Loretta Swit nearly left M*A*S*H to play another iconic TV character

She tried to go from nurse to cop in 1981.

On Now
Major Margaret Houlihan’s Fiercest Moments
Up Next:

You're flipping through the TV listings in October 1981 and come across this:

M*A*S*H’s Hot Lips, Loretta Swit, turns New York flatfoot in this comedy-mystery about two lady cops who have equal trouble finding good bed-mates and stolen diamonds. Tyne (The Enforcer) Daly co-stars. If this TV movie arrests the audience, Swit may be drafted into a new series.

Huh. Swit in a buddy cop movie. Sounds perfect. After all, she showed her knack for playing characters with authority and wit. At the time, M*A*S*H was entering its tenth season — and was still rated as one of the Top 10 most-watched shows on television. Swit was one of the few cast members left who had been around since the very beginning, along with Alan Alda, Jamie Farr and William Christopher. Gary Burghoff had left the 4077th a couple of years prior. Would Swit be the next to ship out? Would this TV movie be a hit?

Well, that TV movie was called Cagney & Lacey. Yes, it was a hit. It launched a popular police procedural that lasted seven seasons.

As you might recall, Loretta Swit was not in the role of Christine Cagney for that run. Sharon Gless is best known for the role — and she was the third actor to fill the part. Between Swit and Gless, Meg Foster portrayed Cagney for six episodes, until the network deemed her too macho and gave her the boot.

So why did Swit not get the role? You can go ahead and blame the network for that one, too. Swit wanted the gig. 

"If I had been allowed to leave [M*A*S*H] I would have done Cagney because I loved the character," Swit admitted in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation. "It was another strong woman and I thought the audience really liked seeing me in uniform."

Swit had input into the script, too, and dove into the research for the role. She came up with some of Cagney's backstory and contributed to one of her big action scenes. Dick O'Neill, who would play the character's dad on the series, thanked Swit for his job. She was the one who had sketched out the father-daughter relationship.

But it was not to be. Swit could not get our of her M*A*S*H contract. 

Not that we're complaining too much. Swit would have some beautiful moments in the later episodes of M*A*S*H. She has the idea to put together the time capsule in "As Time Goes By." She makes peace and earns the respect of Winchester in the tear-jerking series finale. She appeared in an episode with guest star Dennis Holahan, who played a Swedish U.N. delegate. The two actors later married. Yep, "Houlihan" married Holahan.

Swit would have been great as Cagney, but we hate to think of M*A*S*H without those moments.

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?
Close

11 Comments

dmirarh 12 months ago
Loretta Swit... oh yeah. that's what I'm talking about dogg...
Runeshaper 12 months ago
Well, even with not being allowed to perform on Cagney & Lacey, Swit found her husband on M*A*S*H and I’m sure she had a lot of fun along the way 🙂
Cougar90 12 months ago
Having seen Cagney and Lacey I can safely say Miss Swit was better off on MASH. I don't know how C & L lasted as long as it did.
Mblack 12 months ago
I mentioned this in the comments the other day.
CoreyC 12 months ago
I don't blame the producers of M*A*S*H Margaret was a major cast member and the series was late on its shows life and it would have been almost impossible to replace Loretta. Loretta was the big loser here.
KentuckyPhil69 12 months ago
Loretta could handcuff and frisk me anytime!!! Love you Loretta!!♥️💝❤️
Andybandit 12 months ago
That would been different if Loretta played Sharon Gless's role on Cagney and Lacey. That show was a good show. I would like to see it on MeTv, CoZi, or GeTv.
JimB 54 months ago
After reading this article, I heard someone say, (Not sure who said it) that Loretta didn't, not couldn't leave M*A*S*H because she feared that Cagney and Lacy wouldn't last that long, so she decided to stay where she was. I think this was said in an interview during the 10th anniversary of the finale, Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.
Deleted 58 months ago
This comment has been removed.
legion1a 58 months ago
You scumbag!
You don't miss an opportunity to post your ads for free, where they are not welcome!
I hope you get exactly what you deserve!
UTZAAKE 58 months ago
"...Meg Foster portrayed Cagney for six episodes, until the network deemed her too macho and gave her the boot." Meg Foster too macho? All I know is that she had one of the most hypnotic pairs of eyes I've ever seen. https://celebritypictures.wiki/images/0002033/0002033_2.jpeg
daDoctah UTZAAKE 58 months ago
You say hypnotic, some say creepy. Meg Foster was mentioned by a friend of mine when we were talking about how there was something a little scary about Kirstie Alley's eyes.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?