Based on the 1970 Robert Altman film, the television series M*A*S*H become a massive phenomenon throughout the 1970s. Despite the success of the show, numerous main cast members quit the series for various reasons before its official end. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at M*A*S*H actors who quit the show early (real fans remember).
Larry Linville as Major Frank Burns
Larry Linville plays the character of Major Frank Burns on M*A*S*H for five seasons before deciding to call it quits. As with many other actors who quit the groundbreaking comedic series, Larry’s character didn’t have a farewell episode. Instead, the character of Major Frank Burns simply never appeared after the show’s fifth season. His absence explains away in the premiere of the show’s sixth season unceremoniously.
Until Larry’s departure from the series, Major Frank Burns’ love interest on M*A*S*H is the character of Major Margaret Houlihan. The last episode of the show’s fifth season features Margaret marrying. It explains in the sixth season that Frank mentally breakdown and goes to Tokyo to find Margaret on her honeymoon.
In Tokyo, Frank’s mental breakdown causes him to believe that every woman he sees is Margaret. And he ends up on a psychiatric hold. When 4077th knows what happens to Frank, they transfer him to a veterans’ hospital in the state of Indiana. Though not before giving the character a token promotion!
The reason for Larry Linville’s departure is that he didn’t feel the character of Major Frank Burns is anywhere. Larry felt that the character is devolving into a caricature and no purpose, Margaret moves on with her new husband. Larry left M*A*S*H in 1977 and continued acting sporadically in the years leading up to his death.
Some of the other television series that Larry can be on after leaving M*A*S*H include Mannix and The Doctors. Meanwhile, he can be in the cult classic movies Earth Girls Are Easy and Rock ‘n Roll High School Forever. The actor’s death is a result of complications from a surgery undergone to remove a deadly tumor from his lung. His last role was in a small musical stage production.
McLean Stevenson as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake
Larry Linville certainly wasn’t the first actor to quit M*A*S*H early into its long run. Two years prior to Larry, McLean Stevenson had memorably quit the show after its third season. Unlike Larry, McLean’s character receives a farewell episode… though one is as fairly groundbreaking for the time. Typically on sitcoms of the day, characters depreciate shows permanently, even if the actor playing them quits. This is just in case the actor decides that they want to come back eventually. Characters are write-down in ways that will allow them to come back, though M*A*S*H changes this.
McLean Stevenson played the character of Lt. Colonel
Henry Blake during M*A*S*H‘s first three seasons. However, McLean decides to quit the show when it becomes apparent. Alan Alda’s Hawkeye is gradually having more and more time on the screen compared to the other characters. By the end of the show, there is no question that Hawkeye is the main character of the series. Though it starts with a more ensemble cast.
McLean wants to leave, but the writers of M*A*S*H decide they’ll try something different character off of the show. Since M*A*S*H deals with heavier themes due to the fact that it’s taking place during the Korean War. The writers decide that it will be appropriate to kill McLean’s character off of the series.
The character of Lt. Colonel Henry Blake kills off in the final episode of M*A*S*H’s third season. And the death keeps a surprise from McLean’s costars up until just before the filming of the scene began. It is also a complete surprise to the extras that brings on for the scene; meaning the reaction you see in the episode is completely genuine. McLean always admitted that he left M*A*S*H because he wanted to be the show’s main character. Sadly, the actor never found a starring vehicle that was right for him before his 1996 death. McLean goes on to star in several failed sitcoms and make fun of because he quits M*A*S*H during successful years. Thankfully, McLean was able to see the humor in the fact that he had quit M*A*S*H for such egotistical reasons.
Gary Burghoff as Walter “Radar” O’Reilly
Gary Burghoff was an actor from the 1970 M*A*S*H film that reprised his role for the series. He ends up quitting the show before, due to feeling that creates burnout in regards to performing his character. That character is Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, who writes off of the series in 1979. Gary plays the character for around a decade at the time.
Gary claims that he can’t bring himself to perform in the Radar if he isn’t able to give it 100%. Since the actor is experiencing burnout, he needs to quit the show before the work becomes apparent to the audience. Although producers understood Gary’s logic, they still did everything they could to keep the actor on the show.
Soon after Gary Burghoff announced his intentions to depart M*A*S*H, the producers offered the actor a staggering $4 million to keep performing on the show. While that would’ve made Gary one of the highest-paid actors on television, he still wouldn’t have been making quite as much as costar Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye through M*A*S*H‘s whole run. Alan was making a little over $5 million at the time for portraying Hawkeye, and an additional million for being one of M*A*S*H’s writers. Money isn’t the issue that Gary worries about, so he turns down the multiple millions that he offers to come back.
What Gary really wanted after a decade of performing as the character of Radar was to spend some time with his friends and family! The actor subsequently returned to his home state of Connecticut and did just that, though eventually returned to television to portray that character of Radar yet again on the spin-off series AfterMASH. Gary even filmed a pilot for a separate spin-off that would’ve revolved primarily around the character of Radar, titled W*A*L*T*E*R. While Gary had certainly grown tired of portraying the character previously, it seems that the previously referenced break to spend time with friends and family rejuvenated his work ethic!
Wayne Rogers as Trapper John McIntyre
Besides McLean Stevenson, Wayne Rogers is another notable actor that quit M*A*S*H because he feels that his character reduces time on the screen to make room for more Hawkeye. When the series first began, the characters of Hawkeye and Trapper John, portrayed by Wayne, were essentially on equal footing. However, the margin between the writers’ interest in the characters became apparent by the end of the show’s third season.
Trapper John McIntyre is another character that depreciates M*A*S*H fairly unceremoniously. The writers simply acknowledged that the character had been discharged after actor Wayne Rogers was already out the door. One of the reasons that the departure was so unceremonious was that the producers didn’t want the actor to leave. In fact, the producers attempted to sue the actor for breach of contract. However, an issue arose when it was revealed that Wayne Rogers had never actually signed the contract that he was asked to when he first started the series! The reason that Wayne had refused to sign the contract was that he was allegedly put off by one of the included clauses.
Wayne Rogers’ decision not to sign the contract for M*A*S*H ended up making it so that he was allowed to leave without any legal troubles after the show’s third season! Hopefully the show’s producers were more stringent about the contract-signing process when it came time to hire new actors onto the series. Many years after leaving M*A*S*H, Wayne was asked to reprise the role of Trapper John McIntyre for the spin-off series Trapper John, M.D. However, the actor ended up turning the opportunity down, even after being assured that his character would be better developed.
The character of Trapper John McIntyre ended up being portrayed on that series by actor Adam Cartwright, who had previously appeared on the series Bonanza. The producers of M*A*S*H tried to get Trapper John, M.D. taken off of the air because the series didn’t ask for permission from them to use the character. However, the team behind Trapper John, M.D. ended up getting away with this by claiming that the series was based off the 1970 movie and not the series. Although Wayne Rogers turned down the chance to reprise Trapper John on Trapper John, M.D., he continued working on television sporadically until his 2015 death.
Besides the previously mentioned actors that left M*A*S*H early on, there was also an African-American actor that was fired from the show during it’s first season when producers realized there were no African-American surgeons in the Korean War.
Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that multiple actors quit M*A*S*H because they felt like Alan Alda was getting too much time on the screen, or did you think that television actors couldn’t get jealous? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!