One of the many reasons M*A*S*H was such a beloved and wildly successful series was Loretta Swit, the lone female star of the show who played the MASH’s head nurse Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan. Over the course of the show’s 11 seasons, Houlihan made a major transformation from a silly romantic foil to Frank Burns to a fully developed, complex character, and in a recent interview, Swit revealed that the transformation was thanks to her pushing the show’s creators, specifically co-creator Gene Reynolds, to allow Houlihan to grow into an unapologetically strong, independent female character:
We had the freedom to say, “Well, I don’t think I would say that.” There was this excitement, this creativity that you don’t find on every job. One year they called me, we had a conference call, and they said, basically, “Where do you see your girl going this year?” I said, “I think we have run the gamut with the relationship with Frank Burns.” They were writing her more intelligent, and they were writing him sillier … I said, “I see her breaking off with Frank, because it’s demeaning. He’s married, it’s not going anywhere, she has no respect for his craft, his skill as a doctor.” I said “I think she goes to Tokyo, she meets somebody who outranks Frank, and she falls in love, and she gets engaged.” So Gene Reynolds says “Well, what happens next?” I said, “She gets married!” Gene said, “Oh, Switheart, that’s so permanent!” I said, “Gene, you’re divorced! How can you sit there and say that to me?” We kept working on it. They said “Okay, we marry you. Then what happens?” I said, “She finds out he’s cheating on her and she leaves him, and comes back to her life without him and realizes that she doesn’t really need another person to complete her life as she had it there.” She was busy, she was ambitious, she was caring, she wanted to be the best damn nurse in Korea, and that was her ambition. She was a real first.
Watch a clip from the interview below: