Recalling David Ogden Stiers in M*A*S*H and more

 

More on the actor behind the screen as voice of many cartoons and video games aplenty…

 

Looking back at two of his more famous on front of the screen roles in M*A*S*H and The Accidental Tourist.

 

 

I was unhappy to learn of the passing of another name from a well known American comedy series, I watched in the 1980s. As back then, I remember watching him as a teen in one of my favourite American comedies and series, M*A*S*H. Which at the time had the greatest audience of all time for its final episode in the 1980s. This audience even eclipsing the JR Ewing shooting whodunnit in Dallas (1978). At the time, ie the early to mid eighties, as Stiers reportedly skateboarded to work, I think my mother and movies were going through a bit of a M*A*S*H  phase. As I remember seeing Stiers and his fellow cast members in many a box office hit (on video).

And it was great recognising some of the stars from that comedy on film. With his co-star Alan Alda, my mother watched in everything from The Four Seasons (1981) to Sweet Liberty (1986). And for us kids and Brat Pack aficionados, he appeared as Molly Ringwald’s dad in Betsy’s Wedding (1990). Loretta Swit appeared with my beloved Larry Hagman and Robert Vaughn in S.O.B (1981). And Stiers himself, in a four times Oscar-nominated Best Film, The Accidental Tourist and a number of Woody Allen movies.  But first a wee bit about that Stiers role, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III in M*A*S*H.

 

M*A*S*H (1972-83)

Best scene from M*A*S*H, AAK150, http://www.youtube.com

Stiers starred in this role as Boston born, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III from 1977 until the show ended in 1983. M*A*S*H was an American comedy series set in a field hospital during the Korean War. Which Darlin’ Husband noted if there was a TV historical timeline that this was built by one Don Draper, after the Mad Men (2007-15) series was done and dusted.

M*A*S*H centred on the lives and loves of the doctors, surgeons and nurses attached to the 4077th MASH unit. In his role in M*A*S*H  Ogden Stiers was nominated twice in 1981 and 1982, on both occasions losing out to Danny DeVito in Taxi (1978-83) on both occasions. Which was an accolade in itself with his more supporting role in the series, and DeVito the central character in his comedy series. Other surprising actors and actresses in M*A*S*H  included Teri Garr, Patrick Swayze, George Wendt and Lawrence Fishburne.

His character Charles replaced Frank Burns as a third surgeon in the unit. Charles came from a wealthy upper class background, and this was seen in his full name and his preferred choice of menu. He also had a liking for cigars and classical music.  But was more a foil to Hawkeye and Hunnicutt’s jokes and pranks rather than a new love interest for Loretta Swit’s Margaret Houlihan. And Stier’s character was a pompous, snobbish but competent surgeon. He often responded in a despairing way to his colleagues Hawkeye (Alda) and B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell)’s attempts to play jokes on him and outwit him.

I remember enjoying his portrayal of Charles and bringing a much-needed contrasting character to the almost constant joking with Hawkeye and Hunnicutt, Charles often did this showing he was a good sport and able to match their humour. Also he was a kind character, and was supportive both to his colleagues and patients. It is interesting that the Emmies recognised his role, over the others in this cast as at the time I often saw him more in a supporting role to Alda and Harry Morgan.

Ogden Stiers brought a warmth and sincerity to this character, and his on-screen elegance and refinement made him easily believable in this role. As did his Boston accent, with Stiers originally from Illinois. I’m sure his portrayal of Charles, almost helped shape the character Frasier Crane in Frasier. Which bizarrely was alluded to in an episode of this series with Frasier and Nile’s father’s identity in doubt.  And Stiers fondly remembered by his co stars as being like his on-screen character.

 

The Accidental Tourist (1988)

The Accidental Tourist – Trailer 1, Warner Bros., http://www.youtube.com

The film was nominated for four Oscars, namely Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. With Geena Davis winning the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Here Stiers had a supporting but memorable role.

This film – based on the Anne Tyler novel – stars William Hurt as Macon Leary, a distant, emotionless travel writer whose wife Sarah (Kathleen Turner) leaves him a year after their young son’s murder. Leaving him alone with the family dog. He returns to live with his sister and brothers in their family’s ancestral home after breaking his leg. With Stiers playing one of his eccentric brothers, Porter. The eccentric siblings play crazy randomly ruled card games and put the groceries on shelves in alphabetical order. However all are quite intellectual and obviously care for each others welfare with Porter giving a wee heart to heart talk with his brother on his love life.

Whilst with his siblings, he meets wacky zany dog trainer Muriel (Davis). She has “baggage” of her own, with an ill son. And Muriel starts a relationship with Macon and in time he moves in with her. Sarah then wants him back, and he goes back to her. And then he bumps into Muriel on a flight to Paris…

With Stiers playing a comic role as one of his elders brothers, he played this role effortlessly after his previous roles in comedy series such as M*A*S*H and Rhoda (1976-77). And I remember their zany characters brought some much needed humour to this movie.

And Stiers was also known as the voice in front of and behind the screen in many more TV and film roles, video game and cartoon roles which you’ll find if you look North and South of this particular mini series where he starred as Congressman Sam Greene – with a who’s who of 1980s TV and film with everyone from Patrick Swayze to Johnny Cash – in both this and the sequel in his TV and filmography…

 

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