Friday, 1 January 2016

Goodbye Trapper John.....

Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre alongside Alan Alda's Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series M.A.S.H. has passed away in Los Angeles aged 82. 

It often surprises people to learn that Trapper only appeared in the first three of the eleven series, that ran from 1972 to 1983. After his departure, (his character was posted home whilst his friend Hawkeye was on leave and so there was no farewell), he was often referred to.

McIntyre's reason for leaving the show was he felt his character overshadowed by Alda's. Others would feel the same way. Ironically McIntyre was originally asked to audition for the role of Hawkeye, but felt the character too cynical, and asked to audition for Trapper instead.

As a youngster I was an obsessive M.A.S.H. fan. Every Friday evening at 9pm I would be glued to the set, and would absorb every single word. At school on Monday, my pals and I would pick over every single detail of every single show.

The show, based on the movie of a 1968 book by Richard Hooker, was ostensibly about an army medical unit during the Korean War. It combined tragedy and comedy in equal quantities, and gave us such wonderful characters as Radar O'Reilly, Hotlips Houlihan, Henry Blake, Sherman Potter, Frank Burns, and the totally bizarre sometimes transvestite and keen gambler Corporal Max Klinger. There were many others, each unique and there to make a point.

The show was actually about the Vietnam War, but in 1972 it was not possible to trivialise the conflict that had traumatised a nation.

It explored relationships between strangers, brought together in terrible circumstances, and with a difficult job to do in appalling conditions. Talented surgeons putting their careers and lives on hold. The public were introduced to the concept of 'meatball surgery' for the first time.

Hooker drew on personal accounts of army surgeons and nurses who had served in Korea, and many of the incidents portrayed in the book were based on real events. This lent the book, the movie, and the show an air of authenticity, much appreciated by those who had served there, and younger veterans who had returned from Vietnam.

Much loved characters died suddenly and unexpectedly. The much loved commanding officer, Henry Blake, was sent home to his family, with an emotional send off, only for the characters to learn in the final scene that his aircraft had been shot down. There were no survivors. This twist had been kept from the cast during rehearsals, only the director and Gary Burghof, who as Radar O'Reilly delivered the tragic news, knew what was coming. It was so well played that viewers were reduced to tears.

Like everything, M.A.S.H. had to come to an end, The final episode, on February 28th 1983, was watched by 125 million people in the US alone.

Wayne Rogers, prior to a successful acting career had served in the US Navy. He later went on to build a career as an investment strategist, and regularly appeared on TV as an expert in the field.

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