The same actor got diagnosed with hysterical paralysis on M*A*S*H twice
You’re not going crazy. We got a double dose of this madness.
"It's a long story," M*A*S*H psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman tells Colonel Potter when he arrives in camp with a bandaged head for the sixth -eason episode "War of Nerves."
Freedman is injured, and we soon find out that it happened after he was called to visit a soldier in such extreme distress on the frontlines that he had to be carried into the doctor's tent. "He wasn’t wounded," Freedman tells Hawkeye later, "He'd seen three of his buddies killed in 24 hours."
"Hysterical paralysis," Hawkeye says knowingly.
Freedman's patient in this episode is simply called Tom. He is played by actor Michael O'Keefe, who is perhaps best known for playing the young caddie Danny Noonan in Caddyshack. But he might look familiar to M*A*S*H fans for a different reason.
By some crazy coincidence, O'Keefe appeared in one other M*A*S*H episode three seasons prior, and in it, he also played a young soldier stricken with hysterical paralysis.
In "Mad Dogs and Servicemen," O'Keefe appeared as Corporal Richard Travis, who is the lone survivor of a tank attacked by enemy fire.
"He's paralyzed but there's no apparent injury," Trapper John tells Hawkeye.
We first see O'Keefe with his face covered in sand. He's not angry like he is in "War of Nerves," but on the verge of tears as he explains to Trapper and Hawkeye what he's going through.
"Sounds like one of those cases Sid Freedman's been working on," Trapper says to Hawkeye in "Mad Dogs and Servicemen."
In this earlier episode, Freedman does not appear, but this seems to make the case that the camp psychiatrist often saw soldiers experiencing hysterical paralysis. It perhaps even foreshadows the later episode that also starred O'Keefe.
But without Freedman, this first time around, we watch Hawkeye step in to serve as a poor man's shrink. He tries to get O'Keefe's character to confront the fact that he has no medical injury keeping his legs from working, first by commiserating with him.
"We all have our breaking points," Hawkeye tells the soldier, asking him to tell him what happened when his tank was attacked.
Unfortunately, Hawkeye is no Freedman, and when his patient won't talk, he's the one who ends up mad and shouting, bullying his patient. He even goes so far as to refuse O'Keefe's character his dinner service in bed, trying to make the paralyzed patient walk if he wants to eat. Margaret intervenes, but not before Hawkeye brings the soldier back to the brink of crying.
In the end of O'Keefe's first episode of M*A*S*H, it's Trapper who's sensitive enough to get the soldier talking and on his way to recovery. What we see from O'Keefe here is a more subdued portrayal of hysteria, one characterized by damp eyes and stern frowns, and some trembling under the sheets.
This is heavily contrasted with his later performance in "War of Nerves." Here, O'Keefe becomes actually hysterical when Freedman asks how he's doing. Just moments earlier, the wounded soldier had been joking easily with Hawkeye and B.J., but upon seeing the psychiatrist, his mood shifts drastically. He calls Freedman a "butcher" for approving him to go back to the frontlines.
It's clear that he holds the psychiatrist in deep contempt.
The vitriol that O'Keefe's character spews at Freedman is unlike most interactions we watch with the camp psychiatrist, who is typically portrayed as a calming presence, enormously helpful and serious in his role.
This played against what audiences were used to seeing in Sixties and Seventies TV psychiatrists and psychologists like Bob Hartley (The Bob Newhart Show), Dr. Bellows (I Dream of Jeannie) or Dr. Smith (Lost in Space), whose expertise was mocked and mined for comedic effect.
Some have even credited the M*A*S*H psychiatrist Sidney Freedman for changing the way people see the field of psychiatry as a useful tool in society.
And in "War of Nerves," although O’Keefe’s character leaves the camp still fist-shaking mad at Freedman, the doctor does not get drawn into the tension. Freedman keeps his head about him and sends the soldier off with a polite nod, because as the wise doctor tells Hawkeye and B.J. near the episode’s end, "It's very possible his getting his anger out on me is the best thing for him."