The last of the comedy doubles on M*A*S*H is a study in opposites. One was a streetwise working-class kid from Toledo; the other was a Boston Brahmin who, the minute he was born, spat out the silver spoon because it was not 14-karat gold. One was the first regular character not taken from Hooker’s novel; the other was the last character added to the cast, and was loosely based on a pair of surgeons who appeared in the book. Five years into the series’ run, Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum went back to the fountainhead for a scene that would help them with one of their most difficult writing tasks. Near the end of the book, two replacement surgeons arrive at the 4077th: a pair of young Ivy Leaguers fresh out of residency, Captains Emerson Pinkham and Leverett Russell. Col. Blake makes the Swampmen show them the peculiar techniques of meatball surgery, instead of letting them sweat it out and learn for themselves.
Duke, having determined that all they had to do was fix the small bowel and that time, up to a point, was not going to be a factor, decided to sweat it out. For two hours he stood there amusing himself by mildly insulting Knocko McCarthy, who wouldn’t hurt him while he was scrubbed, and assisting in wonder as Captain Russell performed a small bowel resection as performed by the residents in a large university hospital. “Do y’all mind if I do this one?” he asked, as Captain Russell finally advanced on the second area needing repair. “I lost twenty bucks in that poker game, and I’ll never get even at this rate.” He didn’t wait for an answer. In twenty minutes he removed the damaged segment of bowel and sewed the two ends together. “Y’all probably noticed,” he explained to Captain Russell as they were closing, “that when clamping and cutting the mesentery, I wasn’t quite as dainty as y’all were. Y’all will recall that I didn’t do the anastomosis with three layers of interrupted silk, like y’all did. I used an inner layer of continuous catgut and interrupted silk in the serosa. Where y’all put twelve sutures on the anterior side of yours, I put four. Y’all observed that the lumen in my anastomosis is as big as yours, I’ve got mucosa to mucosa, submucosa more or less to submucosa, muscularis pretty much to muscularis and serosa to serosa, and there ain’t any place where it’s going to leak. It took y’all two hours, and it took me twenty minutes. Your way is fine, but y’all can’t get away with it around here. Y’all will kill people with it, because a lot of these kids who can stand two hours of surgery can’t stand six hours of it.” “But…” Captain Russell started to say. “That’s right,” Duke said, “and if I’m really in a hurry I’ll ride with just the continuous catgut through all the layers.”Larry Gelbart had already lifted a phrase from this scene and cut it down to television size for ‘M*A*S*H: The Pilot’, where, as I mentioned before, Hawkeye writes home to his father: ‘…a lot of these kids who can stand two hours on the table just can’t stand one second more.’ Now observe how Fritzell and Greenbaum took the detailed and somewhat wordy prose above, and cut it down for the requirements of meatball writing – that is, to suit a half-hour situation comedy:
(There is a bit of byplay in the background, as Hawkeye prepares to take another case.)
POTTER Major, we can’t spend two hours on a bowel resection.
HAWKEYE Chaahls, move on.
WINCHESTER I’m moving on as fast as I can.
B. J. I’m finished here, Charlie, let me show you.
WINCHESTER You show me? Certainly not.
MARGARET Doctor, we do have shortcuts.
WINCHESTER Shortcuts are sloppy surgery. More suction.
MARGARET Doctor, if we can’t control the bleeding, we’re going to lose him.
POTTER B. J., take over. Winchester, watch him.B. J. comes over to WINCHESTER’S table and begins to crowd him aside.
B. J. Move it.
WINCHESTER Now, see here! I—
B. J. (interrupting) Wounded egos come later. For now, just watch.
The monologue is shortened, then divided among four characters. It moves quickly – the whole section quoted above plays in under 50 seconds – and the interplay of the speakers makes it livelier than Duke Forrest’s uninterrupted lecture. And the repurposed scene serves as a wonderful first lesson in humility for the new arrival, who even inherited his middle name from Captain Pinkham: Major Charles Emerson Winchester III. Winchester replaced Frank Burns as the Swampmen’s resident nemesis. Burns, a cartoon villain on the level of Elmer Fudd, almost never got the better of the other surgeons except by pulling rank. Winchester had to be made of sterner stuff. A brilliant technical surgeon, a serious and competent officer, he is not actually a contemptible human being: the writers let him have the virtues of his faults. He is arrogant, but he works hard to live up to his opinion of himself. He is a snob, but he genuinely has the broad education and culture to partly justify his snobbery. His mind is filled with rubbish about ‘good breeding’, and he thinks of himself as an aristocrat; but he is devoted to his family, especially his sister Honoria. He is neither a fool nor a hypocrite. Winchester’s chief fault is situational: he resents his exile to a MASH unit, and when not working, he spends half his time scheming to get reassigned and the other half giving people the cold shoulder. ‘I don’t intend to be here long enough to get chummy,’ he announces soon after his arrival; and though he was a regular character on M*A*S*H for six seasons, he lived up to the letter of that intention. Such a character is enormously appealing to a writer, because there are so many ways that he can play the villain without ever losing his humanity. Some illustrative cases from his first year on the show: • ‘Change Day’ (one of the last scripts by Laurence Marks): Winchester concocts a scheme to exploit the Koreans who have been using U.S. Army scrip. This is technically illegal, but if they want to do business with the GIs in their midst, they have to take the paper in which the GIs are paid. The Army is replacing the old blue scrip with red, to foil the black market and the profiteers, and Koreans are not allowed on base while the troops are exchanging their money. Winchester buys the Koreans’ scrip for actual U.S. greenbacks at ten cents on the dollar, plotting to make a killing on the exchange. Hawkeye and B. J. concoct an elaborate scheme to foil him, and he loses his tailored shirt. • ‘The Merchant of Korea’ (by Ken Levine and David Isaacs): Winchester lends B. J. some money till payday, but the pay chest is short and there is only enough money to pay off the enlisted men. By way of interest, Winchester makes B. J. do a whole series of petty but demeaning favours for him. (Hawkeye parodies the situation: ‘Oh, Hunnicutt, since I lent you that money, would you be a good sport and Simoniz my head?’) The rest of the cast invite him to a poker game. Beginner’s luck nearly pulls him through the game, but Radar spots his ‘tell’: he whistles ‘Libiamo ne’ lieti calici’ (a typical Winchester touch) while he plays, and whistles louder when he is bluffing. Winchester loses his shirt again. • ‘The Smell of Music’ (Fritzell and Greenbaum): Winchester insists on practising the French horn in the Swamp. He plays abominably, and Hawkeye and B. J. go on strike, refusing to bathe until he gives it up. All three surgeons make themselves intolerable, until the whole camp rebels, giving the Swampmen a forced bath and running over the horn with a jeep. A local craftsman repairs the horn with spare parts, creating a monstrosity with five different bells and no mouthpiece. • ‘Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde’ (Levine, Isaacs, and Ronny Graham): In trying to cope with the inhumanly long working hours at the 4077th, Winchester gets himself hooked on amphetamines. (B. J. guesses correctly: ‘With his ego, he probably figured he could handle it.’) He even gives ‘a mouse’s portion’ to Daisy, Radar’s pet mouse, helping her win a high-stakes race against a Marine’s mouse. Daisy takes ill, Radar is apoplectic, Winchester collapses and has to refund the Marines’ bets. • ‘Major Topper’ (Allyn Freeman): Hawkeye and B. J. pass the time by exchanging tall tales, but Winchester tops them every time. When they brag about the women they have dated, he produces a photo of himself with Audrey Hepburn. He asks them: ‘When will you two cretins realize that your feeble imaginations cannot keep up with my real life?’ But even Winchester is astounded when Col. Potter successfully treats a ward full of casualties with a placebo instead of morphine. It was not until the following season that the writers stumbled upon the idea of pairing Winchester up with Klinger. The transvestite corpsman is Winchester’s polar opposite in personality, upbringing, class, profession, and in his role on the show. Remarkably for a situation comedy, Klinger is the only one of the regulars whose sole function (until he takes over as company clerk) is to be funny. It is easy to see that the writers had enormous fun coming up with his outrageous schemes to get out of the Army. The sheer gonzo ingenuity of his ideas, and their absolutely constant and predictable failure, puts him in a class with Wile E. Coyote. For instance: • ‘Radar’s Report’ (by Laurence Marks): Frank and Hot Lips demand that Col. Blake get rid of Klinger, whom they regard as a disgrace to the unit. Henry sends for the divisional psychiatrist, Dr. Freedman, who is unimpressed by Klinger’s act. Nevertheless, Freedman hands him the discharge paperwork: ‘It says I’ve examined you, and found you to be a transvestite and a homosexual. For all I know, you may also have post-nasal drip.… Now, this will be on your record permanently. From now on, you go through life on high heels. Sign it.’ Klinger refuses indignantly: ‘The hell I will! I’m just crazy. All I want is a Section Eight!’ • ‘The Trial of Henry Blake’ (McLean Stevenson, Gelbart, and Marks): Klinger builds a hang glider and tries to fly out of camp in a housecoat and slippers, looking like ‘a big red bird with fuzzy pink feet’. Both Hawkeye and Trapper describe him that way, separately, as he passes overhead, and the phrase ends up in the official report after he crashes two miles away. • ‘Officer of the Day’ (Laurence Marks): After Frank Burns calls him ‘an insult to American man- and womanhood’, Klinger tries to escape by disguising himself as a nun, then as a prostitute. Meanwhile, Col. Flagg has brought in a North Korean POW for treatment so he can be taken to Seoul and executed, to the Swampmen’s outrage. Hawkeye gives Klinger a trip to Seoul by putting him in the ambulance instead of the North Korean. • ‘Dear Sigmund’ (Alan Alda): Klinger pretends to have been hit in the helmet by a chopper blade, and he can only speak gibberish in Arabic. Subtitles: ‘My olive has no pit and there is no yolk in my egg… Father, give me your cheese from the windowsill.’ Potter is serenely unconvinced: ‘You can have a piece of my herring, but you’re not going home.’ • ‘Last Laugh’ (Greenbaum and Fritzell): Klinger starts going everywhere with his imaginary camel, Habibi. The scenes where he is trying to lead the camel (and sometimes it leads him) constitute one of Jamie Farr’s finest comedy performances. In the end, after a trip to I Corps, Col. Potter comes back with a discharge – for the camel. ‘It’s always the other guy,’ Klinger remarks sourly. (Many years later, Jamie Farr wrote a children’s book about Habibi. He knew a good thing when he didn’t see it.) • ‘Preventive Medicine’ (Tom Reeder): Klinger tries to get his discharge by putting a curse on Col. Potter, using such paraphernalia as a voodoo doll and a dead chicken. Potter turns the curse back on him by assigning him KP and sentry duty until further notice. Pointing at his eagle insignia and Klinger’s chicken, Potter observes: ‘My bird is more powerful than yours!’ One of the best comic scenes in M*A*S*H pits Klinger against Henry Blake. In ‘Mail Call’, by Gelbart and Marks, Klinger comes into the colonel’s office with an alleged letter from home, asking for a compassionate discharge because his father is dying. Blake pulls Klinger’s file and leafs through a stack of previous letters:
B. J. When you’re in a hurry, you cut the mesentery between two big clamps and forget daintiness.
HAWKEYE Throw in a layer of catgut, and interrupted silk in the serosa.
POTTER Maybe eight sutures on the anterior side.
B. J. Mucosa to mucosa, muscularis to muscularis.
POTTER Serosa to serosa.
HAWKEYE And Natchez to Mobile.
WINCHESTER It’ll leak.
B. J. No, it won’t, and it’ll only take twenty minutes.
In ‘The Young and the Restless’ (Mitch Markowitz), we see a new variety of crazy: Klinger doesn’t want to go home, he thinks he is at home, a civilian in Toledo. Among other shenanigans, he walks into Col. Potter’s tent and tries to sell him aluminium siding. Finally, Potter pretends to give in:
HENRY Father dying, right?
KLINGER (sobbing) Yes, sir.
HENRY (going through the letters, with a beat after each) Father dying last year… 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. (putting down the letters) Klinger, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?
KLINGER Yes, sir. I don’t deserve to be in the Army!
Over time, Klinger turned from a running gag into an actual character, largely because of Jamie Farr’s own contributions. Like Farr, Klinger (despite his name) is a tough Lebanese kid from the wrong side of the tracks in Toledo. He is a big fan of the Toledo Mud Hens and Packo’s Hungarian hot dogs. His girl back home is Laverne Esposito, whom he marries via ham radio, and later divorces when she cheats on him with a sausage-maker. We never see far into Klinger’s soul; not even Alan Alda troubles to psychoanalyse him in his scripts. But we know more about the surface of his life, probably, than any other character on M*A*S*H. In David Ogden Stiers’ second season as Winchester, the writers teamed him up with Jamie Farr and discovered that the two had a wonderful on-screen chemistry. The discovery came in ‘They Call the Wind Korea’, by Levine and Isaacs. Winchester is desperate to reach Seoul and catch a plane to Tokyo before the coming windstorm grounds all further flights. Unable to commandeer a helicopter, he dragoons Klinger to drive him to Kimpo by jeep. They become lost, and spend the night desperately working to treat a squad of Greeks who were injured when their truck overturned. Winchester tells Klinger his life story, but flatly refuses to hear Klinger’s in return. After a harrowing night, he sends Klinger up the nearest hill to search for landmarks. Klinger finds out that the hill directly overlooks the 4077th. They have spent the night hopelessly lost, just a few hundred yards from their own camp! By this time, the show had evolved away from its comedy roots, and the original cast, with its three double acts, had long since been broken up. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the new producers did not fully realize what they had in Winchester and Klinger: a duo every bit as good as Hawkeye and Trapper, Frank and Hot Lips, or Henry and Radar. Perhaps they chose not to. More screen time for those two would have meant less time for Serious Anti-War Rants from Hawkeye and B. J., or Serious Feminist Statements from Margaret. And it was the serious stuff that got the Emmy nominations. Still, several episodes did turn on the mismatched pair. They had a touching moment in ‘Death Takes a Holiday’ (written and directed by Mike Farrell). The 4077th is playing host to a truckload of children from a nearby foster home. The home is run by one Choi Sung Ho, played by Keye Luke with his usual impeccable dignity. Winchester, carrying on an old family tradition, orders in a big shipment of candy from the finest chocolatier in Boston, and delivers it to the home as an anonymous gift. Meanwhile, he plays Scrooge at the camp Christmas party, donating nothing but a tin of smoked oysters. There is plenty of unjustified outrage to go round. Everyone else thinks Winchester a consummate heel; but he has the same opinion of Mr. Choi, when he discovers that the candy has been sold on the black market. They leave the party for a confrontation outside:
POTTER Klinger, you’ve convinced me. At first I thought all this not believing you’re in the army was just another scam. But you really think you’re in Toledo, don’t you?
KLINGER (puzzled) Don’t you?
POTTER O.K., let’s get to it. I just want to check the facts before I send your paperwork to HQ.
KLINGER I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but you’re the foreman.
POTTER O.K. Name, Max Klinger.
KLINGER Right. That’s with one X.
POTTER Got it. Place of birth?
KLINGER Toledo, Ohio.
POTTER Fine. Mother’s maiden name?
KLINGER Abodeely. That’s with two E’s.
POTTER Social Security number?
POTTER (triumphantly) Aha! Gotcha, soldier!
They shake hands and make up. Choi offers to share some Christmas cheer, but Winchester prefers to be alone. We have seen a brief shot of Klinger at the door of the mess tent, eavesdropping on the confrontation. Later, he shows up at the Swamp with Christmas dinner for Winchester: the last of the buffet from the mess tent.
WINCHESTER Deny it. Deny it! You took the Christmas candy I gave you and you sold it on the black market. Have you no shame?
CHOI May I explain?
WINCHESTER No! What you may do is retrieve that candy immediately, and have it in the children’s stockings by morning. Otherwise they’re going to find you hanging by the chimney without care!
CHOI Major, I cannot. The money is gone.
WINCHESTER You – parasite!WINCHESTER turns his back on CHOI and takes a few steps away, seething. CHOI approaches him from behind.
CHOI Please. Your generous gift and insistence that it remain anonymous touched me deeply.WINCHESTER looks sharply over his shoulder at CHOI.
CHOI The candy would have brought great joy to the children – for a few moments. But on the black market, it was worth enough rice and cabbage to feed them for a month.WINCHESTER turns back towards CHOI, half in spite of himself.
WINCHESTER (quietly) Rice and cabbage?
CHOI (nodding) I know. (beat) I have failed to carry out your family tradition. And I am very sorry.
WINCHESTER On the contrary. It is I who should be sorry. It is sadly inappropriate to give dessert to a child who has had no meal.
Just a few weeks later, a script called ‘Operation Friendship’, by Dennis Koenig, would give the fullest expression of the peculiar relationship between Winchester and Klinger. The autoclave at the 4077th malfunctions, and Klinger shoves Winchester out of the way just before it blows up. As Hawkeye tells B. J., describing the incident: ‘Charles is fine, but Klinger has damaged over fifty percent of his body. He broke his nose.’ Winchester is determined to repay the debt of honour, and the bedridden Klinger decides on a whim to see how far he can take advantage. He starts small:
KLINGER Ah! Major Winchester, a party of one. Dinner…KLINGER unfolds a napkin with a brisk snap and spreads it over WINCHESTER as a bib.
KLINGER …is served.
WINCHESTER (annoyed) What is this?
KLINGER Well, let me see. For your appetizer, the last of the macadamias.KLINGER hands WINCHESTER a bowl.
KLINGER Followed…KLINGER uncovers the main course – a plate from the mess tent, covered with a helmet.
KLINGER …by a mixed grill – of Lebanese salami, sugar-cured ham, pig’s feet and hog jowls. We have seconds on those. Sorry, sir, no smoked oysters, I just smoked the last one.
WINCHESTER But I—
KLINGER Ah! And for dessert – Frisco fudge and nutty fruitcake.
WINCHESTER All laced with hemlock, I’m sure.
KLINGER Sorry, sir, no hemlock. But I can get you some ketchup.KLINGER heads for the door.
WINCHESTER (suspiciously) And – what, pray tell, is the catch of the day?KLINGER turns back to face WINCHESTER.
KLINGER Oh, just one catch, Major.
WINCHESTER (anticipating something unpleasant) Ah-ah.
KLINGER (quietly, with a trace of a smile) The source of this Christmas dinner must remain anonymous. It’s an old family tradition.WINCHESTER looks over his shoulder at KLINGER. He is surprised, grateful, and solemnly touched.
WINCHESTER Thank you, Max.
KLINGER Merry Christmas… Charles.
It is a slow period at the 4077th, so Winchester has time to take over Klinger’s clerical duties for the moment. (In another pure Winchester touch, we see him rubber-stamping a stack of forms to the tune of the Anvil Chorus.) He takes Klinger’s dinner tray and reviews his order for breakfast in bed – three-minute eggs, lightly buttered toast with the crusts trimmed off.
KLINGER Well… if you’re sure it’s not too much trouble… a little tea would be nice.
WINCHESTER Tea? Trouble? If I had to, I would sail to Ceylon.
KLINGER I would love a drop of honey, but darn, there’s probably none here.
WINCHESTER Honey is no object. I shall milk the finest bees in all Korea.WINCHESTER winks and exits.
KLINGER Well, how about that! Every broken nose has a silver lining.
Winchester breaks off, embarrassed. He tries to put Klinger off with offers to play checkers or Go Fish, but Klinger is insistent – and shameless:
KLINGER One more thing, Charles.
WINCHESTER (in a tone of long-suffering patience) Yes, Max.
KLINGER No – no, forget it.
WINCHESTER Now, what is it?
KLINGER Well – Well, I… I think it would really boost my spirits if you read me a bedtime story.
WINCHESTER Aren’t you just a tad old for fairy tales?KLINGER grabs a paperback book off the shelf.
KLINGER Fairy tales, hell! This is for adults only!WINCHESTER takes the book.
WINCHESTER (almost choking as he reads the cover) I, the Jury, by Mickey Spillane.
KLINGER I traded a dozen cigars for that. Just read the underlined parts.
WINCHESTER (opening the book at random; reading) ‘I kissed her hard. I knew I was hurting her, but she didn’t pull away—’
The next morning, Klinger suggests that Winchester wheel him over to the officers’ club to play darts.
KLINGER A game is fine if you don’t want to read to me. It’s just that I find it so heartwarming to hear your voice ringing out vibrantly, after you came so close to being – shall we say – dead.
Klinger keeps needling Winchester and piling more work on his overstrained gratitude. At one point, Winchester confides to a nurse: ‘I can’t wait for his nose to get better so that I can break it again!’ In the tag, Klinger finally drives his ‘abused toady’ to the breaking point.
KLINGER Of course, a brainy guy like you might find that boring, and I wouldn’t dream of asking you to stay. So feel free to come back here. Maybe inventory supplies. Even varnish the floor.
WINCHESTER (barely controlling his temper) Ma-ax… There is a fine line between Good Samaritan and abused toady. At the moment, I am teetering on the precipice.
KLINGER You are absolutely right. I’m a fair man. The floor can wait till tomorrow.
The ‘A’ plot of this episode, the serious dramatic plot, has B. J. develop a compartment haemorrhage in his right hand, threatening his career as a surgeon. Potter calls in a specialist to treat him, and the specialist turns out to be a seething cauldron of resentment with an insult for everybody and everything. This plot is capably handled for the most part; but it is the Winchester–Klinger story that steals the show, and that everybody remembers after the show is over. The scenes are beautifully structured: first the setup, then rising tension in tandem with rising comedy, until the final explosion of the dénouement. The serious story is flat by comparison. It is a great pity that M*A*S*H so seldom exploited the chemistry between David Ogden Stiers and Jamie Farr, and the very funny opposition between their characters. Like the three earlier duos, this pairing was magic: you had only to put them both on the screen together, let each one behave in character, and comedy ensued. I mentioned before that the Odd Couple is a twist on the ‘star-crossed lovers’ duo; well, Max and Charles are the Odd Couple in a combat zone. I have often wished that Stiers and Farr could have starred in a Broadway revival of The Odd Couple after M*A*S*H was off the air. They would have been perfect for the leads. By this time, however, M*A*S*H was firmly in the grip of its own delusions. Various cast members were insisting publicly that it was not a sitcom, a word that they pronounced as if it were a mild obscenity. They tossed around neologisms like ‘dramedy’ to describe the terribly important and artistic work that they were doing. The show-stealers simply could not be allowed to steal the show too often. Larry Gelbart would have let them have their head; but Larry Gelbart was never ashamed of producing comedy. The cast and crew of M*A*S*H increasingly gave the impression that they were; and the new writers who took over the show in its last years pandered to them. There continued to be funny moments almost until the end, but they became fewer, farther between, and as we shall see, not nearly so expertly done. Back to M*A*S*H: A writer’s view
KLINGER (into the PA mike) Paging Charles Emerson Winchester, the Living! This is your saviour speaking! You are wanted in the reading room! So for the last time I say, ‘Chop chop, Chuck Chuck!’Enter WINCHESTER, carrying a small paper bag.
KLINGER Oh, thank goodness you’re here! I lost my copy of I, the Jury. You can help me find it.WINCHESTER sits on KLINGER’S desk.
WINCHESTER Fear not, dear Maxwell. Mr. Spillane’s torrid tome is in the safest of hands: mine.WINCHESTER pats the paper bag.
KLINGER How appropriate! A plain brown wrapper. (rubbing his hands in glee) Well, let’s get started.
WINCHESTER Rather than reading, and more in keeping with your… heroism – what I propose is an I, the Jury ticker-tape parade.WINCHESTER begins opening the bag.
KLINGER I don’t understand.
WINCHESTER Oh! Well, then, let me Spillane!The bag is full of confetti made from the ripped-up pages of the book. WINCHESTER shakes the bag, showering KLINGER with the confetti as we FREEZE FRAME AND ROLL CREDITS.