He's probably best-known as one of TV's M*A*S*H doctors — Captain B. J. Hunnicutt, a steady presence in the Korean war zone to Alan Alda's mercurial Hawkeye Pierce and the zany Klinger, portrayed by homeboy Jamie Farr.
Mike Farrell's eight-year stint on the beloved series was not only a great time in his acting career, it also provided him with prestigious credentials for promoting the humanitarian causes he holds dear.
Farrell, author of two memoirs, will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater as part of the Authors! Authors! series sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
In his 2007 autobiography, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist, he writes, "Where do I fit in? ... What is my responsibility here? What does it mean to be alive in the world today? What part do I play as an American?"
For him, the answers are leading a campaign to abolish the death penalty in the United States and visiting troubled spots around the globe.
"For me it's a number of things," Farrell said in an interview with The Blade from his Los Angeles home. "It's an opportunity to have a better understanding from on the ground of what's going on.
"And it's a curious thing about celebrity: being somebody who was one of the stars of one of the most popular television shows in history offers an opportunity. I look at its as an ambassadorial opportunity at times, where I can go to places and have the opportunity to do things and meet people that other people don't have. It gives me the opportunity to come back here and talk to people who are willing to hear about it."
Farrell, 71, pegged a second book to his first. In May, 2008, he headed out on an 8,882-mile, 25-city tour to promote the paperback edition of his memoir, and he kept a journal of his experiences, the people he met, and the hybrid Toyota Prius (Mule) he drove. Published in 2009, Of Mule and Man, is that blog-like collection.
At home, he drives a 1992 Toyota pickup and an on/off-road BMW bike — his therapy. He's biked through the Yukon to the Arctic Circle and crisscrossed Australia, breaking an ankle along the way. He's been a vegetarian for 40 years and is "an aspiring vegan." Vegans do not eat or consume animal products.
Father of two children aged 38 and 35 with a first grandchild on the way, he's been married for 25 years to actress Shelley Fabares. Her credits include the 1962 hit single, Johnny Angel; eight years on the television sitcom Coach as Christine Armstrong, love interest of Craig T. Nelson; three Elvis Presley films in the 1960s, and five years on The Donna Reed Show.
Born to an Irish-Catholic family in St. Paul, Farrell was 2 years old when his father moved them to Hollywood, wanting work and finding it as a film-studio carpenter. Young Farrell longed for approval from his brusque, Camel-smoking dad, but didn't find it.
At 18 he joined the U.S. Marines, and upon discharge, worked and hunted for acting jobs. He married a high school teacher and began landing parts in the TV series such as Days of Our Lives, The Interns, and The Man and the City. In the 1963 film The Graduate, he played a bellhop with one spoken line.
The career-maker came in 1975 when he was offered a role in a television series he admired and would be a part of for 179 episodes.
"M*A*S*H to me was about something. It had value beyond the laughs," he said. The day he was hired, Alan Alda took him to dinner.
"The guy really cared about the show and the characters," Farrell wrote in his memoir. "... he wanted the show to succeed by honestly and honorably exploring the lives and relationships of the real people who had been in this terrible situation, while at the same time entertaining the audience."
About Jamie Farr, he wrote: "Jamie Farr's gifts made a one-joke character into a revolutionary, turning Corporal Max Klinger into a beloved example of man's unwillingness to knuckle under to rules, regulations, and regimentation. Jamie's personal energy was palpable; his enthusiasm brought a smile to everyone's face the moment he walked on the set. His love of the lore of show business made him our personal ambassador of good will."
Farrell said he and Shelley regularly get together with Farr, Loretta Swit (she played Hot Lips Houlihan, and in real life, supports animal rights and does needle point), Bill Christopher (a student of classical Greek, he played Father Mulcahy), Harry Morgan (Colonel Sherman Potter; Morgan is nearly 95), David Stiers (Major Charles Winchester, Stiers conducts orchestras), and Alan Alda when he visits the West coast.
Farrell said he'll speak briefly Wednesday, and will take questions to learn the interests of people in the audience.
Tickets for Mike Farrell's 7 p.m. talk are $10, $8 for students, and are available at the door. The Stranahan Theater is at 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Information: 419-259-2566.
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