Gary Burghoff turned down millions when M*A*S*H begged him to come back

Do you think Radar should've been paid as much as Hawkeye?

In arguably the sweetest Radar-centered M*A*S*H episode of all time, "Private Charles Lamb," we watch the corporal save a lamb meant to be slaughtered. He schemes to send the lamb back home by pretending it's a soldier named Private Charles Lamb.

On M*A*S*H, there was a recurring theme of who gets sent home. It was an obvious part of the show's wartime setting. But for Gary Burghoff, who played Radar in the movie version of M*A*S*H before resuming the role on TV, there came a time when that sentiment hit so hard in his real life, he decided he had to leave the show for good.

"I was a case of occupational burnout," Burghoff told the Logansport-Pharos Tribune in 1984. "I left M*A*S*H because I couldn't function anymore. I'd given all I had to give to the part and to the show. I care too much to give less than my best. I'd lost my vitality."

So Burghoff left the show in 1979, and M*A*S*H went on without Radar, which turned out to be a punch in the gut for producers who wished they could persuade Burghoff to come back.

In fact, they got so serious about tempting Burghoff back to the show that they actually came back with cash in hand — after going just two days without Radar, hoping to find the right price to keep Radar.

According to the Tribune article, Warner Bros. offered Burghoff a $4 million contract to return.

You might be wondering what $4 million looks like to a TV star in 1979. Well, if Burghoff had accepted, he certainly would've joined the top three highest-paid TV stars on air in 1980, but let's be clear: He still wouldn't be making that Hawkeye money.

In 1980, the Argus-Leader reported that Alan Alda was the highest-paid TV actor of all time, earning $5.6 million a season on M*A*S*H, which also included the money he made as a writer. Just for playing Hawkeye, though, Alda earned $5.4 million that year.

The next highest-paid TV star was Carroll O'Connor, who pulled $4.8 million for starring in Archie Bunker's Place.

Had Burghoff returned to M*A*S*H, his $4 million contract would've placed him behind O'Connor, but before Michael Landon, who earned $3.8 million for Little House on the Prairie, and Larry Hagman, who earned $2.4 million to play J.R. Ewing on Dallas.

Unfortunately for Radar's biggest friends and Warner Bros.'s dashed dreams, Burghoff wasn't looking for more money.

What Burghoff wanted right then was to color in his life with all that great stuff that makes life worth living: reconnecting with old friends, renewing his faith, and returning to his roots. For him, like so many guest stars we watched on M*A*S*H, that meant literally going home.

"When I reached the age of 35, I knew I missed the basics, my friends and family and the life I'd known in Connecticut and Wisconsin," Burghoff said. "I needed a change, and I needed a break."

Of course, then, after some time passed, Burghoff was ready to return to his M*A*S*H home, taking part in the spin-off series AfterM*A*S*H and a pilot for his own spin-off, W*A*L*T*E*R.

Watch M*A*S*H on MeTV!

Weeknights at 6 PM, Sundays at 7 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


19611313 29 months ago
Can't stand Alda. He had to be the center of attention of every episode.
My favorite character was Colonel Flagg.
DMAP 19611313 12 months ago
It was the writers and producers who made Alan Alda the center of attention, not him. Radar was my favorite on the show. I also like Colonel Flagg. He always made me laugh. I wish he would have been in more episodes.
Japt59 19611313 10 months ago
Don't blame alda guy. It was the producers who propped him up. You are misguided
PDCougar 39 months ago
Hey, MeTV: Could you consider putting "AfterMASH" on your lineup sometime? It would be an interesting thing to consider for maybe even a Veterans Day block of episodes, too.
MichaelFields 39 months ago
When I read things like this, I do not know why but it upsets me, I mean you are a actor, that is your job, after MASH I do not believe I saw him in anything else, but that is another point, but actors who are on successful shows and leave I think are fools, Okay you are burnt out, but you know in the off season you can go anywhere in the world and come back refreshed. And even if you did not care about the money, think of all the good you could do with it, you could have built 10 or more homes for children, or abused women with your name on them, you could have created a soup kitchen that would have fed thousand for 10 years or more, you could have gave toys to children who had none for christmas and made their life for decades, you could have created a farm and helped those hungry, so much you could have done, but you were burnt out just like the rest of use who still have to go to work to live another day.
It was all about ego with Burghoff. Friends of mine who were production / stage managers on special appearance shows with Burghoff said he was an absolute tyrant who treated behind the scenes staff like garbage. It was upsetting to hear that, since “Radar” is such a beloved character.
DMAP MichaelFields 12 months ago
That is a wonderful way to spend money! I applaud you for your comment!. Yes, he should have done that, but unfortunately he probably didn't even think of it...
jrod 39 months ago
Gary Burghoff was not a typical lead type like Alan Alda.....Alan you would lust with your thoughts....Gary you would love with your heart.
CouchPotato19 jrod 39 months ago
Never got all the sex appeal of Alan Alda. He was all over the mommy magazines back then! Haha! But, I can only chalk this up to it was back in the days when moms found Alan Alda, Roger Whittaker, Barry Manilow and Phil Donahue to be really sexy dudes, I guess.
jrod CouchPotato19 39 months ago
Great catch!! your spot on!!! mom wanted me to write that comment...i Crrrinnnggggeeddd as I typed.
DMAP CouchPotato19 12 months ago
I never saw the sex appeal of Alan Alda either. I guess some women might see him as, tall, dark and handsome back then?
jerrysays 39 months ago
the Actor Playing Radar "Gary Burghoff" , he started out on the Original MASH Movie , he was very good , i think he would have been a good George Constanza on the Jerry Seinfeld Show that was on during the nineteen nineties , other then the original actor who played George Constanza , i think Gary Burghoff , is the only other one who could have .Do i think he should get paid as much as the show's Star on Mash Alan Alda No , yes he should have got paid a good amount , But to me Alan Alda , was the star of the show , and also to me , and this just how i feel about Alan Alda , he is in league , like Elvis , and a few other top acts like Elvis , there is only one , but i think Alan Alda , is a pretty humble person for a big star .
DMAP jerrysays 12 months ago
Yes, I agree! He was the lead actor because he was great! Did you see the comment that said, they couldn't stand Alan Alda because he had to be the center of attention? I commented back to that person...look for it.
ArnoldSmitty 39 months ago
He left because he read the script for the following season's "Dreams" episode and decided he didn't want to be involved with a "jump the shark" moment with his career.
ArnoldSmitty 38 months ago
This comment has been removed.
Pacificsun 39 months ago
At any transition point, an actor can say one of two things. (One) Hey, I want to be treated like the “Star” or (Two) it’s time for me to find another challenge. Now, in terms of being hired anywhere else which comment is going to be less of a new-hire handicap going forward? Number one is code for being difficult, and potentially expensive! Number two is code for leaving on graceful terms because the actor’s expectations haven’t been met.

People (we, the viewers) forget that Tinsel Town (Hollywood) is a business. Think about your job. How often would you expect a raise equal to the highest member of management in your organization, if you wished any future with the company? Regarding contributions in television, the way people get (and got) increases was to demonstrate their worth. Not just to talk about their potential.

Acting is a commodity. And GB was hired to fill a role, and more importantly to be part of an ENSEMBLE cast! A team player, as much of a cliché as that concept is. So unless you have the mindset of a “working” actor (meaning an actor who is satisfied just getting one role after another), then all the rest assume they’re more than special. Alda DEMONSTRATED that his creative ideas were workable. There are other actors who can direct, or produce (Landon) or have deep theater experience (O’Connor) and on it goes down the line. Now whether or not Warner Bros. actually offered GB as much as is quoted by the Tribune, is questionable. Because there were just a few other actors in the MASH group who out-ranked him in billing. And once the discussion of raises would start flowing, then the bidding war and ultimatums begin.

My hunch is that a higher figure for GB was tossed around, but not well-received by other actors’ agents (who know the business and the intrinsic value of their clients). Rather than insult GB directly, it sounds like a more mutually amiable separation was agreed upon, one that left everyone with their necessary dignity.

And by the way the flat dollar figures quoted above may not have included how much financial interest any of the actors had in their shows, residuals, product endorsement opportunities, privileges and time away. I am very doubtful that GB would’ve been considered the 3rd highest paid actor of that time, no matter how much his character was loved.
No doubt, the concept of this article made for an interesting story though! And after all that’s what we’re here for, to be entertained!! More power to the Staff Writers!

DMAP Pacificsun 12 months ago
Why do you doubt that Gary Burghoff wouldn't be the 3rd highest paid actor?! Aside from Alan Alda, Gary Burghoff was fantastic on MASH as Radar! I have no doubt whatsoever that was true! Why not?!
Deleted 39 months ago
This comment has been removed.
CraigGustafson 39 months ago
"Worse than hiring a girl in the 60's knowing she's going to get married, pregnant and leave you."
The one sentence that gives away your cluelessness.
Most actors don't get in to the business to play the same character forever. And if you stick to it too long, you get typecast and can't get anything else - Fred Gwynne was a Tony nominated actor whose movie & TV career pretty much tanked after "The Munsters" - not because his talent was gone, but because of idiots who couldn't see him as anything else. I saw "The Cotton Club" in a theater, where midway through the movie, one goofball yelled out, "Hey! That's Herman Munster!"... Hmm... where were *you* that day...?
Pacificsun 39 months ago
No, not exactly.

So the writer gets dinged for repeating a figure of speech which was aimed at illustrating another stereotype of the day. Where is it assumed that is the writer’s personal belief. And even so that’s not even the topic here. Most actors get into the business to continue their career, period! Otherwise they’d go hop tables. Who (statistically speaking) is going to refuse a raise for continuing in a recurring role. Meaning that the money earned pays their bills and puts their kids through college. And at a future point in time will provide the opportunity to be more choosey about the next role. That’s the point, it allows them to detour around potential stereotyping. Shatner and Nimoy seemed to have survived just fine. So whatever a goofball yells out in a theater has nothing to do with a fine actor (Fred Gwynne) ultimately choosing his career direction. And I would say that the TWO years spent STARRING in The Munsters was little enough personal effort to be exchanged for ultimate rewards.
Wiseguy 39 months ago
Wayne Rogers left because he had been promised his character would be equal to Hawkeye but he felt he was becoming secondary so he left. (He later admitted if he had known it would last 11 years he might have stayed; ironically, his replacement BJ was written as more of an equal to Hawkeye.)
Larry Linville left because, as he said himself, he wasn't tired of playing Frank Burns, he was tired of JUST playing Frank Burns. Besides, there was no where his character could go, he couldn't evolve like the other characters.

And do you think their careers would be any different if they had stayed with M*A*S*H? The only difference is they would have made more money from the series. Their post-M*A*S*H careers would have been the same.

38 months ago
This comment has been removed.
F5Twitster 39 months ago
“According to the Tribune article, Warner Bros. offered Burghoff a $4 million contract to return.”

“Warner Bros”? Try 20th Century-Fox, which produced and owned the movie and TV series. Warner’s had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

This is what happens when “experts,” who imagine that they know everything, write things off the top of their heads instead of doing the minimal research it takes to avoid making stupid mistakes like this one.
Wiseguy F5Twitster 39 months ago
I was going to say the same thing, but you beat me to it. Even commenters here were repeating Warner Bros. in their comments. Don't they even see the 20th logo at the end of every episode?
jamieg 39 months ago
Radar was a way "cooler"character in the beginning of the show. He would sit in Henry Blake's office at his desk smoking cigars and sipping brandy from a snifter when Blake was away, ran his side gigs trading weekend passes and other things the cast desired by obtaining Blake's signature without his knowledge, even occasionally "getting the girl" as in the episode with the unexploded CIA bomb in the compound. Radar was "the Man" who could get things and get things done. As Alan Alda's influence in the show grew over the years, the witty sarcasm which the show was based on slowly disappeared and Radar was emasculated and replaced with the naive, grape Nehi drinking character. Even Alda's character Hawkeye bore little resemblance to the character in the movie and the beginning season. Loretta Swit's character Hotlips also changed dramatically due to Alda's influence.
dmzabooo jamieg 39 months ago
So Alan Alda is the cornball behind every dumb mistake that show ever made. Trappers character was way more interesting than Hawkeye Pierce could ever be. Trapper was a man without all the liberal fluff. And that can be seen in real life as well. Alda is predictable at best. He’s the Hollywood shoe that fit.
denny jamieg 39 months ago
Alda's influence ruined the show for me. It's like Happy Days, just watch the 1st few seasons.
HerbF 39 months ago
Keep in mind for several seasons (around 4-5) Gary rengotated his contract into a "13 of 26" - meaning he'd appear in only 13 of the 26 episodes per season - that's why there are Radar-less episodes...most people didn't notice as some weeks some of the regulars were only supporting in the show's storyline.

Most people didn't notice William Christopher's absence for most of a season (4 I Believe) due to health issues - and Alda stepped in to save his job!
LalaLucy 39 months ago
Radar was always the heartbeat of the show to me, so it was a sad loss when he left. Still, I really respect Gary Burghoff's reasons for going. I have heard he could be difficult to work with, but I don't really wonder why with all I've read he was dealing with at times.
JosephScarbrough 39 months ago
I have read elsewhere that Gary wasn't even interested in the W*A*L*T*E*R spinoff at all, and one of the only reasons he agreed to it was because it was during a period of time where the police had something of a poor and negative image as far as the general public was concerned, and he was kind of hoping that W*A*L*T*E*R could help soften and improve that image a little.
sparkie951 39 months ago
Just was never the same after Radar Left... He really tied it together... Wish he had come back...
Harry Morgan once said when they lost Radar, they essentially lost Klinger as well, and it's true when you think about it: once Klinger took over as Company Clerk, that was pretty much the end to the hilarious antics of a swarthy, hairy man running around in dresses and concocting other wild schemes to convince those around him he's mentally crazy. Even so, as much as Radar's departure was such a huge loss, I really don't know if his character would've continued to work in the darker and more sombre direction the show ended up going in those seasons after he left.
Mike JosephScarbrough 39 months ago
When Klinger became clerk, he stopped being a Gag and became a Character; this gave him a story function, instead of being just a quick-laff payoff, and this in its turn showed what Jamie Farr could really do as an actor.
sparkie951 38 months ago
This comment has been removed.
Drben1 39 months ago
The one thing I I didn't like about mash. that it was all about pierce and less of the cast...if I was radar I would have taken 4 million on a new contract..the show RADAR was a joke they sure messed that one up ..I think if radar was not there .mash would have not lasted as long as it did
Jonurb 39 months ago
Radar left at the perfect time. Be bridged the gap between the old crew a d the new cast and the show kept going... as for making as much as Alan Alda I don't think so. Over the years the show became Hawkeye's and i think would have folded if Alda wasn't in it.
KevinButler 39 months ago
Mr.Burghoff had a right to leave"Mash"..he didn't spend as much time with his wife and daughter and the role of"Radar"was typecasting him. He did need a break and to try and reconnect with his family..unfortuneately..the decision didn't save his marriage and it took him years to reestablish his relationship with his daughter..his acting career also suffered..which is why today..Mr.Burghoff is now an artist.
harlow1313 39 months ago
Frankly, while I believe they should be well paid, I find the multi-million dollar incomes of stars, athletes, and CEOs to be obscene. I guess I have loose screws.
harlow1313 39 months ago
This comment has been removed.
stephaniestavr5 39 months ago
This comment has been removed.
Jim_TV harlow1313 39 months ago
I understand what you're saying on principle. But successful shows generate tens of millions of dollars and couldn't do it without the stars. What they make is a small percentage of profits that would otherwise go to corporate bigwigs and shareholders. I'd rather see the people who actually earn the money get their share of the gravy. And it's not an easy job or one that just anyone could do.
harlow1313 Jim_TV 39 months ago
While I don't begrudge them exceptional pay, I feel like we, the consumers, could spend our money on better things. After all, it is we, the consumers, who fund these lavish life styles.

While I respect the gifts that others offer, I don't much believe in "special" people.
harlow1313 39 months ago
This comment has been removed.
Deleted 39 months ago
This comment has been removed.
39 months ago
This comment has been removed.
39 months ago
This comment has been removed.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?