(~Charles' signature address to the other officers present before he leaves a room, though he addresses enlisted men by their ranks)
"Charles, you're pompous, arrogant, conceited, and a total bore... But you're all right."
(~Hawkeye to Charles in Major Ego)
Major Charles Emerson Winchester III is a surgeon who was chosen by Colonel Potter to replace the departed Frank Burns as the fourth surgeon at the 4077th MASH unit in Season 6 of the M*A*S*H TV series. Charles was played by David Ogden Stiers.
A descendant of aristocracy, Charles was born in Boston to a very wealthy Republican family and raised in the high-class neighborhood of Beacon Hill. He has a younger sister named Honoria (pronounced ah-NOR-ee-uh) who, known only to Charles, has a speech impediment, and also had a brother named Timmy who died young.
Charles graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard Medical School after completing his secondary studies at Choate and began residency at Boston General Hospital. Before he was drafted to join the Army at the start of the Korean War, he was on track to become Chief of Thoracic Surgery.
Like most of the others in camp, particularly B.J. and Klinger, Charles often bemoans being away from home, though he developed a deep affinity for Tokyo, particularly the indigenous cuisine and entertainment, especially Kabuki theater, even though he speaks no Japanese.
Charles is a Presbyterian. Not only does he mention in the series, but Boston is also known for its high percentage of Presbyterians. Charles's sister, Honoria, had to cancel her wedding after her Italian (a country known for Roman Catholicism) groom's family did not want him marrying out of his faith.
Joining the 4077th
In "Fade Out, Fade In," Major Frank Burns has gone AWOL in Seoul while Margaret is on her honeymoon with her new husband Donald in Tokyo. The 4077th is short handed, and Colonel Potter frantically calls I Corps for a temporary replacement; he eventually gets hold of Lt. Colonel Horace Baldwin at Tokyo General Hospital, who decides to send Charles to the 4077th to avoid paying off his $600 cribbage debt to him. Upon his arrival, Charles immediately deplores the sub-standard living conditions and soon lords his own surgical expertise over the others, particularly Hawkeye and B.J., who quickly develop a dislike for him.
When Burns is finally caught and arrested, he is held for psychiatric evaluation, and then when he is permanently transferred stateside, Potter arranges for Charles' temporary change of duty to become permanent, which Charles strongly resents.
On several occasions, Charles has attempted to get himself transferred out of the 4077th, mostly through pleading with his father through audio recordings to pull some strings to get him out, but also through orchestrating situations in the hope that he will get publicity for his work, and eventually find someone else with enough influence to authorize a transfer, but each attempt failed.
In contrast to the mostly temperate Frank Burns, Charles is a social drinker; his libation of choice is usually wine or cognac, and as such his drinking habit is not quite on the same level as the other surgeons, particularly Hawkeye and B.J. (who often drink martinis, beer, or gin from their still), though on a few occasions Charles does tend to overindulge. One example of this, which overlaps with his affinity for the fairer sex, is in Mr. & Mrs. Who, when a hungover Charles returned to camp with pictures from a wild party in Tokyo during which he drunkenly got married to an unidentifiable woman. The woman, a Red Cross worker named Donna Parker, visits Charles at the 4077th and reveals that the marriage was performed by a hotel bartender; in other words, to Charles' great relief, the two were not actually married.
Charles has a soft spot for women. After his initial arrival at the 4077th, he and Margaret tried to develop a romance, but they both realized there was no chemistry between them and remained friends. In The Grim Reaper, Charles attempted to have an expensive private dinner with her, which resulted in both of them getting food poisoning.
In Ain't Love Grand, a lonely Charles attempts to charm a local doxy and teach her his culture, but the girl is totally uninterested in his lifestyle and eventually moves on from him. Disgruntled and heartbroken, Charles eventually joins the other surgeons for a drink in the Swamp.
In Foreign Affairs, Charles falls for a visiting French Red Cross volunteer named Martine LeClerc, but when she reveals that she was once a non-conformist (she lived unmarried with another man, and even posed nude for a painting), Charles realized that his family would never accept her, much less her Bohemian past, and sadly ended their relationship.
Through the rest of the series
Charles was initially standoffish, most notably when he learned he had lost his candidacy for Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Boston General and shut himself off from the rest of the camp until Hawkeye and B.J. pranked him into opening back up. But Charles gradually accepts his situation and settles in at the 4077th. Though his lofty attitude still has a tendency to annoy, he eventually makes peace with his comrades and they count him as a friend and ally.
Charles softens somewhat as he becomes more acclimated to his new life at the 4077th. This comes in part from a Christmas present arranged by Radar and Father Mulcahy— his mother sent him his old tobogganing cap which he wears frequently. However, with his ego remaining fully inflated, he still distances himself from the rest of the camp to some degree and regularly retreats to his classical music as a refuge. As time goes on, he seems to maintain his arrogant attitude as a kind of caricature of itself, a character armor to hide his genuine feelings. In Letters, when a young schoolgirl (from Hawkeye's home town) sends him a fallen tree leaf, Charles quietly reveals his deep longing for home.
A running gag is Winchester's efforts to maintain his upper class lifestyle while in camp, such as playing classical records on his portable phonograph (which everyone else hates), hoarding high-quality foods for himself, smoking cigars and drinking cognac or going quail hunting with a shotgun which results in his quarry getting blown up when it falls on a land mine.
Although his stoic persona is a cover for his fear of becoming a casualty, Charles does go to the front on at least two occasions, once on his own to a Battalion Aid station after he is nearly killed by a sniper, and another in which he attends to wounded at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill which actually occurred from March to July 1953 (which would explain the Arrowhead award). (The Life You Save)
Comparison with Frank Burns
Like Burns, Charles also occasionally has temper tantrums, most notably when he is outperformed in the OR:
- In The Young and the Restless, a visiting young surgeon taught the doctors a new surgical method, but the young doctor's youth and quickness to adapt put both Charles and Col. Potter temporarily in their place.
- In Inga, a Swedish lady doctor, to whom Charles was initially attracted, helped one of his patients who was in respiratory distress; while he argued with Inga over what procedure to use, Inga was able to save the patient, which deflated Charles' ego and caused him to lash out at her behind her back.
High society connections
Charles' class consciousness also caused his bigotry to flare up on occasion, especially where his own family was concerned; in Bottle Fatigue, when his sister Honoria writes that she's marrying an Italian, Charles is incensed that a woman of Honoria's pedigree was marrying someone he deemed to be far below their family's social class. In a drunken stupor, Charles even goes so far as to write a handful of insulting letters home protesting the wedding. But later, when Charles receives another letter from Honoria saying that the wedding has been cancelled because the groom's family forbade him from marrying outside their faith, Charles thinking is jarred as he himself was being discriminated against. After a wounded North Korean POW very nearly sets off a hand grenade in the OR during surgery, Charles is humbly compelled to send Honoria a telegram warning her of the hateful letters and wishing he were there to share in the pain of her heartbreak.
But on at least one occasion, his class consciousness backfires on him: in U.N., The Night and the Music, the 4077th is visited by three United Nations delegates, including British doctor Randolph Kent, whom Charles automatically assumes to be from a high-class family. Charles continually compares his own tastes to Kent's, but to his growing annoyance, Kent outclasses him at every turn. Kent finally reveals that he developed an affinity for high society through his father's employer; his father was the butler for a wealthy family, and when Kent himself became old enough he hired on as their chauffer which financed his medical school. He puts Charles in his place when he sums up their whole parlay saying (in a Cockney voice), "You 'ave been outclassed by the son of a bloody butler!"
Another comparison to Burns is Charles' love of money. For all his affluence and family wealth, Charles never seems to balk at the opportunity to further pad his financial coffers, but each attempt to do so during his time at the 4077th fails. Examples include:
- In Change Day, when the Army did a scrip exchange, Charles saw an opportunity to clean up at the expense of the Korean locals, offering to exchange their scrip notes (which technically they should not have) for ten cents on every dollar, but his plan gets thwarted by Hawkeye and B.J.
- In Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde Charles tries to fix a Mouse race by feeding amphetamines to Radar's mouse; Charles is forced to admit his addicition/fixing and the betting money is returned to the Marines.
- In A War for All Seasons, Charles latches onto Klinger's wager with Colonel Potter, covering Klinger's side of Potter's $50 bet on whether the Brooklyn Dodgers would win the pennant against the rest of the National League. Charles is so certain of Klinger's bet that he even bumps up the odds, roping other people into the bet, and motivating Potter to double his own bet to $100, but Charles and Klinger ultimately lose a bundle when the New York Giants defeat the Dodgers in the pennant playoff.
In contrast to Burns, Charles had superb medical skills, although initially he was not quite able to handle the more frantic pace of meatball surgery at a front-line unit. Added to which, Charles engaged in acts of generosity and compassion that Burns would never have done or even considered, although Charles often made it a point to keep his humanitarian side hidden from the others:
- In Morale Victory, Charles learns that one of his patients, Private David Sheridan, who suffered permanent nerve damage to his right hand, was a concert pianist back home. Agonizing over what to do, and after a talk with Father Mulcahy, Charles procures special sheet music, a piano piece specifically composed for the left hand, and shows them to Sheridan. During their conversation Charles reveals that his fondest but unfulfilled desire has always been to play music, and that he does not have the gift that he knows Sheridan has. Charles convinces him that his musical gift does not lie in his stilled hand but in his heart and soul, and Sheridan begins playing the music, slowly at first but gradually with more enthusiasm (In reality, David Ogden Stiers was an actual musician, and for a time even conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra).
- In Major Ego, after an extraordinary surgical procedure, Charles himself calls in Stars & Stripes to do a story on him, in the hopes that the attention might get him transferred out of the 4077th. Charles is eager to keep the attention of the reporter, who is more interested in Margaret, but in so doing Charles slips up during a difficult chest case, which is later noticed by Hawkeye as the patient is slow to recover. When Hawkeye confronts Charles about it, he is initially convinced that Hawkeye only wants to steal his glory, but when the patient gets worse, Hawkeye takes it upon himself to go back in and correct Charles' mistake. When Charles finally sees that Hawkeye was right, he kills the reporter's exaggerated story, which earns an observation from Hawkeye that, "You're pompous, arrogant, conceited, and a total bore... but you're all right."
- In Sons and Bowlers, Charles keeps vigil with a worried Hawkeye whose father was about to undergo major surgery back home. The two have a heart-to-heart with Charles comparing his own father with Hawkeye's. While Charles loves and respects his father, he reveals that he is envious of Hawkeye, in that he and his father have a closeness that Charles and his father do not. Summing up the difference between them Charles observes, "Where I have a father, you have a dad." (It was one of only two times in the series that he referred to Pierce as "Hawk" or "Hawkeye".)
- In Death Takes a Holiday, Charles attempts to continue his family's tradition by secretly donating a large parcel of confections to the orphans. When Choi Sung Ho, who runs a nearby orphanage, finds Charles leaving the package, Charles insists that the donor must remain secret. Later, upon learning that Choi sold the candy on the Black Market, Charles is livid, but when Choi explains that he was able to trade it for a month's supply of rice and cabbage, Charles humbly acknowledges that giving dessert to a hungry child is "sadly inappropriate". Klinger, who overheard the conversation, gathered together the last of the holiday fare and brought it to Charles, hinting that he knows what he had done, for which Charles thanks him.
- In Run For The Money, Charles befriends a wounded soldier, Private Palmer, who stutters, and then privately and sternly reprimands his CO after he comes in and belittles the young man. Although the soldier's IQ is above average, Palmer has always considered himself stupid because of his speech impediment and reads only comic books, but Charles encourages him to pursue his own natural intelligence, and gives him a treasured leather-bound copy of Moby Dick, which the soldier has read in its Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation. At the end of this episode, Charles listens to a tape recording sent by his sister Honoria— revealing that she also stutters.
- In No Laughing Matter, Colonel Baldwin, his former superior from Tokyo General, visits the 4077th on business. Charles is initially hell-bent on exacting revenge on Baldwin for transferring him to the 4077th, but instead, on advice from Potter and Klinger, Charles shows him the utmost hospitality. Baldwin later persuades Charles to procure him some late night companionship in his tent, which Charles reluctantly does, but when Margaret shows up at the tent first, Baldwin mistakes her for the "companionship"; she escapes and tells Potter. Baldwin then tells Charles of his plan to frame Margaret by telling Potter that she came on to him, and then promises Charles a transfer back to Tokyo if he plays along. When Potter confronts them both, Baldwin tells his lie, but Charles instead reveals the truth, swearing to Baldwin that even for a transfer back to Tokyo he would not smear Margaret's name by bearing false witness. This is a very rare example of Charles' humanity on full display to much of the rest of the camp.
Relationship with others
Another contrast to Burns was that Charles had no interest in taking command of the 4077th, even when it fell to him via protocol in Potter's absence. When Charles replaced Burns as second-in-command, he took the position far less seriously- and far less literally, than Burns. On the rare occasion when Charles was left in command, he usually allowed the camp to go through its paces and let everyone have what they wanted just so long as Charles in return got what he wanted, which was usually either a personal favor or just time to himself, although the first time he was left in command (Tell It to the Marines), he went overboard on requisitioning luxury items for himself, referring to them as "basic necessities".
In addition, on occasions when Hawkeye was left in charge for varying reasons, once including his own insistence that he was not up to the task, Charles did not take offense. As such, Charles got along better with the others in camp, mainly because he was more soft-spoken than Burns and never pulled rank or threw his weight around barking orders at everyone else just for the sake of doing so.
At first, Charles marginally tolerated Hawkeye and B.J., deploring their personalities and personal habits, though he held B.J. in slightly higher regard for his own surgical skills though he still disliked the fact that B.J. is from California.
Charles also tolerated most of Hawkeye and B.J.'s pranks on him, including hiding a rubber chicken in his teapot, and dressing him in a kilt and tutu while he was passed out in the Officers Club. The latter was recalled by Hawkeye in Where There's a Will, There's a War, when he was writing his last will and testament while on temporary duty at an Aid Station under fire; he made a bequest to Charles, writing:
"...You were the victim of a ceaseless stream of dumb jokes. Though we may have wounded your pride, you never lost your dignity. I therefore bequeath to you the most dignified thing I own: my bathrobe. Purple is the color of royalty."
Sense of humor
In contrast to his normally high-class tastes, Charles enjoyed occasional Tom and Jerry cartoons, Three Stooges and Ritz Brothers films (which he regarded as surrealistic), Captain Marvel comics, pralines and canned sardines.
Though he was often made the victim of Hawkeye and B.J.'s practical jokes, Charles was more than capable of giving as good as he got, engaging in a few potshots of his own on the others:
- In An Eye for a Tooth, Charles instigated a prank war between his Swamp mates and Margaret, but they eventually got wise to his machinations and staged a stunt of their own which got Charles to admit that he was responsible for all the stunts.
- In Rally 'Round the Flagg Boys, Charles planted 'evidence' to lead Colonel Flagg on a wild goose chase, wherein Flagg became convinced that communist conspirators were meeting in the guise of a card game in the Swamp. The 'conspirators' turned out to be Hawkeye, Colonel Potter, and both the Mayor and Chief of Police of Uijeongbu, the latter two of whom were unamused by Flagg's accusations and swore retribution (it would be Flagg's final appearance in the series).
Charles also on occasion teamed up with some of the others to pull some masterful pranks.
- In Bottoms Up, after Hawkeye and B.J. pull a series of embarrassing pranks on Charles (one of which Hawkeye meant to pull on himself), Hawkeye finds out, and later convinces Charles, that B.J. was manipulating things so that Charles would get humiliated and Hawkeye would get blamed; he and Charles then join forces and get revenge on B.J.
- In As Time Goes By, after Rizzo pulls a revenge prank on B.J. with a dummy hand grenade, he tries the same stunt with Charles, but it rebounds on Rizzo when Charles (in a counter-prank he staged with B.J.) throws himself on the grenade, and then confiscates it when he "discovers" it is phony.
- In The Joker is Wild, Charles goes along with a master prank orchestrated by B.J. in which he bets Hawkeye that he can prank him, Charles, Margaret, Potter and Klinger within 24 hours. As everyone else gets "pranked", Hawkeye's nerves are made raw in anticipation of being next. Hawkeye eventually thinks he has won the bet, but Charles and the others point out that he never saw any of them actually get pranked, and that the real target was Hawkeye himself.
In The Moon is Not Blue, when Hawkeye and B.J. go to great lengths to find a copy of the film The Moon Is Blue, a supposedly racy film that was banned in Boston, Charles tries to advise them against it, saying that Boston would ban Pinocchio. (Hawkeye and B.J. actually get the film, but are greatly disappointed to find that the only sexual part of the movie is the mention of the word "virgin")
In Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, Charles encounters a group of five Chinese POWs who turn out to be musicians. as they are playing traditional music while they are being held at the 4077th. When Charles confronts them explaining that he is trying to listen to Mozart on his phonograph, the flautist begins playing the same piece on his flute, which seizes Charles attention. Delighted at the idea of other devotees of the classics in camp, Charles begins spending considerable time with the musicians trying to improve upon their performance. Later, Charles abruptly learns of a prisoner exchange, and all of the POWs are to be shipped out, including the musicians. Charles pleads for them to stay, but the MP sergeant coordinating the exchange refuses. As they are driven away, the musicians play the piece of Mozart that Charles had taught them.
Coming out of surgery several hours later, Charles handles triage when more wounded arrive; one is in grave condition from a prisoner truck hit by mortar fire. Charles recoils in horror when he sees that the wounded soldier is one of the Chinese musicians meant for the POW exchange. When Charles asks about the others on the truck, a medic informs Charles that he is the only one left. Charles sadly and bitterly remarks that he was a musician and not a soldier. Retreating to his tent, Charles attempts to find solace in a record of the piece he taught the musicians, but after only a few moments of listening to the song he wordlessly yanks the record off the phonograph and smashes it to pieces.
The armistice ending the war is signed soon after and at the 4077's last supper, Charles announces:
"I will be head of Thoracic Surgery at Boston Mercy Hospital, so my life will go on pretty much as expected— with one exception: For me, music has always been a refuge from this miserable experience... and now it will always be a... reminder."
With the 4077th breaking camp for the final time and everyone going home, Charles addresses Colonel Potter, informing him that he hopes that in his new position of authority that he will be "guided by the memory of [Potter's] wisdom and gentle good humor". Charles leaves the camp with Sgt. Rizzo in his last remaining vehicle: a garbage truck, which Charles whimsically accepts remarking, "What better way to leave a garbage dump!"
- "Gentleme-e-en..." (Charles' signature address to others in the room as he leaves, though he referred to enlisted men by their rank)
- "Su-u-urely you jest!"
- When he finds out Col Baldwin is coming to visit: "I swear by all that is holy on Beacon Hill, I shall have my revenge!!"
- To Colonel Baldwin: "I've groveled! I have endured your insufferable cribbage playing! I have kissed your brass! But I will not, even for a return to that pearl of the orient Tokyo, lie to protect you while destroying a friend's career!"
- "I do one thing at a time. I do it very well. And then... I move on."
- To Klinger's court martial board: "If you, in your wisdom, do not agree [that Klinger is innocent]... think of me!... Five generations of Winchesters haven't lost an argument, much less, a trial. If you send this man to the stockade, it will be an injustice, albeit a minor one. But the damage to my reputation will be a tragedy of epic proportions!" (Snappier Judgment)
- To Colonel Flagg: "One, you cannot afford my price, and Two, what are you talking about??"
- To Colonel Flagg: "For a man with no sense of humor you are awfully funny.".
- To Colonel Flagg: "The notion Pierce is a spy and a sympathizer is absurd. Pierce has a big mouth and sticks his nose into other people's business. But that makes him obnoxious, not a spy."
- To Congressional aide Williamson: "There is no life after Boston!"
- "Don’t you see? Your hand may be stilled, but your gift cannot be silenced if you refuse to let it be... The gift does not lie in your hands. I have hands, David, hands that can make a scalpel sing. More than anything in my life, I wanted to play, but I do not have the gift. I can play the notes, but I cannot make the music. You have performed Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Chopin. Even if you never do so again, you've already known a joy that I will never know as long as I live. Because the true gift is in your head and in your heart and in your soul. Now you can shut it off forever, or you can find new ways to share your gift with the world— through the baton, the classroom, the pen. As to these works, they’re for you, because you and the piano will always be as one." (Morale Victory)
- "Each of us must dance to his own tune."
- To Captain Sweeney, CO of the stuttering Private Palmer in Run For The Money: "Captain Sweeney, if you say one more unkind word to Private Palmer, I will personally write up a report detailing your inhumanity, and I will have it placed in your 201 file, where it will follow you for the rest of your career. (Brushes aside Sweeney's interjection) IS THAT CLEAR?? (Sweeney answers "Yes, sir".)
- To Hawkeye and B.J. "I want to thank you both; you've made me realize what going home is all about..."