"When I leave the Army it'll be the HONORABLE way-- with a Section Eight!"
(~Maxwell Q. Klinger, from Mail Call Three)
Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Q. Klinger is a character from the M*A*S*H television series played by Jamie Farr. A Lebanese-American from Toledo, Ohio, Klinger served as an orderly/corpsman, and later company clerk, assigned to the 4077th M*A*S*H unit during the Korean War. Klinger was the first main character in the TV series who did not appear in either Richard Hooker's original novel or the subsequent film. Originally introduced as a bit character in Chief Surgeon Who?, Farr's performance was so well-received by the producers and the audience that Klinger was brought back as a recurring character, and by the beginning of Season 4 he was included in the opening credits as a regular cast member.
Klinger's original defining characteristic was his numerous attempts to gain a psychiatric discharge from the Army, also known as a Section Eight. To this end, he would habitually wear women's clothing and engage in numerous ridiculous stunts to "prove" that he was crazy. After replacing Radar as company clerk he gives up his discharge attempts, and in Season 10 (Promotion Commotion) is promoted to sergeant.
At the 4077th
In the earlier seasons, Klinger was endlessly trying to get himself discharged from the Army on a psychiatric discharge, or 'Section Eight', mainly by cross-dressing; viewers began to look forward to what new outfit he would wear next or what other ploy he would attempt. But to his perpetual aggravation, his commanders were never fooled. B.J. Hunnicutt once remarked that by always trying to get out, Klinger was actually the only sane one in camp, while everyone else was crazy for accepting the situation. Both Blake and Potter largely tolerated Klinger's antics for their entertainment value.
When he was not bucking for a Section Eight, Klinger was a hard-working, reliable orderly who never let his schemes interfere with his duties. In Season 8, he replaced Radar as company clerk with reasonable seriousness, developing a reputation as a scrounger and eventually getting promoted to Sergeant. Klinger could also perform a near pitch-perfect vocal impersonation of Colonel Potter, which he used several times to manipulate others into giving the unit supplies or information that requires the Colonel's direct approval (which was often hard to obtain as he was frequently in surgery when needed on the phone).
Besides wearing women's clothing, Klinger also tried other schemes to get out of the army, and not necessarily by way of a Section Eight; some were aimed at getting a hardship discharge on compassionate grounds, while others were attempts at outright desertion. These machinations also invariably failed, mainly because his commanders could see through them and/or outwit him. Colonel Blake kept a sizeable file of bogus letters in which Klinger claimed numerous and varying family emergencies, culminating in "an oldie but a goodie", where half of his family was dying while the other half was pregnant.
Some of his ploys came close to succeeding, most notable of which is in Radar's Report, when Klinger nearly got a Section Eight when Majors Burns and Houlihan, exasperated with his antics, strongly recommend to Colonel Blake that he be sent home, and Major Freedman reluctantly examined him. But when Klinger was informed that the Section Eight would remain on his permanent record and that he would have to stay a transvestite for the rest of his life, he refused to accept it.
Other non-cross dressing attempts include, but are not limited to the following:
- In The Trial of Henry Blake, Klinger built a makeshift hang glider and attempted to fly back stateside on his own (while wearing a pink bathrobe with matching fuzzy slippers).
- In None Like it Hot, Colonel Potter agreed to give Klinger a discharge if he could wear a body/water reducing suit for 24 hours during a heatwave, but the heat proved too much even for Klinger, and he gave up with only an hour left to go.
- In The M*A*S*H Olympics, Klinger tried to literally eat his way out of the Army, but all he got was a huge stomach ache after eating ten Lebanese salamis.
- In Change Day, Klinger tried to get out of the Army by applying to enroll at West Point. Once there, he planned to cheat at exams to get expelled, and then simply go back home to Toledo, but he couldn't even pass the entrance exam.
- In Preventative Medicine, Klinger resorted to voodoo trances and curses ("I've put your soul in a half-nelson"), even using a dead chicken, in an attempt to frighten Colonel Potter into giving him a Section Eight. Unfazed, Potter gives Klinger extra duty; when Klinger asks how Potter does it, he replies "Because my bird (Colonel's rank) is more powerful than your bird (Klinger's chicken)!"
The downside of Klinger's numerous phony discharge attempts was that nobody took him seriously when he was faced with a genuine problem. In Mail Call Three, Klinger gets a Dear John letter from his wife Laverne, who had left him for someone else back home; Klinger begged Potter to contact the Red Cross to help him go home, but Potter refused. Later, while showing a movie in the Mess Tent, when everyone else claims he is just making up another phony story, he angrily rebukes them, tearing at his dress and shouting, "All of this is phony, but my wife's leaving me isn't! She took my allotment checks, built up a nice bank account, and now she's found another guy!" Klinger attempted to desert and very nearly succeeded in making his way back home, but at the last minute he realized that Laverne's dumping him was her loss and decided to return to camp.
In Baby, It's Cold Outside, Klinger's hearing was damaged by an nearby exploding land mine (caused by contraction of the ground due to the extreme cold); Potter mentioned that deafness would get him out of the Army, but warned him that he would be in deep trouble if he was faking, which it turned out he was not, causing Potter to remark "Those mines will find you one way or the other". But the injury turned out to be temporary. When Potter repeated that deafness would have got him a medical discharge, he immediately tried to fake a relapse, which Potter of course did not buy.
In Your Retention Please, Klinger gets a second Dear John letter from Laverne; after hearing from his best friend Gus Nagy that Laverne and her husband (the one she left Klinger for) were on the verge of breaking up, Klinger entrusted Gus to monitor the situation and "keep the fur flying" in the hope that Laverne would reconsider and come back to him, but to Klinger's deep discouragement, Laverne revealed to him that she was going to marry Gus. Coincidentally, an Army retention officer arrives in camp and sweet talks Klinger into signing up for another tour of duty, but Potter hoodwinks Klinger by giving him the Presidential oath instead of the oath of enlistment. Thereby, albeit not legal or real and done jokingly, for one episode Maxwell Q. Klinger was President of the United States.
In the season 9 episode The Red/White Blues, Klinger began to suffer symptoms of anemia from taking Primaquine (which was sent to the camp by HQ in place of Chloroquine); Hawkeye, Margaret and B.J. initially assumed that Klinger was slacking until Private Goldman started showing the same symptoms from the medicine.
In Follies of the Living-Concerns of the Dead, Klinger became so delirious from a high fever that he actually communicated with the spirit of Private Weston, a newly-dead soldier. Later, when Klinger recovered, he asked the others about Weston, but none of them knew who Klinger was talking about.
As Company Clerk
Beginning in season 8 after Radar's discharge, Potter chose Klinger to replace Radar as the new company clerk, but Klinger had a very rough start. In Period of Adjustment, Klinger was still having trouble getting the hang of his new job and soon drew unfair comparisons to the departed Radar, and snide remarks from Hawkeye, Winchester and Margaret, the latter of whom called Klinger a "company cluck", and even from Potter himself who snipped "We can't all be Radars". Klinger eventually gets fed up with all the abuse and goes off on his own without telling anyone else where; he meets up with B.J. who is having problems of his own, and the two go on a drunken jag, first at Rosie's and then in Potter's office, where Potter (after a heart-to-heart with Father Mulcahy) admits that Klinger needs the time to make the new job his own and offers his help should Klinger need it. After becoming clerk, Klinger renounced his Section Eight attempts and did satisfactory work, and was later promoted to Sergeant.
To his and the camp's credit, Klinger earned a reputation as a first-rate scrounger:
- The most prominent example was in part 2 of Good-Bye Radar, during which he took a call from Sergeant Hondo McKee at I-Corps Supply willing to trade a generator for a case of scotch. Right after Klinger arrives at Supply, a major from another unit arrives demanding the same generator, and unknowingly blurts out in front of Klinger that they stole a back-up generator from a MASH (presumably the 4077th). Doing some quick thinking, Klinger poses as the major's driver and blackmails the clerk at the shipping office into giving him the generator, and Klinger returns to a hero's welcome back at camp.
- In Cementing Relationships, when the surgeons decided they needed to pave the floor in the OR, Klinger makes a few phone calls, using a pretense that a visiting general was demanding a shipment of cement to make a barbecue.
- Another more personal example was in Where There's a Will, There's a War, in which Hawkeye, making out his will at an Aid Station, bequeaths his prized Hawaiian shirt to Klinger after he finds out that he had secretly traded a whole Lebanese salami for a copy of Life magazine with pictures of Hawkeye's home state of Maine.
End of the War
Right before the armistice was signed ending the Korean War, Klinger had fallen in love with Soon Lee (Rosalind Chao), a beautiful young Korean refugee, and later proposed to her which she accepted, but when Klinger regales her with stories about how she'll love Toledo, Soon Lee tells him that she will not leave Korea until she finds her family. Seeking out Colonel Potter's advice, he tells Klinger that "When you're in love, you're always in trouble; all you can do is either stop loving 'em, or love 'em a whole lot more". Klinger takes Potter's advice and, to everyone's surprise, announces at the final party that he will be staying in Korea to help Soon Lee find her family (The idea was suggested by Jamie Farr himself, who was inspired by stories of actual US troops choosing to stay in Korea after the war). Klinger and Soon Lee are wed by Father Mulcahy right before everyone leaves camp for the final time.
In the spin-off, AfterMASH, Klinger successfully helps Soon Lee find her family and brings her with him when he finally returns to Toledo. But Klinger is ostracized by much of his own family for marrying a Korean, and also finds his hometown unwelcoming to a mixed-race couple. In desperation, Klinger resorts to bookmaking and petty crime to make ends meet, but he is arrested. At his trial, Klinger explains his situation to the judge; he tells about his time in Korea, and that he now knows that he needs time to re-acclimate himself to civilian life and to stop cutting corners. He then shows the judge a letter from Colonel Potter, who has offered him a job as his assistant in Missouri at General Pershing VA Hospital ("General General") where Potter has started working as Chief of Staff, and where Klinger can study for his Civil Service Exam. The judge sees this as a fresh start for Klinger and agrees to drop the charges, and Klinger and Soon Lee move to River Bend, Missouri. Soon after they move, Soon Lee becomes pregnant with their first child; she later gives birth to a son they name Cy Young Klinger.
What Klinger lacks in academic intelligence, he makes up for in common sense, added to which he shows an occasional ability to manipulate others, particularly Winchester, though his plans do not always go well. Although his hustling tends to show his devious side, Klinger still has a moral code and a good heart, and tries to do the right thing when problems arise.
- In Bottoms Up, he tells Potter about when he found Nurse Whitfield drinking heavily in the Supply Room alone, and also had to stop her from giving a patient the wrong type blood.
- In Morale Victory, though he manipulates Hawkeye and B.J. into giving him a blank three-day pass, he manages to come through for them and obtains the materiel they need to throw a big beach party for the camp.
- In Private Finance, he stands up to another soldier to keep a young Korean girl from becoming a prostitute and talks her out of it.
- On multiple occasions he showed great kindness to the Korean orphans when they visited the camp.
Klinger is fiercely proud of his family, his Lebanese heritage, and his hometown of Toledo, all of which he regularly mentions throughout the series, making multiple references to actual Toledo landmarks and institutions, including Tony Packo's Cafe, and the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team (He was often seen wearing a blue baseball cap with a red and white "T", which was actually a Texas Rangers cap as the costume department could not locate a Mud Hens' cap).
In one episode, Klinger revealed that he met his first wife Laverne Esposito during his childhood while both were juvenile delinquents engaged in theft; in a later episode, Klinger also admitted his pre-army occupation was hustling pool. (Your Retention, Please).
Main article: Klinger's many uncles
One of Klinger's running gags was his many assorted uncles; thirteen in all were mentioned throughout the series. Klinger often cited them as a source of advice for many situations, or they would give him connections for different things. One uncle almost got him into West Point, but he couldn't pass the entrance exam. Another one sent Klinger fabric samples from when he himself successfully avoided getting drafted into the service.
The most frequently mentioned uncles were Gus, Amos and Abdul, the latter of which Klinger wrote to reflecting on his many failed attempts to get a psychiatric discharge. In Dear Uncle Abdul, Klinger, in his letter, remarks on all the unusual things going on in camp involving the officers. He ends the letter by saying "You see, Unc? It's no wonder I never got a Section Eight; there's nothing special about me. Everybody here is crazy!"
Klinger's love for his mother is established in several episodes:
- In Dear Dad, Klinger is walking through Post-Op wearing a bandana on his neck (which is seen only in this episode), a gift and good luck charm from his mother, but when Major Burns orders him to remove it because he wants it, Klinger pleads with him to let him keep it explaining why, but Burns refuses to listen and makes Klinger drop his tray of medical supplies and then blames him for it, at which point Klinger angrily punches Burns out, but Father Mulcahy covers for him and sends him away before the camp MPs arrive.
- In The Party, Klinger admitted to B.J. that he maintained a story to his mother that he was still stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey where he went through boot camp, fearing that she would worry herself sick if she knew he had been sent to Korea. But in a letter to B.J. after the party, Peg revealed that Mrs. Klinger knew all along that her son was in Korea, but didn't let on because she didn't want him to worry about her.
Another running gag in the series was Klinger's prodigious proboscis, which earned numerous jokes and remarks from nearly everyone in camp, though Klinger often picked at it himself. In Exorcism, Klinger explained his large nose: "I came from a long line of short-nosed people. One day my grandfather's camel spit in the eye of the village witch. Ever since then we've been growing them like this" (points to his nose).
- In one earlier episode, after another failed attempt by Klinger to get a compassionate discharge, Colonel Potter comments, "Every time you tell a lie, your nose gets smaller!"
- In Operation Friendship, after saving Charles from being injured by the exploding autoclave, which results in his own nose being broken, Hawkeye later remarks to Hunnicutt that Klinger "suffered damage to over 50 percent of his body: he broke his nose."
- In Baby, It's Cold Outside, after Klinger is badly shaken by a nearby exploding land mine, the surgeons take him to Post-Op and give him smelling salts to snap him out of it; Potter quips, "Hold on tight. He's liable to inhale your arm!"
The Klinger Collection
Main article: The Klinger Collection
Although Klinger's cross-dressing was a mere scam to get out of the Army, he took the role seriously and developed a great deal of expertise in ladies' fashions and became extremely proud of his "Klinger Collection". Besides buying outfits, he also made his own, investing money and effort buying the best materials. He had a sewing machine as well as tailor's mannequins in his tent. He was sometimes consulted by the nurses and even Margaret on fashion matters.
At least three times Klinger loses his entire "Klinger Collection" of dresses:
- First, when he thought there was a ceasefire and thus no longer needed them for his Section 8 ploys
- Second, when he was sent to a Battalion Aid Station with Hawkeye and Houlihan, Radar gave them away when he thought Klinger had been killed
- The third time was when the 4077th had bugged out to a new location; he is cajoled by Colonel Potter into trading them to Korean prostitutes so the MASH can use an abandoned school building as a new OR.
Eventually, Klinger gave up wearing women's clothing, a change demanded by Jamie Farr himself as he felt his own children would be ashamed of his appearing in women's clothing week after week on national television, and the views of the Klinger Collection became more rare from Season 8 onwards. The "Klingerpatra" costume in April Fools is one of the more memorable late series outfits, with his picnic suit in Taking the Fifth probably his last. While helping to tend a baby girl in Yessir, That’s Our Baby, he quips he wouldn't mind having a little girl of his own someday, seeing as he has "a footlocker full of hand-me-downs." In As Time Goes By, he offers his bright yellow Scarlett O'Hara dress to Margaret for her time capsule, but she instead takes one of his black evening gowns.
Main article: Klinger's get rich quick schemes
In between attempts to get out of the army, Klinger also indulged in various enterprises in an effort to make some quick money. Most of these came to nothing, but some at least brought great enjoyment to the camp, while others either resulted in costing him money or at the least causing him embarrassment. Klinger resorted to schemes like these more frequently after he stopped cross-dressing.
- In A War for All Seasons, Klinger enters into a friendly bet with Colonel Potter as to whether the Brooklyn Dodgers or the St. Louis Cardinals will be ahead in the standings by the Fourth of July; Klinger initially wins the bet on the Dodgers, but gives Potter a chance to win it back by giving him the rest of the National League against the Dodgers at 2-1 odds, which Potter accepts bumping his bet up to $50, but Klinger cannot cover Potter's bet, so Charles puts in his own money. As the Dodgers increase their lead in the NL, Charles decides to jack up the odds and rakes most of the rest of the camp into the bet, but by the end of the season, the Dodgers lose the pennant to the New York Giants in a crucial three-game playoff.
- In Depressing News, Klinger tries his hand at publishing a camp newspaper called "M*A*S*H Notes", prematurely expecting a huge bonanza, but as editor-in-chief he bungles and mixes up some of the feature stories, particularly Margaret and Winchester's respective stories on fashion and food, causing his news business to fold.
- In No Sweat, Klinger looks toward the future: television, particularly broken-down sets and how to fix them. During a night of sweltering heat he decided to dismantle the camp's PA system, and despite some delays and setbacks (the latter being Margaret's breaking the system after Klinger accidentally broadcasts her prickly heat malady to the entire camp), Klinger successfully gets the PA system up and running again by daybreak.
- In Bottle Fatigue, answering Charles' bigoted question, "How would you feel if your sister were marrying a swarthy, dark-haired, olive-picker?" Klinger responds that he has a sister who did just that. She is mentioned only one other time when Klinger says "Hello" to his sister "Yvonne" in The Interview. Klinger's mother and grandmother also married olive pickers.
- Klinger's first wife was Laverne Esposito from the Hungarian side of Toledo. He never sees Laverne while they are married, since they marry over the radio; Henry denied him leave because of his continual efforts to get out of his military service (Springtime). She leaves him for another man Morty the sausage maker back home in Mail Call Three, and later still moves on to Klinger's best friend Gus Nagy in Your Retention, Please. There is the possibility that even if the marriage had lasted she too [like Soon Lee] would have been ostracized by most of Klinger's family for marrying a non-Arab female. Judging by her surname and place of residence Laverne is apparently a Hispanic-Hungarian.
- Winchester once confessed to being so bored, he wanted to look at Klinger's cousin Hakim's wedding pictures.
- In one episode, Klinger Impersonates Scarlett O'Hara, Bette Davis, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.
- In '38 Across' Klinger eats part of a Jeep, including motor oil. In real life, this could make him very sick.
- In It Happened One Night, Klinger remarks that his blood type is B positive, but in a later episode he says it's AB negative. In C*A*V*E he remarks that Charles and Father Mulcahy have his same blood type, "except one's a little purer and one's a little bluer".
- It was never revealed what his middle initial "Q" stood for.
- Series writer Larry Gelbart stated during the M*A*S*H* 30th Anniversary Reunion special that Klinger's antics were inspired by stories of Lenny Bruce attempting to dodge his own military service by dressing as a WAVES member.
- Farr noticed the women's wardrobe in his dressing area on his arrival, and thought at first he'd be sharing the space with a woman. Finding out the clothing was for his character, he was surprised, but took it in stride.
- Early filmed scenes, with Farr performing in an effeminate way, did not work. Farr suggested his own vision of the character: Klinger was heterosexual, but trying to act crazy, thinking it was normal for him to dress like a woman, but behave like a man. This would get him discharged. This version of Klinger clicked on camera and with the TV audience.
- Besides wearing dresses for a Section 8, another running joke is Klinger's feud with his arch nemesis, supply Sgt Zelmo Zale:
- In End Run (TV series episode), Klinger and Zale are manipulated into a boxing match by Frank Burns, but it's Burns who gets a K.O. from both Klinger and Zale.
- In Hepatitis (TV series episode), when Zale makes a nasty remark about the Toledo Mudhens, Klinger loses his temper and hits Zale, for which he gets KP duty for a whole month.
- Klinger appears to be Catholic during the first few seasons (mentioning a family priest, as well as the practice of praying to St. Anthony, and observing Lent), then at least once being mentioned as an atheist (when Father Mulcahy asks why Klinger is praying when he is an atheist, Klinger replies that he gave it up for Lent).
- The house that Klinger is born in is at 1215 N. Michigan St., Toledo, Ohio 43604.
- His Serial No. is 19571782.
- (Klinger to Sgt. Zale) Zale, if my dog had a face like yours, I'd shave its butt and teach it to walk backwards.
- (After Charles asks Klinger to spell caution) "C-A-W..." (and then a few minutes later) "K-A-W?"
- (When Colonel Tucker walks into Klinger's office and sees him in an Egyptian dress and is told he is discharged) "How can you shame me? I'll be the laughing stock of the Nile."
- (to a drunken B.J. after he asks Margaret and Potter "do you have an appointment with Colonel Pobber?") "Probably does, but I bet my stupid 'clompany cerk' screwed it up."
- (in Our Finest Hour, when asked what he'll remember about his experience at the 4077th when he goes home) "All of the good times. I think there were three."
- "I am going to live through this even if it kills me".
- "Are you eating breakfast cereal or is that just a bad telephone line?"
- Klinger: Colonel, I missed you!
- Potter: No.
- Klinger: About my heart murmur, Sir.
- Potter: No.
- Klinger: My double vision is coming back.
- Potter: No.
- Klinger: I've fallen in love with a goat!
- Potter: No.
- Klinger: Glad to have you back, Sir.