Though he’ll likely always be associated with his “bad guy” persona, M*A*S*H star Larry Linville was never afraid to open up about his time on the hit series, especially with the youth of the acting world at the time.
Linville’s character of Maj. Frank Burns became a standout in the series’ first five seasons. His constant feuds with Hawkeye, his romance with Maj. Houlihan and his undeniable patriotic stance are all reasons Burns, and Linville, stood out.
“I pulled out every box in my head marked nerd, moron and slime,” Linville said in a 1986 newspaper article from The Philadelphia Inquirer. He said it to a crowd of students on the campus of Glassboro State College in New Jersey, now named Rowan University.
In his post-M*A*S*H life, Linville made appearances on campuses nationwide.
Though he became one of the many stars on M*A*S*H, Linville initially thought the show wasn’t going to get off the ground. In 1987, he told students at Murray State University in Kentucky, “trying to make a TV show out of a popular movie is the kiss of death,” per a Paducah Sun article.
The California native was proved wrong instantly.
“The first time we read the script together… we had magic… personal, human chemistry. Everyone was wildly excited,” he said, mainly because “we weren’t making television, we were making litty bitty, short movies.”
It was an unusual path to stardom for Linville, who aspired to rise through the sky, not through the ratings on a hit dramedy series.
“I was going to fly faster, farther and higher than anybody had before. I was going to fly for NASA. NASA didn’t exist, but that was okay.”
Linville earned a glider pilot’s license at just 12 years old, leading to his aspirations for space travel. Though when he got to high school, things changed. He told students he went out for the football team to get girls, but found theater was the way to go. His stage debut was a Christmas pageant, and he played the innkeeper that turned away Mary and Joseph.
“Typecast from the beginning,” he told the students, who erupted in laughter, per the article.
Linville felt interacting with the drama department, acting and performing student body was important, as “a lot of the decisions that shaped my life took place in college,” he said in The Philadelphia Inquirer article.
Linville’s presence was well-received, as his speeches and interactions often lasted multiple hours. “[The M*A*S*H characters] became part of your life,” one student said. Part of the reason the characters were so memorable was the background of the actors.
“We weren’t Hollywood types. We had all worked in theater,” said Linville, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
Linville is proof that the “moment” we so often hear about in the entertainment industry can come at any time. He echoed that message to theater programs across the nation.