Larry Linville explained the art of making Frank Burns so slimy

"I pulled out every box in my head marked nerd, moron and slime."

The Everett Collection

In one of the most far-fetched plots from the first season of M*A*S*H, Frank Burns gets his blood drained and donated while he sleeps.

Next, when the patient who receives the stolen blood tests positive for hepatitis, Hawkeye spends the rest of the episode trying to verify whether Burns' blood is the source of the diagnosis while keeping Burns away from operating on the patients or getting too close to Margaret — just to be safe (and ridiculous as possible).

The audience knew that keeping Frank away from Margaret would prove a challenge, as the couple's shocking affair kicks off right at the start of the show with an iconic game of footsie.

In 1975, the actor who played Frank Burns, Larry Linville told The Shreveport Journal that he thought Margaret looked to Frank as a father figure. He said portraying this slightly squeamish romantic dynamic with Loretta Swit was probably tougher than you might think.

"You know Loretta and I are running right down a razor blade," Linville said. "We have to stay on the edge [of true romance] and that calls for a lot of controlled acting."

Linville said he was up for the challenge, not just because M*A*S*H was a major role in his career, but also because he thought it was important to help people recognize slimeballs like Frank Burns, so they can turn and run the other way.

"Frank is the type of character I personally despise," Linville said. "It's a matter of ego, but I think I’m doing a service by delineating this type of person. You know, so you'll be able to recognize him."

He went so far as to label Frank Burns "a dangerous piece of work" during an interview with UPI in 1995.

"I pulled out every box in my head marked nerd, moron and slime," Linville told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1986.

Playing Burns required a balancing act that Linville had to do where he said he felt like, "You either had to look like a total fool or just be repulsive."

At the time that he created Frank Burns, Linville was a married man. From 1962 to 1975, his wife was Kate Geer, the actor daughter of Will Geer (The Waltons). Joining this acting family, Linville shared the screen with both his wife and his father-in-law in his career.

After their divorce, Linville remarried several times, seemingly falling into romances as easily as Frank Burns fell into Margaret's arms. During the show's run, he would wed twice more, in 1977 to Vana Tribbey and in 1982 to Melissa Gallant.

It wasn't until his fourth marriage to Susan Hagan in 1986 that Linville started getting coy during interviews, showing a bit of that ferret-faced Frank Burns spirit.

At least once when asked outright by The News and Observer whether he had any actual romantic entanglement with Swit on set, Linville refused to answer straight.

"Never kiss and tell," Linville demured.

No matter how much "slime" Linville put into Frank Burns to make him despicable, though, the character ended up being directly responsible for attracting the actor's fifth wife to him.

Linville told The Edmonton Sunday Journal in 1994 that he met the last woman to become his wife Deborah Guyden at a Halloween costume party. He went dressed as Frank Burns, and he apparently performed "surgery" at the party, because when he left, he had Deborah's heart.

Finding roles and finding love both proved ultimately to be finicky for Burns, who said even though his career and personal life has dealt with some seesawing between successes and failures, he was content with the decisions he made that led him to M*A*S*H and all his greatest loves.

"I've been a millionaire four or five times, married five times," Linville said. "If I had wanted big bucks, I would have gone to Harvard Law School and learned how to screw other people out of their money instead of my own. I'm very pleased with that decision."

It's easy to see why Linville's M*A*S*H costar Mike Farrell came to this conclusion in his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: "In real life, Larry Linville was as personally intense as Frank Burns."

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Chris 18 months ago
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Hogansucks1 20 months ago
“Good work, Igor- very good! In the morning, he will be one of my brides”. ( voiced in a Dracula 🧛‍♂️ accent). 😂 🤣
Hogansucks1 Hogansucks1 20 months ago
Hawkeye’s remark to Trapper in the midsts of taking Frank’s blood in the middle of the night! 😁. Funny stuff- Love it!!
kent4567 21 months ago
I would like to buy a mash tee shirt
Deleted 21 months ago
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Hogansucks1 20 months ago
Very gifted actor!
JHP 21 months ago
My fav rightie - on TV:)

elbis 21 months ago
It's hard to tell the difference between Frank Burns and any GOP politician. They seem be clones of him.
Slime balls every one of em.
I say this just after the final Senate vote on stimulus relief #3.
brainfog12 elbis 21 months ago
Just where do you think all this money comes from? A tree? Wake up and smell the river! Washington collects all this money from hardworking taxpayers and then magnanimously redistributes it to everyone. Thanks for revealing your true colors you socialist!
elbis 21 months ago
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Hogansucks1 elbis 20 months ago
“Pioneer Aviation” - “Pioneer Aviation”. 😂
AgingDisgracefully 21 months ago
“It’s nice to be nice too the nice” 😂
ncadams27 21 months ago
I think Frank’s character shows his insecurities rather than being a slimeball. He was a surgeon (least competent - but not incompetent) and second in command but no one looked to him as a leader. He was not made chief surgeon despite his more years of seniority and rank nor was he chosen to be the commanding officer after Henry’s departure. Frank felt his positions as doctor and Major should have been sufficient to make him respected and he didn’t know how to earn it. Look at his interactions with the nurses (other than Margaret) and enlisted men - they don’t even seem to recognize him as an officer, instead mostly ignore him. I think he was this way in civilian life and assumed the military would “force” people to respect him. This is what he couldn’t figure out and made him act the way he is.
ChristopherLinville 21 months ago
As far as the characters go, I think most people are forgetting when Frank left the 4077th, when Hawkeye and B.J. were packing his things, Margaret came in to retrieve a picture Frank had stolen of her in a bikini. B.J. suggested she leave it to drive Frank crazy, but she refused saying Frank wasn't all that bad. Further, when it was said that Frank was no Donald, Margaret replied, "in many ways Donald is no Frank either." This clearly showed that Frank and Margaret's relationship was much more than the other characters or the audience would ever know. As far as Larry goes, he was really quite a talented actor. Not only is that type of character, cartoonish, moronic, slimy, difficult to play, Larry despised Frank and really was not like him at all. You can see Larry's abilities here and there in different episodes. Most notably in the few times that Frank was written to be human and relatable. In the episodes where Frank talks about his home-life or his childhood, even though he usually says something so zany, over-the-top or bizarre, meant to be comedic, there's still probably a part of you that kinda feels sorry for him. That's all Larry. Anytime you think you kinda pity the ferret-faced weasel, that contradiction is a testament to Larry's acting ability.
Just curious if you are a relative or just a clever username ? I actually respected the actor immensely as it had to be difficult to play the most hated man on set, day in and day out. It must be draining and theirs no way some of that dislike didn't carry over into his real life interactions with cast. In the limited interviews and roles as other characters I still got the feeling that some of Frank was actually genuine Larry (or vice versa). If you do truly know him can you please state whether this is true or not as it seems to be the most pressing, unanswered question about his character.
Hogansucks1 marklaprise 20 months ago
He put his heart & soul into that character, a very talented actor Larry was!
BuckeyeBeth 21 months ago
I grew up on MASH. I will always have a soft spot for those early episodes with Trapper, Henry & Frank. I can't say the earlier episodes are my favorites but then again I can't say the later episodes are either. The early episodes were much more comedy/cartoonish, The latter episodes with Winchester and Potter were more serious. The show grew and seemed to mature as time went on. Every time I think the early goofier seasons are my favorite, then I think of the later episodes and I realize they hold a different but equal charm for me.

As far as "did they, didn't they?" rumors with Loretta Swit. All I can say is I've read before that several actors have admitted giving very cryptic or not so truthful answers to reporters because after years of the exact same questions they just get tired of saying the exact same thing in answer. They admit they do it to either spice up the interview or to just goof around with the journalist. Also at the same time we need to remember that a lot of these journalist will print the actors have said something that they absolutely never said.

I remember reading (maybe watching) an interview with Alan Alda just after Larry passed away. Alan talked about how Larry was just the most absolutely nicest person you would ever want to meet while working on MASH. That he would do any goofy thing for the show and he was also the most generous actor when something needed to be rewritten. When I think of Larry that is how I like to think of him. A very "un-Frank" nice guy.🙂
JHP BuckeyeBeth 21 months ago
Henry looking for the poker winnings in the swamp

He points to the stove pipe - shakes it and then I still laugh so hard - and then in a later ep Hawkeye gets the same treatment (maybe the "Edwina" ep?)
BuckeyeBeth 21 months ago
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Lily 21 months ago
I really hope he and Loretta were never romantically involved in real life, particularly while he was married. If not that's a terrible thing to make people wonder about and if I were her I'd have been POed. Frank was the character you loved to hate, and he truly didn't have that much of a purpose on the show beyond being as horrible to everyone as he could. There was nothing likeable or redeemable about him. I was so glad when Margaret dumped him that last time and was even relieved he left when he did. Charles was a much more fleshed out character, who could play ally or foil to Hawkeye and BJ, and yet still managed to be a decent guy when it really counted.
madvincent Lily 21 months ago
That’s because Charles was from myself lol😬
OldTVfanatic 21 months ago
I’m sure Larry was ultimately not thrilled with the show's increasing focus on Hawkeye and his viewpoints, and felt that Frank was losing the edgy zip shown in the first four seasons. The fifth season, I thought, just didn’t have the comedic bite and Frank’s lackluster usage showed that.
Sway 21 months ago
The Frank Burns character had no redeeming qualities. He was more like a cartoon character. Never saw what Margaret saw in him. It didn't make sense. She always showed attraction to strong, powerful macho types.
This article isn't particularly flattering to Larry.
NancyRiddleArnot 21 months ago
Larry was good at portraying an incompetent slime ball that whenever I saw him on other shoes I kept seeing Burns.
Wiseguy NancyRiddleArnot 21 months ago
How many shoes have you seen him in?
harlow1313 Wiseguy 21 months ago
Just army boots.
BuckeyeBeth Wiseguy 21 months ago
I've seen him playing police detectives and both Mannix and Kolchak: The Night Stalker here on MeTv. His portrayals aren't really anything like Burns but since they were all within a few years of MASH it's kind of hard not to see Frank. I do enjoy his more laid back portrayal of Detective Kramer on Mannix.
marklaprise Wiseguy 21 months ago
He was always in shoes until they gave him the boot.
Hogansucks1 Wiseguy 20 months ago
Ah- at it again, I see- AYE! Why don’t you find a spelling bee blog or something. (Proof Reader), maybe? Rather than to harass us MeTv patrons all the time on our spelling and punctuation!! —. (wiseguy) 😏. ‘WE are trying to have fun here’ !!!! 😊
BobZayas 21 months ago
I remember seeing Larry Linville on a talk show years ago along with the rest of the cast of M*A*S*H. He surprised me by being the funniest and most upbeat guest on the show that day.
RedSamRackham 21 months ago
* 2 worst TV doctors were Frank Burns on M*A*S*H and Dr. Smith on Lost in Space. ♣
Andybandit 21 months ago
I never liked the Frank Burns character. I thought he was rude to everyone. I didn't like that he was cheating on his wife with Margaret. Margaret was nicer on the show when Frank left.
RedSamRackham Andybandit 21 months ago
Indeed despite being pompous Major Winchester was a nicer guy! ☺
LynCarceo RedSamRackham 21 months ago
and, although he hid it, Winchester had a heart.
BuckeyeBeth Andybandit 21 months ago
I think it was more about Margaret's growth as a character. I know she dumped Frank when Larry was still on the show. I remember there was one episode where she was talking to Hawkeye and said that she had finally outgrown Frank. And then how Margaret continued to grow as a person as the show went on was really nice to see.
JHP Andybandit 21 months ago
Henry Blake character was not the faithful hubby either - but the show isn't about the 6th commandment
Hogansucks1 LynCarceo 20 months ago
“And shall remain anonymous” 🙂
BuckeyeBeth JHP 20 months ago
Was there anyone that was faithful on that show? Trapper also had a wife and daughters. And then there was that episode with BJ that I have still never figured out if he did or didn't. s5e18 Hanky Panky. The way they wrote it I could never figure out if he actyally had sex with the nurse or if he is stating he broke his vowels because he wanted her and only kissed her. I definitely feel he would be the type of guy who would consider kissing as bad as the actual sexual act. I always felt the kind of left that one up to the viewer to decide if he actually went all the way or not.
JHP BuckeyeBeth 20 months ago
The only two faithful

The father and Radar - I think - dont know if Klinger was schmoochy before or after

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