appeared in two episodes during Season 1. The pilot episode featured yet another character, a nurse named Knocko (played by Laura Miller, who has no lines in the episode) who is also in M*AS*H the novel and movie.

Aside from the few exceptions I’ve noted above, all of these characters disappeared after Season 1. Many disappeared partway through the first season, presumably because the writers decided there were too many characters. Getting rid of many of the minor recurring characters did allow Father Mulcahy and Klinger to grow as characters.

I’m particularly fond of Margie Cutler, in large part because I’m a big fan of Marcia Strassman, but also because Cutler felt more fleshed out than most of the other characters on the list. Because they had such minor roles in so few episodes, most of these characters aren’t very memorable. Other than the pilot episode, I’m drawing a blank trying to recall any storylines involving Ho-Jon, for example, and off the top of my head I can’t think of anything Spearchucker did.

Personally, I think the loss of so many minor characters made the 4077th feel like a smaller place after Season 1, even if there were still a number of nurses and corpsman regularly seen in the background.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

6 Replies to “Discuss: Recurring Characters from Season 1”

  1. You forgot one of the most important ones, who was a book character too…Ugly John!

    While I do agree that there were probably too many characters in the first season, it would definitely have been nice to keep at least a couple. One thing that the show really needed was more regular female characters. Besides Margaret, and a couple of semi-regulars such as Kellye & Gwen Farrell, all we really got throughout the series were a nurses that stuck around for a period of time (from a couple episodes in a single season, to a few episodes in a couple seasons), but never longer, and never with anything more than a line or two here and there.

    It would really have been great to have a couple more female regulars, even leads maybe. My personal pick would be Leslie Scorch. I love her interactions with Henry, and she’s just cute as all hell. I could have seen them really growing her character, first when Henry breaks up with her after deciding to get more serious about his wife (after her cheating incident), and then even more so when Henry leaves. Another great choice, as RJ pointed out, would be Margie Cutler. She was the most fleshed out of those early nurses by far, and Marcia is a great actress. She had the chops to stand up to Hawkeye, and could have made for a great regular character.

    I also would have really liked to see Spearchucker and Ginger stick around. I know that Spearchucker was dropped because the producers discovered there were no black surgeons in MASH units in the Korean war, but I also feel like I read somewhere that this was debunked, or that while there weren’t any in MASH units, there were some in the war elsewhere. Either way, who really cares, he was in all three books (I’ve read them), and having Spearchucker there added some diversity to the cast, and made the swamp really feel full and alive. It also gave you the sense of constantly rotating shifts with someone on duty 24/7. It never made sense to me that there were only 4 surgeons, where one was supposed to be on duty 24/7 in post op when not in OR, yet we also always see them together. I like to imagine there was a whole other shift of doctors that we just never see, but with Spearchucker we did see it as he on a few occasions would be sleeping after doing a night shift.

    Ginger as well had some great scenes such as the racist officer, and her and Spearchucker were great together. Really too bad they couldn’t have stuck around.

    Clayton was great to have around at the start of the series, kind of like a father to the 4077th to introduce us to the show, so it makes a bit of sense that he isn’t seen again, but it still would have been nice to have maybe 1 general who stuck around throughout the entire series.

    1. Ugly John was probably my favorite secondary character in the first season. I have pointed out before that I am astounded that the show did not keep Ugly John or some other character as (at least) a recurring character. I am assuming that one of the key personnel in a M*A*S*H unit would be an anesthesiologist.

      I also like Margie Cutler and Leslie Scorch and would like to have seen more of each of them. Poor Boone hardly had any lines, much less any character development. It is therefore hard to make a judgment on him, but I would have liked to have seen him at least get a chance.

      I can’t say I am sad that they elminated Spearchucker or Ho-Jon. I never really cared for their characters.

    2. That’s so bizarre because I specifically remember counting how many episodes Ugly John was in. And yet I left him off the list. He’s there now.

  2. I think most of us could probably agree that one of the problems with Season 1 was the volume of minor characters we had, however, there are a few I think probably could have stuck around beyond that season – either for practical reasons, or others:

    * Ugly John – After he left, there have been occasions where we’d see certain doctors have to fill in for missing or lack of gas-passers, so there’s a practical reason for Ugly John to have stuck around, as that was his job.
    * Any of the Generals – M*A*S*H kind of needed a recurring General character; if not to serve as something of a father figure like 007 suggested, then perhaps to fill a role similar to that of Burkhalter on HOGAN’S HEROES: a higher-up, under who Henry may have always been under pressure for his lack of efficiency, to show that Henry’s receiving flack from both ends, and not just from his dis-satisified underlings like Margaret and Frank. To me, Barker seems more suitable for that type of General role than either Hammond or Clayton.
    * Ginger – She really added a little something special, plus as we saw with that racist soldier, who 007 also pointed out, she had so much potential as a character beyond just being a good nurse: she also had a sense of self-respect, and didn’t take any crap from anybody . . . she could have potentially grown into a very layered character.
    * Kaplan the Dentist – Yeah, he was annoying and obnoxious, but I suppose a camp dentist may have filled something of a necessity.
    * Barbara Bannerman – This is just simply because I thought she was really hot.

  3. I loved (even before it was trendy) the diversity of Spearchucker and/or Ginger, so I wish one or both had stayed. While I, too, enjoyed Marcia Strassman, it’s hard to imagine she would have stayed an 8th banana on M*A*S*H when greater roles emerged like Welcome Back Kotter. She wouldn’t have gotten better opportunities had she stayed on M*A*S*H. I also liked all the early Generals – Clayton, Hammond, even Barker. Would have been great if some of those generals provided consistency over the years because I’m sure they had a hand in making key decisions and would have loved an episode from their point of view about a bug out or new personnel or anything else that would have an impact on 4077th.

  4. Lol. As my nom de MASH plume shows, I loved John Orchard as Ugly John! He just had that lovable not-too-bright, yet street smart thing going on. He was basically the equivalent of a howitzer artillary gun compared to the delicate sensibilities of Hawkeye or even Trapper John.

    Other characters… Marcia Strassman’s Margie Cutler was adorable and Leslie Scorch was a wonderful bit of bubbly in a war zone. Karen Phillipe would have been great as a recurring one dimensional character but was maybe a little too hot to be a regular, given how much attention she would have stolen from Hawkeye and of course, our main nurse Margaret.

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