The Actor Who Always “Dressed” Up: Jamie Farr

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Jamie Farr was born Jameel Joseph Farah on July 1, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio. His mother was a seamstress and his father a grocer. They attended the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Farr’s first acting success occurred at age 11, when he won two dollars in a local acting contest.

He graduated from Woodward High School with honors and was named most outstanding student. In addition to writing and acting in two variety shows, he was a member of the Drama Society, class president for three years, feature editor of the school newspaper, president of the radio class, manager of the football and basketball teams and a member of the varsity tennis team.

Before becoming a successful actor, he worked for a lithograph company, a post office clerk, an army surplus store clerk, an airline reservations clerk, and at a chinchilla ranch.

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After graduation he attended the Pasadena Playhouse where a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout discovered him, offering him a screen test for Blackboard Jungle. He won the role of the mentally challenged student, Santini. He was drafted by the United States Selective Service into the United States Army, undergoing his basic training with the 6th Infantry Division, Fort Ord, California, he served for two years, with service in Japan and Korea. The dog tags he wore on M*A*S*H were his own. (Alan Alda also served as a gunnery officer in Korea.)

In 1958, Warner Brothers cast him as the co-pilot of a TB-25 in the Andy Griffith military comedy No Time for Sergeants, which also brought the young TV comic Don Knotts to motion pictures. Farr appeared as Thaddaeus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, along with minor roles in Who’s Minding the Mint? and with future costar William Christopher in With Six You Get Eggroll. He would also appear in Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run II.

 

In the late 1960s, he became a regular on the Red Skelton Show. He appeared in a variety of shows in the 1960s including Hazel, My Three Sons, Donna Reed, The Dick Van Dyke ShowI Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, Gomer Pyle, The Flying Nun, and Family Affair. Farr received roles in several commercials as well, including an ad for Wonder Bread where he says, “If it isn’t fresh, I’m outta business.”

 

During this decade, he also married Joy Ann Richards. They are still married and have two children.

He continued his television acting career through the 1970s appearing on a variety of shows including Room 222, Love American Style, Toma, Emergency, Barnaby Jones, and The Love Boat.

 

Image: Loretta Swit And Alan Alda William Christopher In 'M*A*S*H'

In October of 1972, he was hired to appear on one episode of M*A*S*H as Corporal Klinger. He wore women’s clothing, hoping to be discharged from the Army for a Section 8 discharge. He was asked back for the second season to appear in 12 episodes and became a regular cast member in the fourth season. When Radar left the show, and Klinger took over as Company Clerk, he stopped being fashionable and returned to uniforms. He said he did not want his kids to be made fun of because of his cross dressing. He was a resourceful and kind soldier. His character on the show was also from Toledo, and he often mentioned one of Farr’s favorite restaurants, Tony Packo’s Hot Dogs and talked about his love for the Toledo Mud Hens. (In 2017, he was inducted into the Mud Hens Hall of Fame.  A bobble head was given to the first 2000 fans to the game that night.) He continued with M*A*S*H until 1983 when it left the air.

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Along with Harry Morgan and William Christopher, he appeared in After M*A*S*H for two years. The show never got the fan base the original show had and was cancelled after 30 episodes.

 

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The cast of both M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H were very close. On the death of Harry Morgan, Farr commented, “Harry was very special to all of us cast members. Not only was he a wonderful performer that made such a difference … he was a dear friend to every cast member. He was absolutely a pixie, a gremlin as mischievous as all get out. You couldn’t be around Harry for very long without wanting to embrace him and I think our Lord will feel the same way.”

 

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He also commented on William Christopher’s passing: “We are all devastated by our beloved Bill’s passing. I have known him for over 50 years. During the 1960s we lived in the same neighborhood in Studio City. My Joy and I would see him and his wife Barbara going for walks as we were going for walks. Bill and I did the very last Doris Day movie together, With Six You Get Egg Roll. We were both cast in the tv series M*A*S*H at almost the same time. He was a gentle soul and, in my opinion, probably the most under rated actor of all of us on the show. He was wonderful. During between set ups for camera angles Bill would read his Homeric book in Homeric Greek. He was a real egg head. He and his Barbara traveled the world and he would try to learn the language of the countries they were going to visit. He went to Egypt one year and tried his Arabic on me. He was better than I was. We used to imitate Bill on the set using his high-pitched voice. One time he came down with hepatitis, and when he returned to the series we had his actor’s chair painted yellow. Bill and I did a National Tour of the play “The Odd Couple” with Bill portraying Felix and me doing Oscar, Bill was at one time on the Board of the Devereaux Foundation for Autistic Children. It was a real honor to have had him and Barbara as friends and a great honor to have shared the tv screen with this gracious, talented and charming soul. May his memory be eternal. Rest in Peace Father Mulcahy.”

 

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Like many celebrities who were typecast in a specific role, Farr realized there were advantages and disadvantages to his fame. He said that “the benefits from stardom as Klinger outweigh any setbacks. It’s a double-edged sword. What makes you famous is what interferes with getting other roles. But there are things that never would have happened without M*A*S*H. There certainly would be no Jamie Farr Kroger Golf Classic.”

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Farr has always been generous with his hometown. The golf classic he discussed above is now the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. The tournament has raised more than $6 million dollars for local children’s charities.

The city has shown its love for Farr as well. The park in Toledo where Farr used to hang out when he was younger was renamed “Jamie Farr Park” in his honor on July 5, 1998. About the park, he said, “I wanted to be an actor, a famous actor, and I wanted my hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to be proud of me.” Farr spoke to about four hundred admirers and was quoted in the New York Post: “Jamie Farr Park is certainly a highlight of my life and career.”

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Farr also made a gift of his scripts to the University of Toledo. The scripts were from movies and television, including M*A*S*H, After M*A*S*H, The Blackboard Jungle, With Six You Get Eggroll, No Time for Sergeants, Who’s Minding the Mint, among others. He also donated call sheets with each script. Call sheets list the personnel and equipment needed for each day of productions, the scenes being filmed, shooting schedules, and the scenes to be filmed.

Farr has also appeared in plays during the second half of his career. In the 1990s, Farr  played the role of Nathan Detroit in a Broadway revival of “Guys and Dolls.” Farr is still active in regional theater and guest-stars occasionally on television.

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In 1996–97 Farr went on a national tour with “The Odd Couple,” playing Oscar Madison, playing opposite his old friend William Christopher in the role of Felix Ungar.

Most recently he was in the national touring production of “Say Goodnight, Gracie,” a one-man show about longtime entertainer George Burns.

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Farr has also tackled being an author. In 1994, he published his autobiography, Just Farr Fun. With his wife, he also wrote a children’s book, Hababy’s Christmas Eve, a Christmas book where the story is told from the view point of the animals.

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Jamie Farr has had a successful and fun career. He has been a movie star, a television celebrity, an author, and a Broadway performer. He was not bitter about his role as Klinger but accepted the benefits that came with it and made the most of it. He has also been generous, raising money and publicizing Toledo. He truly sounds like a very nice man. It was fun to learn more about his life.

America’s Favorite Family

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For the last two weeks of 2017 we are going to spend some time with the Nelson family. Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky visited our home every week from 1952-1966. America watched the boys grow from young boys to adult men. Let’s see how the show developed.

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Oswald George Nelson was born in New Jersey in 1906. He attended Rutgers and graduated with a law degree, but in the 1920s he put a band together to see if he could make a living from music.  A new vocalist named Peggy Lou Snyder joined his band in 1932. Her parents were actors and she grew up on the stage. She had married a comedian Roy Sedley, but he was not funny at home; he was abusive, and she had their marriage annulled. When she joined Ozzie’s band, she changed her name to Harriet Hilliard, and she changed it again in 1935 when she married Ozzie.

 

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They did a few radio shows, eventually ending up on the Red Skelton Show. In 1944, they received their own radio show and they called it The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Their boys were played by actors until 1949 when Ozzie and Harriet felt they were old enough to join the cast. Later Ozzie would be criticized for putting his boys on the show and destroying their childhood, but David said his parents tried hard to give the boys a normal upbringing.

 

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In 1952, Ozzie and his brother wrote a movie called Here Come the Nelsons which was shown on the big screen.  It functioned as a pilot for a television show they began that same year.  Decades before Seinfeld, these two put together a how about nothing — and everything.  It was about their life and what was happening at home.  Unfortunately, the downside of portraying yourself on television was the pressure of trying to appear the perfect family when everyone realizes there is no such thing.   Growing up before the cameras put a lot of stress on the boys especially to always be “acting.”  David once was quoted as saying, “It’s an awfully big load to carry, to be everyone’s fantasy family.”

 

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The Nelsons lived at 822 Sycamore Rd, but the exterior shots were that of their real home at 1822 Camino Palmero St., Hollywood, LA, California.  The interior shots, built to resemble their own home, were filmed at Selzick International Studios in Culver City.

 

Hotpoint was one of their first sponsors, and viewers would have watched a young Mary Tyler Moore as Happy Hotpoint, a dancing pixie. Actors often addressed the audience directly, drawing them into their life.

 

Other characters who showed up regularly were their next-door neighbor Thorny played by Don DeFore; Don’s son said in real life he was much like Thorny.

 

Ozzie and Harriet’s friends Clara and Joe Randolph (Mary Jane Croft and Lyle Talbot) and Doc Williams (Frank Cady) were on the show regularly. Ricky’s friend Wally (Skip Young), and Jack (Jack Wagner) who worked at the malt shop also appeared regularly.  On several episodes you can see a young Barry and Stan Livingston before they were Steve Douglas’s sons.

 

The show produced 436 episodes, all written in part by Ozzie, produced by Ozzie, directed by Ozzie, and even set buildings were supervised by Ozzie who was considered a workaholic and quite different from the stammering, hesitant, and slightly absent-minded father he played on the small screen.

 

When Ricky decided he wanted a rock and roll career, it was written into the show, and his popularity is what kept the show going for a good part of the 1960s.

 

When David married June Blair, she was written into the show, and when Ricky married Kris Harmon (sister of Mark Harmon and mom of actress Tracy Harmon and the Nelson twins who had the band Nelson), she was written in as well.

A lot of the shows centered around the boys. Many of the situations were taken from real life.  When they’re younger, we see them learning life lessons; as they became teenagers, we watched them go through dating issues; and when they became adults, we followed their marriages, parenting choices, and careers.

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In 1966, the show began to be considered old-fashioned even though Ozzie tried to update the scripts. When the show was cancelled that year, it was replaced by a new show starring Adam West called Batman.

 

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Ozzie and Harriet tried television again in 1973 with Ozzie’s Girls where Ozzie and Harriet rent out the boys’ rooms to two college students, but the show failed after a year.

 

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Ozzie would go on to appear on the Mothers-In-Law, Adam-12, Night Gallery, Bridget Loves Bernie and three episodes of Love American Style. He passed away in 1975 from liver cancer.

 

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Harriet appeared in a variety of shows also including Bridget Loves Bernie, Love American Style, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Aloha Paradise,  and Happy Days but after Ozzie died, she became a bit of a recluse. The last show she appeared on was her granddaughter Tracy’s show, Father Dowling’s Mysteries. She died in 1994 from emphysema and congenital heart disease.

 

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Ricky had a variety of movie and television performances.  His music career continued successfully, although his drug abuse ruined his marriage and stalled his career.  He was killed in 1985 in a plane crash on his way to a performance.

 

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David appeared in quite a few movies when the show was over and got into directing and producing.  He and June divorced in 1975, and he married Yvonne O’Connor Huston. He passed away in 2011 from colon cancer.

I cannot imagine living your growing-up years under the microscope of the entire American public.  We have all experienced living near neighbors when they hear something we prefer they didn’t, or we hear something we prefer we didn’t.  This family had millions of people watching them, seeing if they lived up to their perfect image.

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It’s hard to discuss the show without discussing the repercussions it had on the Nelson clan, but the show itself was a chance to watch a family we admired and hoped to be more like when we became parents.  I have learned that you need to love characters for who they are — period.  Because, often the real humans behind them will let you down and make you sad.  It was hard for me to adjust to watching some of my favorite characters after learning disappointing things about the actors or actresses who portrayed them; often they were not such nice people.  So I made a determined effort to keep characters I love separate from any real life issues.

That said, I think Ozzie and Harriet did the best they could to raise their children under the spotlight with as much normalcy as possible.  They had to deal with real-life issues at home and then come together and play America’s favorite family.  I give them credit just for being able to do that for fourteen years.