Behind the podium: David Ogden Stiers was an orchestra conductor outside of M*A*S*H

A great actor, and a passionate patron of the arts.

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Actors get to live different lives with each project. One moment, an actor might be a firefighter, the next an ambassador to France. An actor might wake up on Monday as a high-degree thief, and then be the heavyweight champion of the world by Friday. Even the medium might change; a stage actor one week might be on TV the next. 

David Ogden Stiers, it needs to be noted, was able to live in a way that overshadowed even his most interesting roles. That's really saying something, too; the guy was a Korean War army surgeon, a district attorney, and an anthropomorphic clock! But in real life, he was more than that. David Ogden Stiers was a full human being, and his experiences could never be whittled down to fit into a feature presentation.

Take, for instance, Stiers' interest in the orchestra. While his roles as both M*A*S*H's Major Winchester and Beauty and the Beast's Cogsworth had an air of sophistication, neither could point towards the real-life passion Stiers felt about music. The aristocratic stuffy characters he played had only an appreciation of the arts in common with the man behind the roles. And he wasn't just a fan. Stiers' passion brought him out of his seat and all the way up to the stage.

In 1989, Stiers was profiled by The Salt Lake Tribune ahead of a performance where he'd guest conduct the Utah Symphony. Stiers was an old pro at that point; he'd already guest-conducted many major American symphony ensembles, including orchestras in Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Honolulu, and Los Angeles. It might surprise you, then, to learn that Stiers had very little in the way of musical education. Aside from a few childhood piano lessons, and a penchant for singing, David Ogden Stiers was just a fan. Although he struggled to read music, Stiers boasted "I have a very accomplished ear, however."

So, what were ticket-holders in for with Stiers conducting business? "I really don't know," Stiers told the Tribune. "Nothing is planned. You can probably expect a little dancing, maybe a little audience participation, certainly some patter..." he said.

One thing you could count on, though: The entire affair would be carried out with the utmost respect. "The thing I try never to do is overshadow the orchestra - and that would certainly be hard in the case of the Utah Symphony - it is one of the finest."

"I have a great deal of fun with orchestras and talking directly to audiences: perhaps talking about orchestras in ways audiences don't think of."

So why, exactly, would Stiers, an actor, take the stage with an orchestra? "You know, it's my deepest hope," he remarked, "that people who don't ordinarily go to concert halls will come to hear this concert. I'd like for them to hear, in a much less pressured situation, the live sound of an orchestra, because it changes your life!"

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LynCarrigan 11 months ago
I can’t find how to login so I can’t read a lot of articles. I think this is pretty strange anyway.
Moverfan 11 months ago
Not only was the man an Army surgeon, a DA and a talking clock, but also a Russian police officer who crashes a book fair/convention to recover a priceless Faberge egg and clear his brother's name in an episode of Murder, She Wrote.
LalaLucy 11 months ago
This makes so much sense, considering Stiers had a great way with bringing parts of himself into his characters. This allowed some of the best moments of vulnerability in Winchester and some of my favorites in the series altogether.
Avie 11 months ago
When I saw the subject of this piece, I thought that it would surely lead to mention of Maj. Winchester's leading a group of captured North Korean musicians in a concert in "M*A*S*H"s final episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen."

In the episode the rapport that Winchester develops with the Koreans is unexpected -- his musical direction as to how they should play, "dolce," "sweet" (though, of course, they wouldn't know Italian) was just that; it's obvious now where Stiers's grasp of the musicality came from -- given his disdain for everyone and everything outside the upper-crust Boston Brahmin social circle in which he was raised and moved till his being shipped to a Korean War M.A.S.H. unit, and quite touching -- probably the most emotionally affecting aspect of what was otherwise the show's rather disappointing send-off.

BUT, the article doesn't mention this at all, leading me to wonder what the person or committee who wrote it was, or was not thinking. Stiers's and Winchester's addition to the show, replacing the one-dimensional Frank Burns, was one of the most inspired bits of casting through its eleven seasons. The late actor deserves to be remembered as fondly as "dolce."
pilatesgal6000 Avie 11 months ago
Agree. I never thought Frank Burns was the least bit interesting or even funny. Winchester was a breath of fresh air to the cast.
BlueRabbit20 11 months ago
I am excited that M*A*S*H extended May Days for June!! I think that the other characters are wonderful and deserve recognition as well. 💋💋
candycoloredclown 11 months ago
See now, even though I missed Ferret-face Frank, I really liked how Charles's character developed and grew. Wish I could say the same about Hunnicutt.....
(I will say this I thank Mike Farrell for his real-life sacrifices and honor as a real-life US Marine.)
I guess a couple of really serious-themed episodes brought out best in Hunnicutt...Anyway this post is about adoration for CHAARRLES.
rhindle 11 months ago
You stand on a podium, you stand behind a lectern (or music stand).
Mcharney0 rhindle 11 months ago
I registered with this sight just so I could make this comment. Glad to see someone beat me to it!
LoveMETV22 11 months ago
There's only one clip found with a search of Mr. Stiers conducting : " The Toronto Philharmonia."
It does mention in the clip that he has conducted other orchestras though.

CaptainDunsel 11 months ago
Reminds me a bit of the great conductor Daniel Kaminsky, who never learned to read music, but successfully conducted many orchestral performances. Don't recognize the name? Perhaps you know him by his stage name, Danny Kaye.
DonStankalis CaptainDunsel 11 months ago
Danny Kaye was a huge fan of the arts! He donated most of his fees to UNICEF. I do have the LaserDisc (Yes, I'm THAT old), "Danny Kaye at the Met"
forthekids 11 months ago
Mr.Stiers was also the narrator for the documentary:"The Fantasia Legacy"..which talked about the creation of one of Walt Disney's most unique animated and live action film projects.
Andybandit 11 months ago
Good for him. On MASH he liked classical music.
Runeshaper 11 months ago
Very illuminating and good for Stiers!
vonstockhoff 11 months ago
Charles was quite possibly my favorite character on MASH. Frank Burns was funny, but a little too one dimensional. Charles evolved over time and you could really relate to his struggles being in that terrible place. He escaped into Classical Music and I have done the same thing since high school. The music becomes a friend you can count on, when you cannot count on anything else.
CoreyC vonstockhoff 11 months ago
Charles was an elitist surgeon but always showed compassion to his patients such as causing a classical pianist to lose use of one of his hands to save a leg and one patient who was a stutterer who was being teased by his fellow soldiers because Charles sister Honoria was a stutterer.
LalaLucy CoreyC 11 months ago
Love the stuttering episode. I know that was another aspect Stiers must have had something to do with bringing in, as he stuttered as a child himself.
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