Jamie Farr-From Films, to Comedy, to the Stage

If you thought Jamie Farr was a one-dimensional actor and know him only as Max Klinger from the M.A.S.H. television show you are in for shocking revelations. Like Klinger, he was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1934 and came from Lebanese-American parents. Dad worked long hours as a butcher and took Sunday as a day off.

Young Jamie took a first step on the ladder of show business by winning a local acting contest at age eleven. The prize was $2.00. An achiever at the High School, he edited the school newspaper, served as class president, played varsity tennis and when he graduated in 1952 was voted Most Outstanding Student.

Although Mom and Dad wanted Jamie to become a doctor or accountant but not an actor they advanced him $600. He followed his dream and started reading Theater Arts magazine that ran ads for acting schools. Jamie headed to the Pasadena Playhouse, which was a training ground for many famous actors. During the week he studied and on weekends worked in an Army-Navy store. He traveled between work, school and his sister’s apartment where he slept by taking two buses and catching sleep whenever possible.

You hear about being in the right place at the right time and that is exactly how Jamie got his break. “I was doing a play at the Pasadena Playhouse and there was an MGM talent scout who saw me on the stage, he told me they were casting for “Blackboard Jungle” and he wanted me to take a screen test for the role of Santini, an inner city juvenile. I did. Here I was a kid from Toledo, Ohio in high school watching MGM movies at the Loews Theater and a few years later I am in the MGM studio. I tested with another young actor, who went on to star in his own series, James Drury, The Virginian. Actually, I was one of the few actors from Los Angeles who were in the picture. Most everyone else were New York actors.”

In the late 1950s Jamie’s career started to rise. He was a regular on the Red Skelton Show; he teamed with Harvey Korman for comedy skits on The Danny Kaye Show. He had guest shots on most television shows of the period.

Jamie is most remembered for his role as Corporal Klinger in the television series M.A.S.H. Originally he was to play a character that was inspired by comedian Lenny Bruce’s attempt to get out of the army. The reasoning was simple. If a soldier wore dresses he would qualify for a Section 8 and be useless to the army. It didn’t work for Klinger.

Jamie did even read for the role. He was happy to get one day’s work. Jamie was directed to a dressing area to change. “There was a woman’s Army Corp uniform hanging up and high heeled shoes. I thought I was dressing with an actress. They said, “No, they are yours. Put them on.”

Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter) holds a special spot in Jamie’s heart. Morgan’s career extended to such early television shows as December Bride, Pete and Gladys, and Dragnet. “Harry was 93 years old so most of his contemporaries were gone except for the M.A.S.H cast. He was a wonderful actor; charming as could be. He could do comedy, farce, drama, and burlesque. He was a man I learned a great deal from. He never threw a line away. He was always great fun.”He also has kind words for Alan Alda. “Alan is a wonderful person and actor. To this day we are great friends.”

Jamie was a regular judge on the Gong Show, a panelist on countless game shows such as The $25,000 Pyramid, Super Password and Hollywood Squares. Since 1984 he has hosted the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic on the LPGA tour. The tournament has raised $7.5 million for local charities.

He has done made for television films, starred on Broadway as Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls.” He continues to appear on stage in regional theater in the United States and Canada.

The park where Jamie used to hang out in Toledo in now named in his honor. At the opposite side of town another park is named after another of Toledo’s favorite sons-Danny Thomas.

His love for Toledo burns brightly to this day. When Klinger waxes about the city he fondly recalls Tony Packo’s for hot dogs. Jamie has referenced Packo’s on the show. “I used to have them sent to the mess tent on the set all the time.” He counts among his friends Wayne Gretzky as well as other member of the Edmonton Oilers and the American Olympic team that beat the Russians. When the Oilers or the Islanders are in Los Angeles playing the Kings, Jamie would host a Packo’s and beer party.

He is the author of a Children’s book, with his wife Joy Ann. He also wrote his biography, “Just Farr Fun.”

Jamie will be celebrating 79th birthday this July 1. When asked his secret to life he responded, “Every time I leave the house my wife says, “be a good person.” I don’t know what that means. All I try to do is be respectful to other people, do my job and get through life the best I can. People complicate things in life and take too many things to heart. When I was in ‘Tuesday with Morrie’ he said, ‘Love is the only rational act, without it you are a bird with broken wings.’

The young boy from Toledo will never forget where he came from or the people who helped him along the way. Jamie Farr overcomes challenges and views them as opportunities. Carpe Diem Jamie!

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