Monday, April 5, 2010


Usually, the month of April is traditionally a time when we honor the Fool with the induction into the TV Crossover Hall of Fame. But that doesn't apply this year as we bring Corporal Walter Eugene "Radar" O'Reilly into the fold. Anybody who judged him to be foolish when they met him usually learned to their detriment how wrong they were. In many ways, he was the most clever member of the 4077 M*A*S*H unit in Korea.

For his qualifications you can't argue with the following tally:

181 episodes of "M*A*S*H" (with mentions in three more)

"After MASH"
- It Had to Be You (1984)
- Yours Truly, Max Klinger (1984)

W*A*L*T*E*R (1984)

From Wikipedia:
Corporal “Radar” O’Reilly is a fictional character in the M*A*S*H novels, the film, the television series, the television pilot, W*A*L*T*E*R, and two episodes of the series, After MASH. The character was portrayed by Gary Burghoff in both the film and on television — the only actor from the film to reprise his role on television, aside from G. Wood as General Hammond.

While Radar's full name is never given in the original novel or film, on the TV series it is Walter Eugene O'Reilly. The later novels by Richard Hooker and W.E.B. Griffin give his full name as J. Robespierre O'Reilly.

On television, Radar's character started off worldly and sneaky, a clerk who carried with him at all times a pocketful of passes for any potential scam that might arise. At one point, he tried to mail home a Jeep, piece by piece. (Hawkeye commented that once Radar's mailman found out, he'd have a retroactive hernia.) He was known for his tremendous appetite for heaping portions of food. He was also not averse to drinking Col. Blake's brandy and smoking his cigars when the colonel was off-duty, and he occasionally drank the moonshine liquor that Hawkeye and Capt. Trapper John McIntyre made in their still.
As the series progresses, this worldly version of Radar was apparently not wholly to the writers' liking, and Radar evolved into a naïve farm boy. Cigars and strong liquor made him ill or dizzy (despite him frequently drinking and smoking cigars previously), and despite numerous references to him losing his virginity in earlier episodes, he appeared to have regained it later in the series. His favorite beverage was Grape Nehi. In "The Novocaine Mutiny," it is revealed that Radar won $300 from Sgt. Zale in a poker game. A minor change was that he lost the ability to speak fluent Korean which should have been a blow to the camp as he was the only person who spoke it, even if in later episodes it was only a few halting sentences.

The producers originally planned to end season 7 with Radar leaving, but CBS didn't want to do that. Instead they persuaded Burghoff to come back during season 8 to do a special two-part farewell episode titled "Good-Bye, Radar".

In the episode, Radar was given a hardship discharge after his Uncle Ed died so that he could go home and help out on the farm. When the unit is in dire straits because they have no working generators, Radar decides that the 4077th needs him more than his mother does. Potter unsuccessfully tries to talk him out of staying, and Pierce becomes verbally abusive when he can't convince Radar to leave (he did everything from calling him a jackass to saying he didn't care about his mother). But it takes Corporal Klinger's swindling a generator from supply to convince him that the 4077th will survive without him. Just as a farewell party for Radar is about to start, a helicopter of wounded soldiers arrives, immediately cancelling the party. The unit has no time to waste, but they manage to say their goodbyes to Radar. Among the sendoffs, Colonel Potter wishes him a choked-up "Godspeed, son," and Charles addresses him by his given name, Walter. The only principal colleague he does not get to say goodbye to in person is Hawkeye, who was caught up in the flurry of triaged patients. As Radar looks inside the OR from the window, Hawkeye looks up at him and gives him a farewell salute (a rare military formality from Hawkeye). Radar salutes back, then boards a jeep and leaves the M*A*S*H 4077th for the last time.

As a way of saying that Radar came to Korea as a boy and went home a man, he leaves his teddy bear behind, (as Dr. Sidney Freedman predicted he would in the episode "War of Nerves"), leaving it with Hawkeye. Radar would be mentioned after his departure from the camp in three later episodes. In "Period of Adjustment" (the first episode to air after "Good-Bye, Radar"), it is revealed that Radar met B.J. Hunnicutt's wife and young daughter in San Francisco on his way back home, and that the youngster had mistaken Radar for her father (a revelation that sends Hunnicutt into a bitter depression).

In "The Foresight Saga", the camp gets a letter from Radar describing how well things are going on his Iowa farm; when his mother admits, during a subsequent phone call, that they are suffering hard times and are shorthanded, Col. Potter arranges for an abandoned Korean farm boy to be sent to the States, where Radar and his family will sponsor him as a farmhand.

In the penultimate episode of the series, "As Time Goes By", the 4077th staff includes Radar's teddy bear in a time capsule they're burying, to symbolize those who came of age during the war. Gary Burghoff reprised the Radar character in two 1984 episodes of the M*A*S*H spinoff series, AfterMASH. In the first, he responds to a letter from Klinger concerning the latter's experiences at a stateside VA hospital; in the second, two-part episode, Radar is due to be married but develops cold feet when he suspects his intended of infidelity. In the 1984 television movie W*A*L*T*E*R, which was intended as a pilot for another prospective spinoff show, Radar - having sold the family farm and sent his mother to live with an aunt - moves to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Iowa and the "Radar" nickname behind (now just being known as Walter O'Reilly), and joins the police department. In St. Louis, his gentle manner and resourcefulness make him good at dealing with the public. W*A*L*T*E*R was never picked up as a series, however, and the movie proved to be the character's final appearance.

Welcome aboard, Radar!

1 comment:

Paul D Brazill said...

RADAR is a post 1960's icon. Top article!