Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gary Burghoff explains Radar

As we approach Memorial Day...

I love when I can sometimes go to the source.  Reader Michael Rafferty submitted a Friday question.  Here's the question and the answer from the man himself, Gary Burghoff.  My EXTREME thanks to Gary for his time and very illuminating response. 

On MASH, first season, Gary Burghoff played Radar pretty much the same as he did in the movie version. But,over time, Radar was softened and became more gentle and naive. Was this a decision of Burghoff or was this a creative decision of Larry Gelbart et al.?

Here's Gary's answer:

In the original feature film MASH, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (review the Pilot) until I realized that the TV MASH characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters. It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated Doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the "hell hole" they were stuck in.

With Gelbart's help, I began to mold Radar into more Innocent, naive character as contrast to the other characters, so that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just REACT from a position of total innocence. This made RADAR super ACTIVE, free and very interesting on a primary "gut" level, which at times delivered the horror of war (as well as the dark humor we became known for) in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand.

Larry, in one interview, was quoted as saying that Radar was his favorite character to write for. I think he liked the fact that the character lacked guile and he could write from his own honest "child's-self" as apposed to having to create "clever" intellectual hyperbole.

ACTING IS RE-ACTING. LARRY gave Radar "permission" to REACT IN SPADES!! in a free, delightful and direct manner. Once these decisions were made, RADAR became PURE JOY to play!! God bless Larry Gelbart and his talented writers such as your most excellent SELF!

I hope this helps.

Love "Ya~ Gary

Love ya, too.  And P.S., Radar was one of my favorite characters to write as well.  It was a true honor to pen the "Goodbye Radar" episodes.  

23 comments :

Stoney said...

42 years later, the "announcement" scene in "Abyssinia Henry" still gets to me! Tragedy done to perfection!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

To Gary, should you come back to read this: I know you have gone on to do many other things - notably Radar, of course - but I want to thank you also for the lifelong memory of you and the rest of the cast in YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, back in 1968, when I was lucky enough to see it.

wg

kenju said...

Radar is one of my very favorite characters on TV and MASH continue to be a watchable show - never seeming out of date.

ScottyB said...

For me as a viewer, Gary and Larry developing Radar in that way added an even more human element and dimension for the show and the doctors -- especially Winchester, who was more removed/distant personally, especially when he first arrived -- and Houlihan, because his qualities made him someone everyone really watched out for. In other words, someone as a constant to care for and about, like you'd watch out for your kid. Yeah, the docs all cared for and had affection for each other, but Radar was something different. It was stuff like that, that for me as a viewer made MASH more than just the laughs.

Anonymous said...

IMO, Gary was the best actor on that show from the get-go. Everyone else had to add their little spin on the characters. That's actors ego, and it showed. The actor who played Frank Burns was the worst offender, with hot lips on his flank. Insecure actors who can't let things happen. They always have to try to make things happen. They have to try to be more interesting, which kills the spontaneity.
Gary never did that. He appeared to be highly underrated, considering what he brought to the creative table on that. Except by other actors who know.
I'm probably overstating my case, but boomers are dying left and right, so I thought I'd give my full opinion without embellishment before Gary keels over.

D. McEwan said...

What a great post.

And I also got to see Gary play Charlie Brown live onstage.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Wow, a comment by D. McEwan that I actually agree with! Miracles do happen. :-)

And Anonymous, sorry but I have to disagree with you about Larry Linville. I think he had the most difficult, thankless task of any of the actors on M*A*S*H, playing Frank Burns, who was the *one* character who never really got any kind of development or, sometimes it seems, even respect from the show's writers, forget the other characters. Even with that huge burden, Linville managed to make Burns interesting.

IMHO LL did the absolute best he possibly could have with Frank Burns, and also IMHO he should have gone on to bigger and better things after the show ended, like Alan Alda did. There wasn't a stinker in that entire bunch of actors.

Barry Traylor said...

I never tire of watching playing Radar.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I second your post about Gary, an underrated actor. I waited year after year for at least an Emmy nomination. And I just saw the episode where he plays drums. I hope he still makes music with friends.

Y. Knott said...

"Everyone else had to add their little spin on the characters...."

That's what they actually get paid for. In fact, that's actually what acting IS. Otherwise, you're just reading lines.

No question Burghoff added his "spin" to Radar too...as what he wrote makes very, very clear. If he made it all look natural to you, then he succeeded!

And to echo Steve Lanzi -- no deadwood in that entire cast.



Andy Rose said...

Great insight from Gary! And it makes me think of another Friday Question:

Actors with unexpected real-life special abilities often end up having them showcased on their shows at some point. Gary had a drum solo on M*A*S*H, Woody Harrelson played piano on Cheers, Danny Pudi spoke fluent Polish on Community. Have you ever scripted a scene to incorporate an actor's special hidden talent, but that actor for whatever reason asked not to do it?

D. McEwan said...

"Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...
Wow, a comment by D. McEwan that I actually agree with! Miracles do happen. :-)"


Well, maybe you're gaining a tiny bit of wisdom. I doubt it, but maybe.

Anonymous said...

A Friday question:

I just finished watching MISTER ROBERTS, a movie where the main character leaves his unit and dies in the war shortly thereafter. We never see his death; we only learn about it in a letter from another sailor.

Was MISTER ROBERTS in the back of anyone's mind when the Henry-Blake-dies episode was done?

-30-

Jeff Maxwell said...

A million years ago, 1974 to be exact, the publicity department brought down some great black and white posters of the show. It featured a drawing of a helicopter with caricatures of six characters supposedly dangling in the air from a rope ladder. I had everyone sign the poster, framed it, and it hangs proudly on my office wall to this day.

All of the greetings were wonderful, but Gary wrote: "From one Igor to another..with love, Gary."

A treasure.

Diane D said...

Speaking of actor's special talents, I've always wondered why those are not showcased more often. When there is a character you really like, it is such a pleasure to suddenly realize they can sing or dance or play a musical instrument. With her absolutely beautiful voice, I always wondered why Shelley Long was never given a chance to sing a solo on CHEERS. She got to start songs occasionally, but everyone else quickly joined in. Like anyone with a trained voice, you could still hear her, but it just left you wanting to hear her sing alone.
Why not showcase those special talents for an added dimension to the character? I'm sure everyone would have loved to hear Radar play a drum solo more than once.

Stephen Robinson said...

I can respect the restraint writers have to avoid showcasing an actor's talent if it's just not appropriate for the character. The "talent show" episode where the football coach is suddenly delivering standup as well as his actor does on the road or the small-town librarian suddenly belting out songs that would make Idina Menzel blush.

I did like the brief moment when we saw Lilith sing because it was a fun twist on her character without breaking her character.

Mike Barer said...

In the book, Radar had like big ears so he could hear things from far away, in Gary's character, I believe that was switched to a premonition or something.

McAlvie said...

Sigh, lost a whole comment to Blogger. But I did want to weigh in on the discussion and say that Radar, and then Klinger, were quite pivotal to the show because they were everyman. Yes, even Klinger. They provided the anchor to the other characters, the normal. Klinger, after Radar's departure, became far more than a comic character, and Farr did an outstanding job of delivering this wise cracking but still small town-ish regular guy who got things done, and you actually believed he was a young guy, much younger than I believe Farr really was.

Basically, you had excellent writing, and an incredibly talented cast to the point where even the minor characters, tipping my hat to Igor and Rizzo, added a lot and became an important part of the MASH family for viewers. I offer up my heart felt thanks to everyone who was a part of the show, because you gave viewers something important - a chance to escape. It's no small thing, and its why the show will live on forever.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

A post to remember, for sure.

One of things that the writers and characters did to humanize them, is how they took care of animals and kids.
Whether it was the doctors and nurses fawning over a baby left, or Radar watching out for his bunnies, or Potter with his horse...

Jeff M. said...

Oh boy, that final scene in "Abyssinia, Henry!" And to have heard Larry Gelbart say in an interview that they had to do a second take due to some technical problem...wow. Burghoff was just terrific in that part. Although I have to tell you, my late mother NEVER forgave "them" for killing off Henry. Whenever we saw the rerun--we watched a lot of M*A*S*H reruns--she would cry and say "Goddamit, how could they DO that to us?!" Tribute to the writers, Burghoff, and especially Maclean Stevenson.

Steve said...

Here's a friday question I was reminded of by the mention of 'Goodbye Radar' but I assure you is not meant as a critism of those episodes: Why do so many two-parters seem to be so padded out? Do they start life as one script that can't be edited down to the proper length?

peabody nobis said...

Good insight from the "horse's mouth", so to speak! I always loved Radar, and as I have mentioned here before, I believe, I thought the show lost a lot with Mr. Burghoff's departure. To me, he was the heart and soul of the show, and it was simply never the same without Radar O'Reilly.

Nicholas Schenk said...

I was born half way through this show's run, so I've only known it through reruns and my parents. I've seen a lot of episodes, and even with Sundance's MASH marathons running right now I'm still catching episodes for the first time. As memorable as leads are in good shows, great shows have extraordinary secondary characters, like Radar and Klinger. Radar makes me laugh more than any other character on TV. The cast is full of professionals - doctors, nurses, leaders. With most of the soldiers portrayed as wounded, I think for a lot of viewers Radar represents their own son in the war...young, innocent, safe, scared, virgin. He's the least-relative in the medical unit yet central to everyone. His comedic deliverance is extraordinary, and at the same time his seriousness in war is emotional. MASH wasn't the same without him. Sitcoms of today are crap and nothing compared to MASH. 40 years after the war and it still is the best TV.