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Loretta Swit Opened Up About the ‘M*A*S*H’ Series Finale 40 Years Later

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Television / CaptainOT / MovieStillsDB / Cropped
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Television / CaptainOT / MovieStillsDB / Cropped

M*A*S*H is undoubtedly one of the most popular television shows of all time, with a fan base that remained dedicated throughout its 11-year run. The series was a comedy but the writers didn’t shy away from the ugly side of war, which is part of what made the show so alluring. Not only did producers receive hate mail when they killed off the beloved Henry Blake, but the final episode became the most-watched series finale ever. Here’s what Loretta Swit had to say about it 40 years later.

‘Goodbye, Farewell and Amen’

Swit played everybody’s favorite M*A*S*H nurse, Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, from 1972-1983. But all good things must come to an end, including the show. The final episode, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” went above and beyond with a two-and-a-half-hour special. It truly drew in America, with 60 percent of all US homes tuning in – a total of around 106 million viewers.

Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Wayne Rogers as Trapper, and Loretta Swit as Margaret Houlihan, smiling together leaning on a jeep.
Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, Wayne Rogers as Trapper, and Loretta Swit as Margaret Houlihan in a promotional shot for season one of M*A*S*H. (Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Television / CaptainOT / MovieStillsDB)

In an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Swit reminisced about the lead-up to the final episode and other elements of the show. She said that she and the rest of the cast were ready to be done: “You get to the point where you’re afraid to start repeating yourself. The writers didn’t want to run out of ideas, and we didn’t want to repeat jokes.” Swit also admitted that she had contemplated leaving the show many times during its run, although she never went through with it.

Not all positive

While the finale was a hit with the public, Swit wasn’t the biggest fan. She revealed that she wasn’t happy with the ending that the writers gave Houlihan. When the war ended, her character was left to make the decision of where to go next, Tokyo or Belgium. She decided against both of them, choosing to return to the US to work in a hospital. In hindsight, Swit thinks that this might have been done to allow for a Houlihan spin-off, something that never happened.

Loretta Swift crying during a press conference.
Loretta Swit crying during a press conference for the final taping of M*A*S*H, January 14, 1983. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection/ Getty Images)

She mused, “Maybe they had some visions of another show with her in a hospital in America (…) but I really felt that was not quite right for Margaret in my heart.” Showing an exceptional understanding of her character, she said “I didn’t think that was correct for my Margaret. For me, she was off to the next war. Margaret is military, just like [Sherman] Potter. I think her next move was Vietnam. So I didn’t agree with that, but that’s what they wanted her to do.”

Reflecting on the show and her character’s nickname

Not only did Swit have plenty to say about the finale of M*A*S*H, but she also reflected on other parts of the show that she wasn’t happy with. Given the nickname “Hot Lips” early on in the series, she said, “[Houlihan] was so much more than a piece of anatomy. I kept telling the writers, ‘She’s more than this.'” Swit was quick to get rid of the name when the relationship between Houlihan and Major Frank Burns came to an end on the show.

Cast of M*A*S*H gathered together for the series finale dressed in character.
The cast of M*A*S*H gathering to film the series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” June 18, 1984. (Photo Credit: Paul Harris / Getty Images )

This was another piece of the plot that the actress was very much against, as it didn’t make sense for her character. “I would tell the writers that we could not continue the relationship I had with Frank. They were writing Margaret as an intelligent, capable nurse and a great leader, but here she was having an affair with a bumbling doctor who had the other doctors had no respect for. It was difficult to keep justifying that relationship.”

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Despite her many grievances with the writers and the plot, Loretta Swit did love playing Major Houlihan. She especially loved seeing how the character evolved over the years. “That woman grew! And I delighted in that,” she shared.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.