Wayne Rogers, who played the martini-drinking surgeon Dr. Trapper John McIntyre on the comedy sitcom drama “M*A*S*H”, died on December 31st. He was 82.
He appeared in M*A*S*H for only three seasons, from 1972 to 1975. Rogers left because of a contract dispute, which was believed to be connected to the show’s growing focus on Alan Alda’s character, Hawkeye Pierce. Rogers was replaced by Mike Farrell as a new sidekick, Capt. B. J. Hunnicut, played by Mike Farrell. The series ran until 1983.
My stepson is a new viewer to M*A*S*H. He’s 14 years-old and is discovering some of the classic television and movies I grew up watching. He asked me which I like better: the “laugh track era” of M*A*S*H (Trapper John) or the more serious (Hunnicut) years of the show.
I tell him it’s almost like M*A*S*H was two different shows. The hijinks of “Trap” and Hawkeye relaxing with martinis, wisecracks and harassing Major Frank Burns certainly dominates the early years of the show. Hunnicut was a good character, but a bit more grounded and prone to talking about being homesick and missing his wife and daughter.
By the time Frank Burns checked out of the 4077th and Colonel Sherman Potter arrived (replacing McLean Stevenson as Lt. Col. Henry Blake as commanding officer), M*A*S*H was a much more serious show.
I always found the laugh track used in the first six seasons a major distraction. Trapper John and Hawkeye blowing off steam in “the Swamp” tent was funny enough without cheesy canned laughs.
What did Wayne Rogers think of his years on “M*A*S*H” decades later? Asked in a radio interview in 2012 if he would have liked to explore Trapper John’s emotions more deeply, he agreed because “it makes the character richer.”