For 10 years, Jamie Farr had international recognition as the wacky Corp. Klinger on MASH, one of the most enduring and popular shows in U.S. television history. And Klinger usually appeared in drag, determined that some day his penchant for wearing outlandish feminine attire would convince his Army superiors that a Section 8 discharge was in order.
That he would never succeed was a given; no producer would write such a popular character out of a show.
But for Farr, the Klinger character had its bad side along with the good. "It was a wonderful character," he says today, "but it was the kiss of death in show business." He was so closely identified with the Klinger character that television casting directors shied away from him when it came to other roles.
Even today, 10 years after MASH _ or at least new episodes of it _ left the air, opportunities for Farr to work at his craft are limited, at least as far as television is concerned.
So for the most part, Farr is back where he began _ in theater. Farr left his native Toledo, Ohio, for California after graduating from high school in 1952 to pursue an acting career, and his first break came when he was appearing at the Pasadena Playhouse.
That was when he was signed for his first movie, a role in The Blackboard Jungle. He later was cast in other films, including No Time for Sergeants and The Greatest Story Ever Told, and there were television appearances on The Red Skelton Show and the Dick Van Dyke Show, among others.
He also had a stint in the Army _ the genuine thing with GI garb _ from 1957-59.
But 1972 was when Farr's big break came, with his role in MASH.
Since 1982, he has been seen but little on television. "People think I'm unemployed," he said. "Even my mother says, "Why aren't you on TV?' And I tell her, "You know, Mom, years ago before TV, when actors weren't doing movies they did theater.'
And that's where Farr finds himself now. He recently completed a 16-city tour with John Davidson in Oklahoma! And he soon will be off for Ontario for a three-month engagement in Never Too Late.
Farr is happy with theater work, even though he gets less money and less exposure than is the case with films and television. "You are more in control of what you're doing," he said. "In TV and movies, you're at the mercy of film editors, camera operators, directors, producers and network advertisers; there are so many collaborative people involved."
And he points out that it's easier to be a movie star than an actor. "Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are movie stars," he said. "Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are actors. To do theater, you have to be an actor. That's the nice thing; the true actor gets out there and works at his craft."
Farr, who will turn 57 July 1, is married and has a son and a daughter. He says he gets back to Toledo at least once a year, because he is always there for the golf tournament that bears his name. When he's not on the road, he and his wife, Joy, are at home in the Los Angeles area.
He says he seldom sees his former MASH colleagues, although "on rare occasions I get a note or a phone call. But we've all gone our separate ways."
But although he doesn't see them in person, he does see them in reruns of the show. "I watch them when I have a chance," he said. "They're absolutely marvelous. Today's TV pales by comparison to the really good shows that were on in those days."