Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gary Burghoff explains Radar

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.  

36 comments:

Michael Rafferty said...

Thank you ,Ken, and thank you Mr. Burghoff for your insight.

Tony Schumacher said...

Thank you for a great post, and a massive thanks to all of you for creating a show that kept me, a young Liverpool lad, laughing and entertained for many a night before bed.
Back in the days when we only had three channels of TV in the UK, and some real quality home grown comedy, MASH was a rare sitcom import and we loved it.
MASH night was a special night where the whole family would sit around the tiny TV V and serenade it with big laughs.
Thanks for those laughs and those times.

gottacook said...

The switch to the "more innocent" Radar must have happened very quickly indeed. The episode where Radar is coached to say "Ahhh, Bach" and "That's highly significant" to impress a girl turns out to be (I just looked it up) episode 14, and is one of the very first Radar-centric stories.

Michael said...

Thanks to Mr. Burghoff. If you think about it, the episode where Radar is shot is kind of a turning point for the character. And Ken, since you wrote it, I still can't watch the goodbye episode without bawling at the teddy bear being left for Hawkeye.

Max Clarke said...

Perceptive question and a great answer.

Some actors are so good, you never think they created their own character, as if that's the way they are all the time. Woody on Cheers was like that.

Fascinating to see how complex a process it is here to create a character so apparently simple and naive, but it worked so well throughout all those years of Mash.

Thanks, Gary.

Terry said...

Interesting question and response. Although I could have sworn I read somewhere that Mr. Burghoff didn't like all of the changes that were made to Radar over the years and that he thought they made Radar a bit too naive in later seasons.

I wish I could remember where I read that, but the example that was brought up was that in the movie, Radar was not above sneaking a bit of alcohol, but in the series, he drank nothing but Grape Nehi (spelling?). Any thoughts on this, Ken?

*tarazza said...

Exciting! Thank you both for this post!

Traps said...

Thank you misters Burghoff and Levine!

BigTed said...

Was there a conscious decision made to tone down Radar's almost supernatural "radar" powers from the movie and the early episodes? (I.e., when he seemed to know that helicopters were about to show up with wounded before anyone could hear them, or the always funny scenes when he responded to Henry Blake's orders right as he was giving them.) I realize this aspect of Radar's character wasn't very realistic, but it was entertaining.

Bill McCloskey said...

Of course it is nice to hear from Mr. Burghoff. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I for one did not like the changes they made to the Radar character and as a result, he was my least favorite character in the tv show. The movie Radar was really like a Puck character, the person who knew what everyone was up to. The TV Radar became an unbelievable caricature of a naive child. I never bought the teddy bear gimmick.

Of course, I never liked what they did with the Frank Burns character either who again had wish simpering childish character that paled against the Robert Duval portrayal

YEKIMI said...

Wow. All this time I thought people called me "Radar" in high school was because they thought I looked like Gary Burghoff. I guess they also thought I was simple & naive!

John said...

Radar's 'gift' seemed to be toned down some for Season 3, when the show really did start taking on a more serious tone, then was brought back for Harry Morgan's debut as Col. Potter, as a way to contrast with the 'Regular Army" label Potter arrived with at the 4077. It actually tracks similarly to how Daphne's 'gift' was downplayed after the first couple of seasons on "Frasier", as the character were developed and you could wring more comedy out of the contrasting relationships.

(Also, and just as a side note, I notice that today, to prove I am not a robot, they're asking me to type in both a nonsense word and an actual phone number to enter my comment, and the numnber tracks back to a real estate company in Ridgewood, N.J. Is Google developing some new source of ad revenue, and how does a business go about getting their phone number listed?)

Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk said...

As both a fan of the Mash movie and Mash TV series, and as one who considers them two different entities and prefers to approach each on their own terms, I like both the darker movie Radar and the more innocent television Radar. In Richard Hooker's original novel, Radar's the very first character mentioned, but he soon fades into the background, and is not the major force he is in the TV show or even the movie. Gary Burghoff really did own that character..

About Radar's penchent for knowing things before they happened. In the novel, this was explained as a combination of exceptional hearing and and a slight touch of ESP. I saw an interview where Burghoff explained that he himself decided the character should wear glasses--they're not mentioned in the novel--as a way of further explaining his gift for prerecognition, i.e. his bad eyesight caused him to further develop his other senses (including his "extra" senses.) I actually thought his repeating-orders-as-they're-told shtick was even funnier with the more sober Potter than with the flakier Blake, as Harry Morgan played it so totally straight.

M said...

Ken, I wonder what your thoughts are about MASH the movie compared with the TV show. I've seen the movie twice and both times failed to see its genius; it seemed to meander, and the football-game ending seemed pointless. There are some Robert Altman movies I adore, but this isn't one of them. MASH the TV show seemed to be approached as a fresh start, but I've wondered if the writers felt any affinity toward the source material, either the movie or the book.

Anonymous said...

One scene that always sticks with me from MASH is Radar at his desk, I think he is talking to BJ and he is eating ice cream at the same time.

Knowing his character is easily repulsed and relatively innocent in the ways of the world, the juxtaposition of having him casually refer to behind the motorpool (I think) where we bury the body parts and then places another spoonful in his mouth.

I thought it was a great way of showing how even the innocents become used to the horrors of war.

Not sure if it was meant that way but that's what I got out of that quick scene.

Thanks Gary and Ken for a great series.
cheers
David

Jennifer said...

Friday question, Ken:

As someone who staged a massive pie fight for one of your shows, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on visual comedy. The reason I ask is that I've noticed among many aspiring writers a tendency to look down their noses at visual comedy. As if any script that isn't dialogue-dialogue-dialogue is automatically lowbrow. An attitude that visual stuff will by default reduce your script to the level of "Gilligan's Island." The other thing I've noticed is a tendency to assume that writing visual material is easier than writing non-visual material. To quote someone from a group I'm in: "How long could the script for 'A Valentine for Niles' have been? Niles adlibs business ironing pants. Niles adlibs business cleaning couch and setting it on fire." Now I realize that's a naive attitude, but as a working professional, I'd love to hear your take on the visual side of comedy and how easy/difficult it is to create.

Brian said...

Interesting. I also thought that the reason Gary left the show was because he was tired of playing the naive Iowa farm boy.

The more I watched him over the course of the series the more I admired his work. He has tremendous gifts for both vocal and physical comedy - same could be said for McLean Stevenson and Larry Linville.

Thanks for the insight, Gary! Hope we hear from you more often!

Kevin Jq said...

Radar was a truly original character.

I've been meaning to ask: Why are you such a huge Mainers fan? Do you have a connection to Seattle? I've been a casual fan for years, but after not making the playoffs since 2001 and never making it to a world series there has been a gradual decline for me. How do you stay interested in the team and their level of play, even with Ichiro? The best thing I can say about them after last weekend was their cool retro Ranier uniforms.

Don K. said...

@ Kevin Jq

Seriously? Ken Levine is one of the Mariners' broadcasters. In addition to his writing career, he also has a sports broadcasting career.

Roger Owen Green said...

I must say that, at some level, I always thought that MASH should have ended with Goodbye Radar. Maybe because I never bought Klinger as the clerk, or without the dresses.

Dave Arnott said...

Yeah, Roger,

Klinger was a perfectly fine two-dimensional supporting character, but when they turned him into an *actual* person, it just wasn't as nice, for some reason - no slam intended toward Jamie Farr.

The show took a HUGE hit without Radar, IMO. It was absolutely his innocence that grounded everyone else, and allowed all the other characters to be big and/or mean and/or dark and/or crazy. Father Mulchay was often the voice of calm and reason, but he was still a grown-up - and a slightly cynical and wimpy one at that.

Radar was the only "kid" in the camp. And was totally the heart of the show.

Kevin Jq said...

Don K. – I know that he's a broadcaster for the M's, that's why I asked the question. I assume he's also a fan because he has said how honored he was to have been asked to do it.

Michael said...

On Radar, I remember Gary Burghoff saying something along the lines that he was nearing age 40 and still playing a kid, which could be problematic.

For what it's worth, I thought Klinger as company clerk was interesting and worked--the dress routine was getting pretty old. But, with all respect to those involved, the show was wheezing a bit in seasons 10 and 11, and I wouldn't blame that on the individual characters.

Johnny Walker said...

Just to add some trivia: Hooker (I forget his real name) modelled Radar after a real person, "ESP" and all. He explains as much in the introduction, if I recall correctly. Someone he knew, or heard of, in the real MASH hospital he worked at who had the uncanny ability to know when the choppers were coming, before anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Seems I remember Gary having some pretty big issues with the show towards the end. I distinctly recall one of the actors being quoted that he thought gary had "ego problems."I always thought the title of his departing episode was "goodbye radar–and don't let the door hit your ass on the way out."
In any case, I tended to agree with Gary. I thought the show was unwatchable by the middle of its run. One big ego clusterfuck. A show that had lost its way. Big pile of self-satisfied fucktards. I thought Gary got a bad rap for rocking the self-sanctimonious boat. Also thought he was by far the best actor in one of the most horrific roundup of honey-hams I'd seen since "what's happenin''."

Dave Arnott said...

Friday Question: Ken, how 'bout those M's today? You ever called a game with that high a score?

Ken Levine said...

Yes, in the minors. And last year I had a Mariners 10 run inning that I called. That was fun. Sorry I couldn't do last night's game. Must've been a ball to call.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, we even know the real Radar's name: Real-life company clerk, Don Shafer, who served alongside Hornberger (aka "Hooker") in Korea.

Link: A video interview with the real Radar O'Reilly.

Mike Barer said...

Not only Radar, but Hawkeye changed. I remember the Hawkeye portrayed in the first season, as I remember, was a drunken womanizer,not much like the later version that wore his feelings on his sleeve.

HourOfLead said...

I was inspired by Ken's posting (thank you, Ken) and did a quick recap of MASH guest stars. Very interesting who's still relevant from a show that's been gone 29 years. Great casting.
http://soulsuckingapathy.blogspot.com/2012/05/you-look-familiar-mash.html

Jeffrey Mark said...

Being a very long-running show, it's no wonder all of the characters changed over the years. But what I noticed the last 3 or so years on the show was a bad case of trying too hard and over-acting. Everyone seemed to be over-enunciating their lines, trying too hard to be funny at times, and just missing the mark. They made Margaret just too too nice, I think. In some ways Hawk lost his edge as well. But in no way could MASH in season 8 be the same MASH in season 3. Radar left the show and it all came apart right after around 1980 or so. Everything, in my estimation, that was brilliant about the show - especially those first 6-7 years had been done. So I saw the over-acting, the forced lines - forced comedy as symptoms that the show was played out. I was the biggest MASH supporter in the world. And then I tuned out and got bored real fast. Party over.

Best Radar episode: Where he is angry and disgusted with Hawkeye for the very first time on the show. Some of the show's best honest, heated dialogue and scenes in that episode between Radar and Hawk. Hawk expressing anger toward Radar for the first time on the show, and Radar expressing his anger back at Hawk. That episode displayed the kind of brilliant character development that made MASH such a perfect show.

Brian Phillips said...

Mr. Burghoff's opinion is most welcome, but as most aficionados are aware, he is in error in his interpretation of his character. As I wrote in my thesis regarding 70's TV...

...of COURSE, I'm not serious. Thank you so much for posting this. What could be better?

I even remember the show that Gary Burghoff visited Wonderama. I recall that he did an imitation of a monkey, near a monkey!

David Goehner said...

THE absolute best encounter (of many) I've ever had with a well known person is with Gary Burghoff. This was about 15 years ago when he was opening a showing of his wildlife paintings in Des Moines, Iowa -- first time the man behind "Radar" had ever actually been in that state, as he noted during a radio interview that weekend. Gary allowed me several minutes to ask him questions about the "Walter" pilot and his "AfterMASH" appearances. (In retrospect, TOO many minutes, since I realized I was causing a bit of a backup in the line of people wanting to meet him and get an autograph.) He signed a pencil portrait I'd drawn of him, adding his own caricature to one side with a "Looks just like me!" Gary then took a moment to take a picture with me, and told the person with the camera: "Take one more, just to be safe!" And he even invited me to come back later on during the afternoon and visit some more after the line thinned down. I would enjoy the opportunity someday to meet Burghoff again! Every moment of that encounter was a really nice one.

Kathleen West said...

Hi Gary:
It was wonderful that you visited Pine Grove Auto on your last trip on Route 81. My daughter Kim Michaud did not recognize you but when she told me about seeing you, I was so thrilled that I immediately called the other members of my family to tell them. She said you were so kind and nice. What a wonderful show and what a fine character you played. Good Luck with your life, you deserve it. Best to your daughter also. I'm sure she is very proud.
Kay West, Manahawkin, NJ
Clerkathome@aol.com