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Each week, 32 million viewers watched as the Emmy-nominated actor used his wit, humour and comedic timing to help create the unforgettable role of Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger on the TV series M*A*S*H, which, 28 years after the final episode aired, still makes him as recognisable in Singapore as he is at Square One.
On Canada Day, Jamie will celebrate his 77th birthday in Mississauga. The athletic looking actor walks two miles a day on his treadmill and loves to play golf as much as he loves to perform on stage. Jamie and his wife Joy, live in Bell Canyon in Los Angeles and in two years they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In the era of reality TV when the two-month marriage seems to be the new reality, how do he and Joy keep the marriage strong?
“Are YOU married?” he asks with a boisterous laugh. “We make it work—Joy comes for a few weeks at a time to see most of my plays, but there’s always things at home that need looking after. We still have arguments like any couple, but they are long distance! It’s an idyllic situation! We are always happy to see each other and our hellos are even better. If someone is looking for a 9 to 5 person, they should marry a banker. I’m an actor - it’s what we do.”
years as a professional actor,
Jamie Farr has proven he can swing
a golf club with the same panache
he uses to swing from comedic roles,
like Klinger on M*A*S*H, to dramatic
roles like Morrie Schwartz in
Tuesdays with Morrie playing at
Stage West Theatre
April 28 - July 3
a boy growing up in Toledo, Ohio, the bright lights of Hollywood
seemed a world away for young Jameel Joseph Farah, the son of a meat
cutter/grocer. But in fact, “Hollywood” was as close as the local movie
“I worked at my father’s store to earn a few bucks to go to the movies two or three times a week,” says Jamie. “It was ten cents for a movie and five cents for popcorn. William Powell was my hero; I thought he was a wonderful dramatic actor and a funny comedian. I loved his Thin Man series, and I also loved Abbott and Costello and Red Skelton.”
A big fan of radio, Jamie’s favourite was The Red Skelton Show. “I was allowed to stay up until 9 p.m. and listen to The Bob Hope Show but Red Skelton came on past my bedtime. My mother would tuck me into bed, and then I’d hide under the covers with my radio and listen. Ironically, I ended up working with Red Skelton and became like an adopted son. He was like a father and mentor to me.”
After Jamie’s family moved to Southern California, where Jamie attended the Pasadena Playhouse, the young actor got his first role in the 1955 MGM movie classic The Blackboard Jungle, several guest spots on The Danny Kaye Show and he became a regular on The Red Skelton Show.
When Jamie left to join the army, (ironically he served in Korea and Japan), Red Skelton gave him an engraved St. Christopher medal.
“I still wear it today to keep me safe,” says Jamie.
Perhaps St. Christopher was also watching over Jamie when he reported for his “one day call” on the set of M*A*S*H.
“There’s a saying in this business: One day you are drinking the wine and the next day you are crushing the grapes,” laughs Jamie. “When the M*A*S*H call came, I was definitely crushing the grapes. Joy and I were married and it was getting rough to make a living. I had done an episode of F Troop and Gene Reynolds remembered me and had put me in his black book. When he liked an actor he would write down your name in his book. He called me for one day’s worth of work—4 or 5 lines for this character called Klinger, a corporal who was trying to get out of the army on a Section 8 by wearing women’s clothing. The director didn’t know what was expected of the role so he had me playing it as a homosexual. I did what he wanted and made my $250 to pay for the groceries.”
The next day, Jamie got a call back. “Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart had been off set the day before and when they saw the footage they said they didn’t want Klinger played that way,” says Jamie. “They asked me how do you see him? I told them, if a guy is dressing up, he shouldn’t be making fun of himself; he should be real. Let everyone else comment on it. I said, let me talk the way I normally do, and give me a big fat cigar. They tried it and lo and behold, it went on for 11 years.”
The final episode on February 28, 1983 drew more than 125 million viewers - a record Jamie says has only been broken once by the Super Bowl.
The image of the cross-dressing Klinger still clings to this day.
“Sure I get tired of people asking me about it, but I understand and I’ve developed a thick skin,” says Jamie. “I’m not a ‘GREAT’ actor, I’m a commercial actor. I don’t profess to be a John Gielgud or John Neville, but I work hard. People will be waiting at the stage door after I’ve done a show like Lend Me a Tenor or Tuesdays with Morrie and they say, ‘hey, we sure loved you in M*A*S*H.’
It feels like they don’t respect you for what you do. However, I wouldn’t be working at Stage West if it weren’t for Klinger.” - or have an Emmy-nomination, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an honorary Doctorate in Performing Arts from the University of Toledo, a Jamie Farr Scholarship and Foundation and his own golf tournament: The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.
As with acting, Jamie is modest about his game of golf. “I love the game, but I’m not very good at it. I took it up when M*A*S*H. was winding down. I had just recently bought some clubs and hardly had any lessons when I played in The Dinah Shore Kraft Nabisco Tour, playing with pro, Nancy Lopez.”
The same year, Jamie got a call from his long-time friend and fellow Toledo-ite, Judd Silverman, a PGA caddy and restaurant owner. “Judd called me to see if I would put my name on the Toledo LPGA tournament. Judd told me, ‘we don’t have any money.’ I put out some calls to friends in the business and the first year Frankie Avalon and others did a show for nothing, around a pool, with card tables and chairs. We lost money that year (1984), but after that we never lost a dime.
"The tournament has been going for 28 years and now we host a sit down dinner for 2,000 with The Beach Boys, Glen Fry, have corporate sponsors, celebrities and we’ve raised over 6 ½ million dollars for children’s charities.”
While in Toledo for his tournament, Jamie likes to visit his old haunts including the former Riverside Park, renamed Jamie Farr Park. “I got a spanking in that park when a few friends and I took our wagons and scooters on an adventure ride and didn’t tell our parents.”
If this sounds like the pages out of small-town America or a scene from the Frank Capra movie It’s a Wonderful Life, it could be because it’s Jamie’s favourite movie.
“Life never tires for me,” says Jamie. “I see a parallel between It’s a Wonderful Life and Tuesdays with Morrie when George Bailey realises how special life is and says ‘I want to live.’ Morrie realises how fragile life can be and even though he is dying, life is pretty darn good.”
Based on the New York Times best-selling novel, Tuesdays with Morrie is the story of journalist Mitch Albom, (author of the book and co-author of the play) and Morrie Schwartz, his former college professor. Sixteen years after graduation, Mitch learns that his old professor is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. They are reunited and a visit turns into a weekly class in the meaning of life.
“I read the book several years ago and saw the movie, but I was not that overwhelmed with the movie,” says Jamie. “The play is more poignant when you see the dialogue between the two characters and build on the depth in their relationship.”
Does Jamie think about his own mortality when playing Morrie? “Sure. At 77 I’m losing friends and family. It makes me realise how fragile life is. I’ve had lots of entrances, but I’ve got a big exit coming!” he laughs.
When asked about his favourite role, Jamie responds, “Klinger, because he made me famous and gave me security. Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls on Broadway, because it was my dream to play that role since I was a kid and saw Alan Jones in the movie at The Paramount Theatre in Toledo, Ohio.” GL