By Will Dunham
Wayne Rogers, the actor who played wisecracking U.S. Army surgeon "Trapper" John McIntyre in the acclaimed Korean War television series "M*A*S*H" before leaving after three seasons in a contract dispute, died on Thursday. He was 82.
Rogers, who later forged a successful career as a financial analyst, investor and businessman, died in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia his publicist, Rona Menashe, told Reuters.
An Alabama native and Princeton University graduate with a degree in history, Rogers achieved his big break after years of lesser roles by being cast to co-star with Alan Alda in "M*A*S*H," which debuted on the CBS network in 1972.
The series, which was inspired by Robert Altman's hit 1970 movie "MASH" and combined situation comedy with dramatic elements, was set in a mobile Army surgical hospital unit during the 1950-53 Korean War.
It initially focused both on Alda's character, Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce, and fellow Army captain and surgeon "Trapper" John, played by Rogers. But Rogers became frustrated as the plots began to give more attention to the increasingly popular Alda at his character's expense.
Rogers left "M*A*S*H" in a contract dispute after the third of the show's 11 seasons, departing at about the same time as McLean Stevenson, another original cast member. Rogers said he had no contract and the producers wanted to impose one that included, among other things, "an old-fashioned morals clause."
"It said that, in the eyes of the studio, if you behaved in an immoral fashion, they have the right to suspend you. Well, nobody defined an 'immoral fashion,' as it were - so it was at the whim of whoever ran the studio," Rogers said in a 2012 radio interview.
Rogers said he told them that "some of these things I'm not going to agree to," and that they responded: "We'll, we're a hit show. If you don't agree, tough, goodbye."
"M*A*S*H" ran until 1983. Rogers later said that had he realized "M*A*S*H" would last so long, he might have "kept my mouth shut and stayed put." He appeared in 74 episodes, replaced on the show by Mike Farrell as Captain B.J. Hunnicut, who became Hawkeye's new cohort and tent mate.
The character of "Trapper" John - originated in the "MASH" movie by Elliott Gould opposite Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye - was eager to return to his wife and daughters but still found time to canoodle with the nurses of the fictional 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
Some of the show's best moments involved the interplay between Alda and Rogers as the mischievous but talented doctors striving to save the lives of wounded soldiers while preserving their own sanity amid the madness of war.
Their characters were the chief antagonists of gung-ho Army majors and not-so-secret lovers "Hot Lips" Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit, and Frank Burns, played by Larry Linville.
'LABELED FOR LIFE'
In one episode, the antics of Pierce and McIntyre drove "Hot Lips" to demand a transfer from the unit, leading Stevenson as commanding officer Henry Blake to tell them, "I want you to accord Major Houlihan the courtesy and respect accordable to someone who has achieved her high rank and sex."
She objects, saying: "I am not looking for a truce with these two shower-tent peekers!" And Rogers as Trapper retorts, "You peek into one shower and you're labeled for life!"
William Wayne McMillan Rogers III was born on April 7, 1933, in Birmingham, Alabama. At Princeton, Rogers joined a theater club and became interested in acting. He had planned on attending Harvard Law School after joining the Navy, but his ship was docked in New York for maintenance and while there Rogers caught the acting bug for good.
He took roles on stage, TV and the movies, including a minor part in "Cool Hand Luke" (1967) before landing on "M*A*S*H."
Rogers later launched a successful business career. He founded an investment strategy firm and a production company, led a wedding dress business in New York and became a financial commentator for Fox News Channel. In 2005 he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He had two children with his first wife, actress Mitzi McWhorter. After divorcing, he wed producer Amy Hirsh in 1988. Menashe said he was survived by Amy, his children, Bill and Laura, and four grandchildren.
(Reporting and writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Robert Birsel)