Jeff Maxwell explained why Igor's name changed on M*A*S*H
Please stop saying he flubbed his lines.
Read to Me
In a scene from M*A*S*H that fans frequently label as a goof, Frank Burns is yelling at Igor because the quick-tempered major says that he's wasting applesauce, spilling it when he serves it. "Apples don’t grow on trees," Burns says to Igor. Then, he barks: "What’s your name, fella?"
"Maxwell, sir," Igor says.
"Well, you're going on K.P., Maxwell," Burns says, pinching up his face in his weasely way.
Many M*A*S*H fans have pointed to this scene in the fourth season episode "The Price of Tomato Juice" as a minor error in the show's history. The character of Igor is played by actor Jeff Maxwell, and later on in the show, Igor's last name is better known as Straminsky.
Because of this, people attribute this supposed error to the actor, who they believe accidentally gave his real name instead of his character name, flubbing the line. However, the actor has since defended his honor, and in the book TV’s M*A*S*H: The Ultimate Guide Book, Maxwell is quoted with this explanation that confirms the truth: He didn't say his line wrong.
"I did not accidentally say my last name in 'The Price of Tomato Juice,'" Maxwell explained. "Maxwell was written in the script."
As proof that Maxwell was the name written in the scene, you could point to the fact that Burns also says the name Maxwell when he delivers his line, presumably not ad-libbing based on what he heard, but following what was written in his script, too.
In the book, Maxwell explained that writers knew they wanted to call the character Igor, and the longer he was on the show, the sharpening of his character led to a more fitting choice for a last name than "Maxwell," which the writers had perhaps hastily written into the script for "The Price of Tomato Juice."
"Straminsky was a later addition," Maxwell said, "Though it sounds like something I would have made up, I didn't. Some M*A*S*H writer had the good thought that Igor Straminsky made more sense than Igor Maxwell."
Maxwell went on to say he agreed with the writers in making that choice and that he was able to lean more into the character with this new name.
"I like it because it gave me the chance to make the Igor character more of a Straminsky than a Maxwell," Maxwell said. "In truth, Igor, Igor Maxwell and Igor Straminsky were all written into M*A*S*H by the same folks who gave Radar's bear its name."
So that settles it: Jeff Maxwell did not flub his line in this episode. It was simply the writers experimenting with the identity of a new character.
Maxwell appeared in 83 episodes of M*A*S*H and is best known for playing Igor Straminsky (although another actor Peter Riegert stepped in to play the character a couple of times). On his podcast M*A*S*H Matters, co-host Maxwell once took listeners through a day in his life on the show. "I loved being out there, and I think most everybody did too," he said.
Maxwell was reminded that he had once told a story about how his first few days on set were not as rosy as he seemed to be recalling then, and Maxwell laughed, admitting he had to get used to certain things like extreme hot and cold temperatures when shooting on the outdoor set — and occasionally fighting off wasps for his lunch.
"There were moments when the yellowjackets would attack your food when you were eating lunch," Maxwell said. Then he made a joke: "But if you put sauce on the yellowjackets and put them on a piece of bread, you know, they weren't bad!"
"I was miserable," Maxwell said of his first day. "I hated every second of it. But when I realized what a cool job it was and how many fascinating, interesting people there were around me, that’s when everything changed."
He said it was uncomfortable shooting on location, where there were no real buildings to duck into if you needed to escape the extreme temperatures.
In the chat, Maxwell reveals that some sets served many purposes in this makeshift environment. In fact, the set used for the operating room was actually also used for storage of camera equipment and lights. And in the mornings, it also was a giant dressing room for all the extras you see in the background of episodes to get ready to appear on camera.
"The O.R. set was actually a dressing room," Maxwell said. He described how everyone would crowd into the operating room where they'd be fitted into their wardrobe for the day. "You go in the door as a civilian, you come out being in the army," Maxwell said.
There were also things he really liked about being on set. Like trips to the dining car.
"There was a trailer up around the corner of the set, and that trailer was set up and it was like a little diner," he said. "So you go in there, and a guy flipping hamburgers and egg sandwiches. I remember I couldn't wait to go get the egg sandwich. It was so good."
And that's how he sums up the entire time he spent on the show: "The whole experience was just gosh-darn good."