Loretta Swit knew the importance of her M*A*S*H character

Swit's character changed a lot over the course of 11 seasons.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Loretta Swit was important to the M*A*S*H series not only because she played a hard-working nurse who was a crucial piece to the 4077th, but because she was one of the only women in the cast.

Swit had a big role to play by being one of the 4077th's only women nurses. In the '70s, many newspapers, magazines, and headlines were quick to comment on Swit's appearance rather than her talent.

The actress wanted to get away from what viewers saw on the surface and get deep with her character, Maj. Margaret Houlihan. Originally her character was very by-the-book. Many viewers considered the character to be uptight, rigid, and one-dimensional.  

According to a 1973 interview with Richmond Times-Dispatch, Swit worked on her character to show more depth. As seasons went on, Maj. Houlihan showed vulnerability and humanity in countless situations where most TV characters (and real people) would not.

"Hot Lips is obnoxious at times," Swit said. "But I always look for something amusing about her so audiences will laugh instead of just being angry with her."

Swit described her character as "a career woman who sticks by Army regulations." She just also happened to fall apart over Major Frank Burns, adding to her complicated story in the series.

"It's difficult to play an attractive woman who plays the heavy week after week," Swit said. "I can't be too heavy because, after all, it's a comedy. But I have to put down the men and lay them out as often as possible."

Swit was one of the only regular female cast members in a series of mainly all men. According to the interview, Swit often referred to her co-stars as "my five guys." These five guys included: Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, and Gary Burghoff. 

"We've only been on the air a year, but the family feeling of this cast is just about the best known story in Hollywood," Swit said. "We're extraordinarily close because we're all from the theater and lived on the East Coast. We help one another and criticize ourselves to make the show better."

The support of her co-stars made Swit feel comfortable enough to start changing Maj. Houlihan. She knew she had an important role to play as an actress and a woman. It's safe to say she made a difference. 

"I work hard at making Hot Lips understandable," Swit said. "As an Army nurse she lives by the book except in her private life. Most of the time she is an antagonist who puts the story in motion. Naturally, it's not all acting. Part of Hot Lips is me."

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4 Comments

tootsieg 23 days ago
Is that King Charles when he was Prince Charles?
sjbang88 24 days ago
I wish I could figure out the importance of her character.
nd1irish sjbang88 22 days ago
She showed America that women could yell as much as men. There are tens of thousands of married women currently yelling at their husbands thanks to ‘Hot Lips’.
JHP 26 days ago
her fastball was the same as day #1 - super good!
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