Friday, January 01, 2016

R.I.P. Wayne Rogers

Sad to hear of the passing of Wayne Rogers – Trapper John from TV’s MASH. He was 82.

I really didn’t know Wayne very well. He left the series after the third season and I didn’t join until the fifth. But I saw him at a number of MASH events and retrospectives, and of course the producers and cast talked about him a lot. The sense I got from my limited contact and scuttlebutt was that he was a terrific guy.

Wayne was actually hired before Alan Alda. And he originally auditioned for the Hawkeye role but opted for Trapper because he felt the Hawkeye character was too cynical. As the series unfolded and Alan emerged as more of a fan favorite Wayne became frustrated. He eventually left after season three to pursue more starring roles. But he fulfilled his contract. And at no time did his dissatisfaction affect his work or behavior on the set. He was the consummate gentleman and professional. And like I said, he frequently participated in MASH tribute events. He remained forever part of the MASH family. Rogers once said if he had realized the show was going to run for eleven seasons he might have "kept my mouth shut and stayed put".

He and Alan remained close friends. This is what Alan tweeted this morning:

He was smart, funny, curious and dedicated. We made a pact to give MASH all we had and it bonded us. I loved Wayne. I'll miss him very much.

What many people don’t know about Wayne is that he was also a brilliant financial planner. He made a fortune in business investments for himself and others. There is life after acting.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him better. I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to write for him. I’m sorry I didn’t get in on some of his real estate deals. But I always had a fondness for Wayne Rogers. How nice that through MASH, people will be appreciating him for decades to come.

49 comments:

CarolMR said...

I've watched "Cashin' In" on FOX every Saturday morning for years just to hear what Wayne had to say. The show won't be the same without him. RIP.

Beth G said...

Ken, When you were writing for M*A*S*H, did you ever consider an episode that would revolve around Trapper writing a letter to Hawkeye (regardless of whether you could get Wayne to participate)? The fandom often wonders why, in a series that used letters to/from home so well, such an episode was never done.

Thanks for this nice post about Wayne. Always loved him as an actor. Trapper had some of my favorite lines from the entire series, and that's really saying something.

Diogo Casquilho said...
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tavm said...

Wow, so both Mr. Rogers and Natalie Cole are now gone. R.I.P. for both.

VincentS said...

Wow! I didn't know. So sorry to hear that. Trapper was always my favorite character and he did such a great job portraying him. Deepest condolences to his family.

cd1515 said...

interesting that McLean Stevenson got criticized heavily for leaving a hit show early but Rogers didn't.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

One of the main reasons I always prefered B.J. over Trapper was that B.J. was clearly a more dimensioned and fleshed out character. I really feel that out of all of the characters on the show during all 11 seasons, Trapper was the least expanded on and developed: I know he and Hawkeye were originally intended to be interchangable leads so that either of them could carry the show, much like Rick Jason and Vic Morrow of COMBAT! But as Ken pointed out, Alan came to embody Hawkeye so much that Trap was pretty much reduced to sidekick status, so I can understand Wayne's frustrations. Henry Blake seemed to show signs of growth and development as a character during this final season - perhaps had Wayne stayed, maybe Trapper could have finally gotten some growth as well, but he always came across as a mirror of Hawkeye: the two of them were like frat boys in their pursuits of boozing their brains out, chasing nurses, and tormenting Frank; B.J., on the other hand, while he could be an easy-going prankster as well, he was a little more serious, and his faithfulness to his family offered a contrast to Hawkeye, which kind of balanced that relationship out a little and kept things interesting . . . Hawkeye and Trapper's juvenile hi-jinx kind of get a little old after a while.

That said, Alan and Wayne had absolutely remarkable chemistry with each other, and I really feel they rank up there with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, and Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in terms of great TV duos; I really hope Alan is coping well over this loss. While I'm naturally sad that we've lost another one of the M*A*S*H family, I'm still pleasantly amazed that so many of the others are still alive and well today, especially considering so many others from shows of the 60s and 70s have long passed on.

@cd1515 Mac Stevenson had a lot of controversy swarming around him before he left anyway. From what I understand, there were talks of his actor's ego being bruised by playing number three in an ensemble when he wanted to be the star of his own show, however there are conflicting reports that it's not that he wanted to star on his own show, but rather, he was the most vocal about the terrible working conditions the actors faced (extreme heat on the Fox Ranch, a cramped studio full of rats and lice, insufficient toilets, among other things) and even stuck up for others who were too afraid to say anything, and that supposedly marked him. That's why there's been an urban legend that the real reason they killed off Henry Blake was so the producers and studio could permenantly get rid of him because he was too much of a meddler on the set. Wayne Rogers, on the other hand, mainly had disagreements with the writers over how little they were using Trapper and quietly decided not to come back after Season Three finished productions, whereas Mac made it clear during that season that he wasn't coming back.

Anonymous said...

Jason Wingreen (Kelcy from All in the Family), Wayne Rogers and Natalie Cole. All Gone today. This is a banner year already.

Rock Golf said...
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YEKIMI said...
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Jeff Maxwell said...

Very very sad to hear about Wayne Rogers. I have fond memories of him being very funny and having a big, infectious laugh heard anywhere you might be on Stage 9. Between scenes, he would jump on the only phone on the stage making deals (cell phones didn't exist). I hung close to his conversations hoping to hear any choice tips, but I was a young goofball and had no idea what he was talking about. Probably still wouldn't.

He later starred as another doctor in a series with Lynn Redgrave based on a Walter Matthau movie, "House Calls." I auditioned for a part on the show for director Dick Martin (one of my comic heroes) of Rowan & Martin. Dick and I got along very well, and I got the part of a wacko who holds some folks hostage at the hospital. But I think Wayne may have put a in good word for me.

My heart goes out to his family, and to the entire cast for their loss of a great friend.

Worse Horse said...

Question for Ken related to the above - were contracts typically shorter for actors back in the day? It seems like most we hear about today are at least 5 seasons (even if the deals are frequently re-negotiated mid-deal if the show is a success). Did Rogers and Stevenson really have contracts of only three years, or did they negotiate an early out a la David Caruso on NYPD BLUE?

Corey said...

Sorry I'm a day late, but, what the heck's wrong with Portland?! LA is absolutely clue-less about what a good beer is or should be....Portland is beervanna; Portland has Voodoo Doughnuts, LA has Winchell's, Portland has the Columbia River, LA has ????.
Oh yah, maybe it's because I live here....I'm telling Dad you made fun of me!

cadavra said...

If you can find it, check out THE GIG (by Frank Gilroy, whom we also lost recently), a 1985 comedy starring Rogers as the leader of a bunch of amateur jazzmen who somehow land a two-week job in the Catskills. Utterly delightful.

Jeff Maxwell said...

... and he was terrific in a number of films, including Cool Hand Luke and a small film, The Gig.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Great taste, cadavra.

Glenn E said...

Wayne Rogers was equally charming in the Trapper John role on “MASH” and in his follow-up 1979 comedy “House Calls” on CBS. For anyone who thought it strange to see a matured stateside Trapper John portrayed by Pernell Roberts on “Trapper John M.D.”, they had their chance to enjoy a Wayne Rogers medical comedy in the “House Calls” sitcom (which was paired with MASH on CBS Monday night schedule for a time).

One episode of House Calls was uploaded to YouTube at the time of Lynn Redgrave’s passing. Does anybody out there care to share their stash of more House Calls episodes on YouTube? If you can, thanks in advance. In the meanwhile, we'll always have "Once in Paris".

Craig Gustafson said...

"The Gig" is available on You Tube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jwqSq_CrSE

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Jeff, I actually remember from the 30th anniversary reunion special Alan Alda making the remark of some of the less than ideal working conditions they had to endure at Stage 9, adding that Wayne was going crazy needing to be on that phone like every five minutes - I never knew exactly why, but I assumed it was for business purposes, and your anecdote confirms that. I've noticed at times too that he could barely keep a straight face in certain scenes (usually involving pranks on Frank) - when you filmed Hawkeye's infamous "WE WANT SOMETHING ELSE! WE WANT SOMETHING ELSE!" melt down in the Mess Tent, was he breaking up at all? It's an absurd sight on screen, I can only imagine what a riot (in a humorous sense) it must have been when actually filming.

Johnny Walker said...

Very sad.

Watching M*A*S*H now it's odd to see Rogers given less and less funny lines as the show progressed - because he was always great whenever he had them. I guess we take it for granted now that Alda is a star, but at the time I guess Alda was a breakout. There's times when you can tell that the jokes have been given to Alda even though Rogers was right there and able to deliver them just as well. Unfortunately for Rogers the show never needed two Hawkeyes, but you can see that it never affected his work -- he was always great with whatever he was given. It's good to know that he otherwise led a successful life and maintained a friendship with Alda.

michaleen said...

As Syfy is running its annual New Year's Twilight Zone marathon, it's worth noting that Jason Wingreen was in one other their legendary episodes. He was a train conductor in "A Stop at Willoughby" (on the real train, not the one that stopped at Willoughby).

I also heard that where Wayne Rogers decided he wanted to leave the show and worked it out with the producers, McLean Stevenson aggravated the producers with various demands, threats and pleas. Finally, they'd had enough and what

One theory makes some sense to me. Stevenson had a quick off-the-cuff wit and was very good both as a talk-show guest and substitute host. He filled in for Johnny Carson more than 50 times. Carson frequently had battle royales with NBC, and always threatened to leave.

Somewhere I read that NBC lured Stevenson away from M*A*S*H not so much with the lame sitcoms that he starred in, but with the implicit promise that he was next in line to the Tonight Show throne. This was many years before Letterman went on the air and there wasn't an heir apparent. He might have felt that being in the peacock's nest already when Johnny walked, would make a transition smoother. Of course, Johnny ended up staying for more than 15 years.

Ken Levine said...

A new comment policy is coming shortly.

Ken Levine said...
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Francis Dollarhyde said...

Some people seem to think Hawkeye and Trapper began the series as equals - interchangeable characters a la the movie - only for Hawkeye to become more prominent as the writers gave Alda more lines (this assertion is peddled in Jason Bonderoff's biography of Alan Alda, for instance).

I don't totally buy that, because if you re-examine the show you can see the producers undermined Trapper John from the start, giving the Hawkeye of the series attributes of the Trapper of the film. For instance, in the movie, it's Trapper who is the camp's ace chest-cutter and Chief Surgeon; in the series, those qualifications are given the Hawkeye (and Hawkeye was generally getting better lines as well.) I just think that, while it's obviously true that Hawkeye was the show's breakout character, the odds were probably stacked in Alda's favour from the start.

Another thing: Mike Farrell writes in his autobiography that he was asked if he would consider replacing Wayne Rogers in M*A*S*H's third season, because the situation between Rogers and the producers had become contentious by then. Obviously, Rogers elected to stick around for one more year, and Mike Farrell didn't join the series until season 4. But it does create an interesting thought - what would the show have been like had B.J. joined the series before Henry left? If the neat delineation between the Trapper/Henry era and the B.J./Potter era did not exist?

Anonymous said...

Always enjoyed Wayne Rogers and had a very hard time accepting Pernell Roberts as the older Trapper John. By the way, I am currently watching the Carson show reruns on ANTTV and his guest is none other than McLean Stevenson. Happy New Year. Janice B.

CarolMR said...

Speaking of McLean Stevenson, he is one of the guests on the "premiere" episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on Antenna TV.

James Van Hise said...

In 1978 I remember seeing McLean Stevenson on the Tonight Show and when the subject of M*A*S*H came up I was surprised when he said, "Leaving that show was the biggest mistake I ever made", I guess because his attempts at starring in sitcoms had all failed and his career never recovered.

Mike Barer said...

Sorry to hear. I could see how Wayne could be frustrated being second banana.

Barry Traylor said...

I'll have to watch a few MASH episodes from the first 3 seasons today in his memory.

Barry Traylor said...

I'll have to watch a few MASH episodes today in his memory. I liked him and the part he played.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Speakng of Antenna TV, on NYE we were channel-surfing and found it was showing episodes of Jack Benny and Burns & Allen. Stopped to watch...the guest on one of the Benny episodes was a very young Johnny Carson (who said he'd then been in show business for 12 years). It came across as an infomercial for Carson, who in the course of the episode did card tricks, played the drums, sang, danced, and did a mock interview with Benny in which he voiced his thoughts. Only the singing seemed to be faked.

wg

Don K. said...

Back around 1977 I was a busboy at the magnificent Holiday Inn in Mission Viejo, CA. A taping of ABC's Battle of the Network Stars was in progress at nearby Saddleback College. It was my first week and McLean Stevenson was participating. He was a very nice man and the memory stands out for me because it was my first week and I thought celebrities would always be dropping in. Alas, that was not the case. Elke Sommer, Valerie Perrine and Flip Wilson each were there once, but it wasn't as if the place was the Brown Derby.

I did have a personal experience with one unnamed celebrity that was not pleasant. At the time, this less than 21 years of age female (she wasn't even 18) from a very popular show at the time was in the hotel bar quite plastered. We had not served her, she had gotten blitzed elsewhere. When she was refused service she caused a scene and we had to get her out of there. She pulled the "do you know who I am" bit and I told her I sure did and that was exactly why she was leaving. Her career trajectory cratered like a Wile E. Coyote trick by the mid-80's.

What's weird about the Stevenson memory is I know it was Fall of '77 when I saw him there, yet googling the show he did not appear on air until a year later. Oh well.

Roseann said...

Sometime in the 80's I was working the in the Costume Shop of Adelphi University on Long Island. We were making costumes for a stage production that had both the actors Jean Marsh (Upstairs, Downstairs) and Wayne Rogers. Long story short I told Jean Marsh I would work for her anytime anywhere she was such a pleasure to work with. Wayne had a little problem with having his facial hair - which was being created in NYC- not arriving in time for a rehearsal. Everyone said it would not arrive in time. I told him I would stop in to see if I could pick up the items on the way back to work the next day. I remember what he said to me. He just wanted to hear someone say they would try instead of just saying no. I was truly honored to be on the receiving end of that.

Rich Mitchell said...

Several years ago Wayne was a keynote speaker at the Boston Seafood Show. Because of flight issues I was not able to attend and I still regret not being able to hear his wisdom.

John K. said...

Wendy M. Grossman said...
Speakng of Antenna TV, on NYE we were channel-surfing and found it was showing episodes of Jack Benny and Burns & Allen. Stopped to watch...the guest on one of the Benny episodes was a very young Johnny Carson (who said he'd then been in show business for 12 years). It came across as an infomercial for Carson, who in the course of the episode did card tricks, played the drums, sang, danced, and did a mock interview with Benny in which he voiced his thoughts. Only the singing seemed to be faked.


Benny was a big fan of Carson, and Carson always cited Jack Benny as his idol. Carson once said that if he was ever stuck for how to deliver a line or how to handle a bit of business, he would ask himself how Jack would do it. Benny also made regular appearances on Carson's TONIGHT SHOW up until his death. The two were close friends in real life. Given all that, it's not surprising that the Benny episode in question would amount to an extended plug for Carson's talents and for his TONIGHT SHOW, which he'd only recently taken over at the time the Benny episode aired.

A quote from Jack on one of his TONIGHT SHOW appearances: "For years, I have been Johnny Carson's idol. He's said that many times. Now, Johnny Carson is my idol. And let me tell you something, it's not half as much fun this way."

Michael said...

A couple of addenda ....

There was a fan book about MASH in which McLean Stevenson was asked if he would come back if they did a show about Henry coming out of the ocean with a bunch of kelp up his nose and winding up on a deserted island until they found him. He said he would. They didn't do it, but it would have been fascinating.

Wendy, Carson did his senior thesis on Jack Benny--he idolized him. So they did a routine--Benny did it with others later--in which Carson explains everything that Benny does wrong. I don't know if that was in the episode you saw, but it also enabled Carson to do his Benny impression, which was quite good.

Houston Mitchell said...

I never appreciated what Wayne Rogers brought to MASH when I was a kid, but as I began watching reruns as an adult, Trapper became my favorite character. He really knew how to say a line perfectly, whether it was talking about how Frank Burns slipped on a bar of soap, or, after Klinger opened a present and said "I'm touched!", the way Rogers said "I've always thought so" was just perfect. He's one of those guys that I wish I had a chance to go up to and say "Thanks for all the good memories."

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I'm starting to believe that Blake was in an intelligence mission, when he was "shot down". It was a ruse to hide his true mission.

Francis Dollarhyde said...

@Houston Mitchell:

"He really knew how to say a line perfectly..."

That's exactly right. Trapper often didn't get enough to say or do, but Wayne Rogers was never less than amazing with what he was given. He and Alan Alda were a tremendous double-act. (I prefer B.J. to Trapper, but that's not a slight on Wayne Rogers; it's just that Beej was better developed as a character.)

It's sad to consider that exactly half of M*A*S*H's season 1-3 regular cast is now gone (unless you count Jamie Farr and Bill Christopher as de facto regulars).

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Sorry for everyone's loses.
Great commentary and fascinating memories from all
Happy New Year everyone.

McAlvie said...

I was sorry to hear of Wayne Rogers' passing. Trapper was a great character in MASH, and I think at the start of the series they played him and Hawkeye almost interchangeably, and closer to the movie roles. Rogers was actually better at delivering the funny lines, something about the animation in his face, I think. The show started to veer away from just comic stunts and one liners, and have more character centric episodes, which probably did extend the life of the series, but that was when perspective seemed to be more from Hawkeye. I don't know if they decided to build the show more deliberately around one character, or whether they just thought Alda did the straight guy better, or what. But the show really was more comical in those first few years and Rogers was a lot of the reason. I also really enjoyed his appearances on Murder She Wrote! He came across as likeable and real, and I wished they would have used him more.

kim tenhor said...

Trapper John was always my favorite character on MASH. He will be missed.

Ray said...

My favorite scene with Wayne Rogers in that role was the tag of an episode where a B-story involved Trapper having a pinstripe suit made for him. He opens the door to Henry's office revealing that the stripes were horizontal, and Hawkeye and Radar completely lose it.

I've always wondered if Rogers and the writers managed to prank the other two actors with the suit. Alda's line after the reveal sounds looped, and their incredulous shock seems more than just acted.

Michael said...

When Trapper laughed at something, it seemed to be genuine, as if Wayne was also having a good laugh. You don't see that much on TV anymore.

Todd Mason said...

Rogers was quoted once during his run on the series that he enjoyed that Trapper was a bit less reflexively judgmental than Hawkeye, and one of the most memorable bits in the series did demonstrate that...Trapper and Frank are catching s short nap just outside the OR during one of the grueling marathons of surgery, and fall into an exhausted conversation, where Trapper gets a vivid sudden understanding of how an abused childhood can create a Frank Burns...this registers on Trapper's face, and he simply wishes Frank a good nap.

I liked what I saw of CITY OF ANGELS, as well.

John Carney said...

I work at a small-town newspaper in Tennessee, and here's the story I ran today about Wayne Rogers' involvement with his alma mater, a private prep school located in our coverage area. He was an active and energetic supporter of the school, which he felt had done a lot for him: http://www.t-g.com/story/2265583.html

David Goehner said...

QUESTION FOR KEN: Can you or one of your "M*A*S*H" contacts find out if it was Wayne Rogers who does a P.A. voice-over at the military base in the 4th season opener where BJ Hunnicutt is introduced? I've long thought that this briefly-heard announcer sounded a lot like Wayne, and there have been a few speculations about this on some Internet sites in recent years. But can someone who was actually with the show give us the authentic details on this?

Mark O'Neill said...

...I co-authored a book on MASH, and my co-author and I investigated the PA announcements through and through. I don't believe Rogers, given his reasons for leaving, would ever return to do a PA announcement, even if uncredited.
...If you ask me, Wayne Rogers was utterly vital to the magic that was the first 3 seasons of MASH. The tone of his voice or even just a look added to or complimented the show, in ways no replacement could. Rogers and Alda were brilliant, together, and I think House calls was very MASH like in it's humor.
...Why the producers of MASH couldn't give Rogers more episodes like ones were everyone was given more equal time, I don't know. That's all he wanted, and the ones they did like that were the best.
...God Bless Wayne Rogers. I feel like I lost a friend.
...As an aside, if anyone can help, I'm trying to find actual footage of McLean Stevenson on that life raft, waving and smiling, on either the carol Burnett or Cher show, the night after Abysinnia, Henry aired. I actually saw the clip on some sort of MASH retrospective, about 3 years ago. Now, I can't recall which.

Mark O'Neill said...

FOUND! A guy, RJ, who runs a MASH site found the footage of Stevenson guesting on the Cher show, right after his character, Henry, is killed off on MASH.

http://www.mash4077tv.com/2016/03/18/found-mclean-stevenson-in-a-raft-on-cher-in-1975/comment-page-1/#comment-463711