Everything an Opie fan should know about Ron Howard's guest spot on M*A*S*H

Young Ron Howard predicted M*A*S*H would be a success.

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"Wait," Ron Howard delivers as his first line in the first season of M*A*S*H.

"I don't wanna go home," the guest-star says. "Please. I'd rather stay here."

The M*A*S*H episode "Sometimes You Hear a Bullet" aired in 1973, five years after The Andy Griffith Show ended, but before Happy Days would premiere. It was a moment in TV history when Howard was still viewed as Opie Taylor all grown up, and not yet Richie Cunningham.

So it was a little shocking to hear Howard, who we're used to seeing play a true hometown boy, begging not to go back home.

But for fans of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., the popular spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show, we know a similar scenario has happened before, and this moment on M*A*S*H felt familiar for a different reason.

Howard appearing in an episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. called "Opie Joins the Marines" in 1966. In that episode, Opie's afraid he might get in trouble for his bad grades, so he runs away to join the Marines. He hides until he reveals himself to a trusted soldier — Gomer, of course.

The character Howard played on M*A*S*H is a soldier named Wendell who sneaks into the Marines at the age of 16 by using his older brother's birth certificate. In the episode, Wendell manages to fool everyone but Hawkeye. On M*A*S*H, Hawkeye is the trusted soldier to whom Howard's runaway soldier confesses.

The reference to Howard's prior Gomer role seems clear, but in truth, this is just a coincidence you can chalk up to TV magic.

"How old are you, Wendell?" Hawkeye asks. The doctor has just told Wendell that he needs to rest a few days until the pain subsides. Overreacting, Wendell declares he doesn't care about pain, he just wants to get back to the fighting.

"Twenty," Wendell answers quickly.

But Hawkeye stares him down.

"Really, I'm 18," Wendell then confesses, seeming to admit the truth.

"For somebody who's both 20 and 18, you look awfully 16 to me," Hawkeye says.

In this span between lead TV roles, Howard was actually 19 at the time and going to college, but he was able to accept the role on M*A*S*H because it coincided with his spring break. Soon TV audiences would easily accept him as the quintessential 1950s teen Richie Cunningham without blinking an eye, but Hawkeye's got his nickname for a reason, we guess.

Howard just had that freckly young look that kept his star shining after The Andy Griffith Show ended in 1968, and we'd keep seeing him as a teenager on Happy Days long after that. Howard once talked to the Television Academy about his time on M*A*S*H.

He said even though he knew nothing about the show before he filmed his episode, he'd loved the M*A*S*H movie, so he agreed to do it.

He also said that he had no idea before he got to set that he'd be treated like a celebrity, "The M*A*S*H episode was really fun," Howard said, "Because I was treated as a TV vet on that show."

It was basically Howard's first time being treated like the big deal that he is, and he said the cast welcomed him. "Alan Alda was cool, and Wayne Rogers, I spent a lot of time talking to him," Howard said.

But the Gomer Pyle reference wasn't the only familiar scene TV fans might recognize from Howard's past.

Later in the episode, Hawkeye catches Wendell attempting to steal a jeep.

"You're not sending me home," Wendell says. Hawkeye assures him that they don't send soldiers home over missing appendixes.

That's when we learn Wendell joined the Marines, not because of bad grades like Opie, but to impress his sweetheart, who he says left him for another man who just returned from boot camp.

"It's not my fault I'm too young to join," Wendell yells, emotionally admitting that he's younger than he said.

Then he professes to Hawkeye that he knows his love would take him back… if he came back with a medal to impress her. And that his real name is Walter. "Wendell"s my brother's name."

This mention might remind you of a very popular episode of The Andy Griffith Show that aired in that classic show's second season. It was called "A Medal for Opie," and in it, Opie learns the hard lesson about how to be a graceful loser. On M*A*S*H, Hawkeye gives Howard as Wendell this fatherly advice: "I was just wondering if any girl's worth having who cares whether you have a medal or not."

Then, Hawkeye promises not to turn Wendell in, if he leaves the jeep and promises to come inside and rest.

But by the episode's end, Hawkeye does not keep his promise. After the episode's most dramatic scene, Hawkeye reveals to Margaret that Wendell is posing as his brother and is only 15 years old.

"He's going back home where he belongs," Hawkeyes says.

Howard said he actually felt at home on the set of M*A*S*H.

"It also was kind of comfortable because that was a one-camera show and it reminded me a little bit of how The Andy Griffith Show was done," Howard said in his interview.

On M*A*S*H, his character feels betrayed by Hawkeye, just as Opie feels betrayed by Gomer when Sheriff Andy shows up at the end of "Opie Joins the Marines."

"You double-crosser," Wendell/Walter says to Hawkeye.

He announces next that he plans to hate Hawkeye for the rest of his life. In the end, Hawkeye gets Howard the medal that both his characters pined for, and neither deserved.

Howard enjoyed dipping into drama on M*A*S*H and said he knew after doing that episode that the series would be a success because it was so different. "It did have some drama in addition to the comedy, so I kind of felt like it would be successful," Howard said.

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MarkEd 46 months ago
Here's a little trivia for the MeTV writers, Ron Howard played a Marine on that episode of MASH, and you don't call Marines soldiers.
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Hogansucks1 45 months ago
Go earn your $ and spend it on your own web site to advertise!! Yea, I get it- but this site is for US Humans to get away, for maybe a little while, from this CRAP !!!! 🤨
stephaniestavropoulos 46 months ago
TO: Texasluva:
Coordinates: Hudson's Bay Canada
Movies: 48th Parallel {Vincent Price, Gene Tierney, Paul Muni.
Hudson's Bay Company: Laurence Olivier, Alton Massey
Leslie Howard.
49th Parallel is correct.
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Inrodwetrust 46 months ago
Ramziolla is a whore
Moriyah 46 months ago
This was interesting! But I just want know if this is supposed to be a comparison or something like that.
Pacificsun Moriyah 46 months ago
It's a comparison of Ron Howard's experience in being a child actor on TAGS, and as a young actor on MASH playing possible a 16 yr. old soldier. It's also a comparison of him being on a rural oriented sitcom and a sophisticated comedy/drama during war time. Of course in between those roles (as the article mentions) he appears as Opie who runs away from Mayberry to Gomer Pyle is, on the military base.
Hogansucks1 Pacificsun 45 months ago
And also A Marine ! 😊
StephenCarr 46 months ago
The trivia from The Andy griffith Show could fill volumes. It has connections to I Dream of Jeanie to The Brady Bunch. Sam the butcher almost was in as many AG episodes as he was in the Brady Bunch. https://hubpages.com/entertainment/andygriffithtv
Pacificsun StephenCarr 46 months ago
Allan Melvin (Sam the Butcher, among many characters) is one of the most under-appreciated supporting actors (and voice actors) out there. He has an outrageously extensive resume. And is unmistakable in all the roles (and voices) he assumes. From serious to comedy.

Here's a representative blub about him from wikipedia:

"While working at a job in the sound effects department of NBC Radio, he did a nightclub act and appeared and won on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts radio show. While appearing on Broadway in Stalag 17, he got his break into television by getting the role of Corporal Steve Henshaw[2] on the popular The Phil Silvers Show program.[3] U.S. Television fans of this era usually best remember his role as Henshaw, Sgt. Bilko’s right-hand man on that show. He was proudest of that show."

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Melvin
cperrynaples 46 months ago
And don't forget Hawkeye's last line to Wendell: "I hope it's a long hate!" Perhaps the first time Hawkeye became a person and not just a horndog!
cperrynaples 46 months ago
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Hogansucks1 cperrynaples 45 months ago
Furthest from a G.I. as one could get ! 🤒. Hawkeye- that is.
ltgillis65 cperrynaples 45 months ago
Corrected dialogue: Just be sure its a long & healthy hate. In that episode, Hawk was visited by his childhood buddy Tommy Gillis, (No Relation) was an journalist assigned to a rifle company, later on, Tommy was wounded & brought to the 4077th, Hawk was not able to save is buddy. & left the OR to cry bitterly, Col. Henry Blake consoled him, he told him certain facts of war the Colonel learned in Command School. 1) That young men die, 2) Doctors can not change rule #1.
Hawk said, " He's planning to keep one kid alive in one's lifetime."
RedSamRackham cperrynaples 41 months ago
* Yet the "long hate" ended when Hawkeye awarded him the purple heart which Frank Burns dubiously obtained by claiming a minor egg shell injury as combat related! ☺
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