Mike Farrell beat out James Cromwell for the role of B.J. Hunnicutt

You decide who got the ''Last Laugh'' on M*A*S*H.

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The M*A*S*H prankathons were epic episodes, and most definitely among the show's most hilarious. Among the very best pranksters was B.J. Hunnicutt, who once dedicated 24 hours toward winning a bet that he could prank everyone in the camp.

It's a quintessential aspect of BJ's character that he be clever and funny enough to pull off these pranks, and it's a set up that adds a lot of tension to the sixth-season episode, "Last Laugh," where B.J. gets arrested after an old prankster buddy shows up and makes light of a serious situation.

In "Last Laugh," the role of B.J.'s buddy Leo Bardonaro went to actor James Cromwell. Today, Cromwell is an Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning actor, but back in 1977, he was just at the beginning of his career. 

Before his guest appearance on M*A*S*H, Cromwell had appeared on TV in a handful of recurring roles, including a memorable character on All in the Family called Stretch Cunningham. Stretch was also a prankster and one of Archie's best friends, and it seems this early role set the tone for the types of roles Cromwell got in the Seventies.

Not everybody realizes this, but when you're watching "Last Laugh," you're actually getting a peek at who B.J. might have been if Mike Farrell had not gotten the part.

Cromwell auditioned, but Farrell won the role, and "Last Laugh" became our only glimpse at how Cromwell's take on impish pranksterism could've meshed with the rest of the M*A*S*H cast. It makes the episode extra fun to watch, knowing what could have been.

In The Hollywood Reporter, Farrell described how he beat out Cromwell and another M*A*S*H guest star Alan Fudge (who appears in "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler"), simply by being one of the first people they thought of to call:

"My agent calls and tells me there's a possibility that Wayne Rogers is leaving. They want to know if I'd be willing to come over and have a meeting. I was as nervous as a kitten going to this interview because I thought this show was so incredibly wonderful. Gene, Larry [Gelbart] and Burt told me they couldn't promise anything. They just had to prepare in the event Wayne leaves."

After a screen test with Alan Alda, Farrell said he was visiting his mother when his phone rang.

"You got it," his agent told him.

"I said something along the lines of, 'I can't talk right now,' and hung up," Farrell said. "I ran in, hugged my mother."

After missing out on M*A*S*H, Cromwell appeared on just about every TV show you can think of, until his movie career picked up in the mid-1990s, thanks to his charming role in Babe. To this day, he remains prolific, appearing in multiple productions, and it all started with the prankster spirit you can see both in his M*A*S*H character's friendship with B.J. Hunnicutt — and in the character he would've liked a chance to play.

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VegasWillie2 6 months ago
I wonder if Cromwell would have gotten the role, would he have upstaged Alda to a great extent. He certainly would have made the BJ character more substantial and literally tower over Hawkeye.
GuitarAnthony 6 months ago
With the royalty checks Mike Farrell probably gets to this day I'd say he won by a landslide.
Kelley1 7 months ago
If his performance on that episode was any sample, he could act, but he just didn't present the same dynamic as Mike Farrell, who came off to me as every bit the laid back, "anything goes just let's get through this" kind of guy to set off Alan Alda's Hawkeye.
F5Twitster 7 months ago
“Gene, Larry [Gelbart] and Burt told me they couldn't promise anything. They just had to prepare in the event Wayne leaves."

Gene being series producer Gene REYNOLDS.

And Cromwell may not have gotten the part because of his height (about 6’7”, which is why his “All in the Family” character was called “Stretch” Cunnigham), which makes framing shots with much shorter actors problematic.

As a guest actor on TV, and supporting actor in feature films, efforts are made to accommodate superior talents like Cromwell, but as a regular on a series, and arguably the number two character he would be in “M*A*S*H,” Cromwell’s height would compromise visual composition too much, too often. In the end, everything else being roughly equal, the producers may have felt that it was just easier to cast the more conventionally-proportioned Mike Farrell.
UTZAAKE 7 months ago
Two years prior in 1975, James Cromwell was a regular on ABC's Hot l Baltimore. https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/hot-l-baltimore-james-cromwell?family=editorial&phrase=hot%20l%20baltimore%20james%20cromwell&sort=best#license
bdettlingmetv 7 months ago
After "Babe" 'went viral', so to speak, or 'the talk of the town' if you prefer, I read an interview with Cromwell where he candidly admitted that he was in the process of disengaging from Hollywood. Throwing in the towel. His career was not where he thought it should have been and appeared to be completely stalled out.

If I remember right, he said his heart wasn't in the audition and he basically 'phoned it in'. But apparently a very low key, unflappable demeanor was just what the producers were looking for. And the rest has been history.
I'm glad HLelandFrame mentioned the Cochrane role as I really enjoyed watching Cromwell chew the spaceship and decisively move past the "Babe" role.
Yeah, M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine has written about Cromwell on his blog a time or two, saying he had so much potential to become a bigger star than he ended up being. Aside from BABE, he was great in THE GREEN MILE - but then again, that movie has some of the best acting from every castmember I've ever seen . . . even Sam Rockwell was good in that movie, and I find almost all of his performances usually have that "phone it in" feel to them.
JohnGibbons 7 months ago
Didn’t find the Trapper John character funny at all. More sarcastic and. Annoying. BJ at least brought a quick wit from time to time. (Ferret Face)
Can’t imagine Fudge as BJ. He’s not even a comedic actor.
JosephScarbrough 7 months ago
Alan Fudge, who played the titular bomber pilot with the Christ complex in "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?" was also another actor who was in the running for the role of B.J., but likewise, lost to Mike Farrell.
audie65 7 months ago
I always thought it was not a good show. Humor was dry and not funny. Did not find Alan Alda to be at all funny. Story lines were not good. Did show the horror of war with people always fighting for their lives on the operating table.
JosephScarbrough audie65 7 months ago
Sounds like you've only seen the later seasons, when the show had become really dark and preachy. M*A*S*H went through phases, starting with a light-hearted, sometimes silly early phase where the main focus was anti-war satire, and the characters' anti-authoritarian attitudes; followed by a more sophisticated, but still enjoyable middle phase where they found a better balance between humor and horror, with more emphasis on developing and expanding on the characters; topped off with a later era where the humor took a backseat to the horrors of war.
Kenner 7 months ago
And mr Cromwell is still with us at the age of 80.
Joseph 7 months ago
Mike Farrell was horrible for the show. It would have been much better with Cromwell. He had some charisma and depth. Farrell is an empty suitcase.
HLelandFrame 7 months ago
Cromwell also played Zefrem Cochrane, the inventor of the Earp Drive in the movie "Star Trek First Contact"! He probably would have been chosen as BJ if "The Questor Tapes" had gone to series! In it, Mike Farrell played Jerry Robinson, friend to the Android, Questor!
Hogansucks1 HLelandFrame 7 months ago
OOBY DOOBY, OOBY DOOBY 😆
Wiseguy HLelandFrame 7 months ago
Was it named after Wyatt Earp?
MrsPhilHarris 7 months ago
B.J. Hunnicutt is my least favourite character. Not sure whether I would have liked the character with another actor in the role. Perhaps.
Hogansucks1 7 months ago
Mike Farrell just fit 🙂
Joseph Hogansucks1 7 months ago
No he didn't. You can sum up his whole character in a few sentences. "I'm from the Bay area." "I love my wife Peg." "I'm sensitive and hate war." The whole thing with trying to make him Mr. Practical Joke never worked. He just was an empty suitcase.
MaryMitch Hogansucks1 7 months ago
I liked BJ too; he showed us the lonely side of a soldier who misses his wife and family.
Hogansucks1 Joseph 7 months ago
‘OH YEA’ - I say he DID !! 😬 “TUTTLE did it” 🤫
Hogansucks1 MaryMitch 7 months ago
The M*A*S*H* family reunion episode, where B.J.’s idea for their loved ones to meet up,for “One big fat hug”,was one of my favorites 😊
Staunch_Reaganite 7 months ago
Cromwell would've been interesting as Hunnicutt, but Farrell just had that wholesome look and demeanor of the devoted and faithful family man he portrayed so well.
stephaniestavropoulos 7 months ago
Wasn't there a prankisode where BJ got the idea to do so, because he was sick and tired of hearing about how good Trapper John was? He wanted to prove that he was as good, or bette,r than Good Olde Trapper John McIntyre.!
I know typo! Shouldn't be "bette,r," but "better."
Yea, Hawkeye had to get up on a mess tent table, with his pants pulled down and sing-“Your the Tops” 🤣
Cowgirl Hogansucks1 3 months ago
That was a very funny episode. I do wish that BJ had been a little funnier though.
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