Wayne Rogers: The Man Who Kicked Hollywood
Posted by HLPAPG
Dale Sherman, author of the upcoming book M.A.S.H. FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Best Care Anywhere, gave us a few words on the iconic Wayne Rogers who passed away on December 31, 2015. Wayne Rogers was best known for his role as Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre on M.A.S.H. and he will be remembered always by us all.
While working on the final touches of the upcoming MASH FAQ book for Applause (due in April 2016), I was surprised to hear about the death of Wayne Rogers on December 31, 2015.
Rogers is namely remembered today for appearing in the first three seasons of MASH as Trapper John, but his career was much more than that. Born April 7, 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama, Rogers graduated from Princeton University then served in the navy for three years.
He ended up in New York, where his roommate, Peter Falk, convinced him to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. From there, he began getting acting gigs in television, including a regular role in the western series Stagecoach West (1960-1961) as “Luke Perry.” In his hours away from the camera, however, he was also gaining a reputation as a businessman who knew the stock market.
Becoming friends with Ted V. Mikels in the early 1960s, Rogers co-wrote and coproduced two films with the director, Dr. Sex (1964) and the notoriously oddball The Astro-Zombies (1968). He also appeared in several roles on the television series The F.B.I. and popped up in Cool Hand Luke (1968), when he was talked into trying out for MASH. Although initially interested in the Hawkeye role, when told that Alan Alda was about to sign, Rogers took on the Trapper John role instead after being told that the two would trade off on storylines as the lead.
Things didn’t turn out that way, however. Getting off on the wrong foot with series developer Larry Gelbart by reading gag lines different than how the writer wished, Rogers found the Trapper role being diminished in favor of Hawkeye. This irked Rogers especially when the storyline established in the book and film that saw Trapper becoming chief surgeon and a chestcutter (something even established in very early episodes of the series for Trapper) were given to Hawkeye in the series. “They took away Trapper’s credentials, his identity,” Rogers stated later on. “It didn’t bother me that they chose to make Hawkeye more important, but don’t emasculate my character.”
Eventually, Rogers offered to appear in the second season as an occasional character that had more to do in an episode here and there, rather than just be “Hawkeye’s audience.” (“You save money and I won’t feel like I’m wasting my time and I won’t feel like I’m being treated in some half-assed manner.”) He was talked back, but then threatened to quit again as the third season was around the corner. Due to this, Mike Farrell was asked if he would be ready to replace Rogers in the program, and as Rogers was independently making money in the stock market and with other business ventures, it was looking good that he wouldn’t return. Instead, he did, but after the third season, he pulled out.
Fox sued, only to find out that he never signed his contract with the studio. Rogers would go on to appear in the cult favorite City of Angels and had some minor success with a television adaptation of the movie House Calls (oddly enough, a series that faced another situation where a main actor had issues with the production team and studio for personal reasons). He also was a chairman of the board for Stop-N-Save, LLC, as well as having produced plays, including a female-reversal version of The Odd Couple starring Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers. More recently he popped up many times on Fox News to discuss financial matters and co-wrote a book in 2011 called Make Your Own Rules.
In the past decades or so, Rogers publicly made his peace about MASH, appearing in some documentaries about the program, and even admitted at one point that had he known the series would become more character-based in later years, he probably would have stayed on. Even so, it was clear in interviews that he considered the role a job like any other and didn’t feel anything special about a gig he took for three years more than forty years ago.
Wayne Rogers was definitely a man who didn’t find anything magical about Hollywood. Magical about acting, perhaps, but not Hollywood, and had no need for it. In some ways, he’s probably happy that he managed to thumb his nose at the traditional “last call for stars” news and movie channels do reflecting on the passing of actors that always happen at this time of year. To give Hollywood one final kick in the pants by messing up their memorials no doubt would have made him smile.