Nurse Able was a generic name for minor nurse characters in the M*A*S*H TV series. Like Nurse Baker and Nurse Charlie, the name Able was derived from the phonetic alphabet used by the US Army in the 1950s before it was changed to "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie" later.
From Seasons 2-11 there were at least 21 episodes with a character named Nurse Able. They do not necessarily refer to the same person, and these characters were played by at least 11 different actresses.
In the early seasons, Nurse Able was a minor or side role usually with only a single line, but this evolved so that by Season 4, some Nurse Ables had a significant part in the plot.
Most of the time in these early appearances (but not always), the name Nurse Able would not be spoken in dialogue, but seen only in the credits. As with Nurse Baker, the name was simply a placeholder to be used for any generic nurse who happened to get a line -- there was no expectation that a specific actor would play the part, nor was a specific consistent character being created.
By Season 6, the use of Nurse Able had settled down so that in all of the character's final appearances, from Seasons 6-11, the role was played by Judy Farrell who was only ever credited as Nurse Able.
Early Ables: Season 2 to Season 3
The early Nurse Ables comprised five appearances from Season 2 to 3 which were played either by Kellye Nakahara or Bobbie Mitchell. All of these appearances used the Nurse Able name in the credits, but the name was never spoken in dialogue.
Nurse Able first appeared in Season 2 "As You Were", played by Kellye Nakahara. She is assisting Hawkeye in the O.R. when Frank doubles over in pain because of his hernia. Hawkeye asks Able to close and dashes over to help Frank.
The next three appearances of Able are in early season 3, all played by Bobbie Mitchell who had already played six other nurse characters in earlier episodes. In "Iron Guts Kelly" and "O.R." Able is seen in the early part of the episode helping Trapper and Hawkeye suit up in the scrub room. In both cases she only has a few lines, limited to bantering with the doctors while they are preparing for surgery.
Five episodes later, in "There Is Nothing Like a Nurse", Bobbie Mitchell is Able again although she has just played Nurse Baker in the previous episode. This time she is in the supply tent saying goodbye to Hawkeye just before the nurses are due to be evacuated because of an impending enemy attack. "Why are all the great guys married?" she asks. "Who said I was?" Hawkeye says. "You did," she replies. Obviously Hawkeye must have told her he is married in order to avoid commitment, much like what he did to the various nurses in Season 1 "Ceasefire". This is Bobbie Mitchell's final appearance as Nurse Able. She will appear as Nurse Baker again just a few episodes later.
The final appearance of Nurse Able in Season 3 is by Kellye Nakahara in "A Full Rich Day". This is another small role where she is assisting Frank and Trapper in the O.R. while they work on Sgt. Bryan, under the watchful eye of gun-wielding Lieutenant Smith. Her lines are limited to the occasional response to Trapper's instructions for "lap sponge", "suture" and so on.
Seasons of Plenty: Season 4 to early Season 5
From Season 4 to the first half of Season 5, there were eleven appearances (eight credited, three uncredited) of Nurse Able played by eight different actresses. This group included familiar recurring cast members like Patricia Stevens and Lynette Mettey who had already played other nurse characters, and actresses like Sherry Steffens or Susan Bredhoff for whom a single Nurse Able part would be their only appearance on the M*A*S*H series.
- Character name seen in credits, but not used in dialogue: The first Able in this period appeared in Season 4 "The Late Captain Pierce". Played by Sherry Steffens, this is the first Able to have a substantial speaking part. Hawkeye is officially dead because of a clerical error. Lieutenant "Digger" Detweiler from the morgue detail comes to the MASH to collect his body but is upset to find Hawkeye alive and so prowls the camp to find a dead body, any dead body, to replace him. He waits outside the O.R. hoping for a dead body to emerge. Able who is assisting BJ and Hawkeye in the OR says that Digger's presence gives her the creeps. Hawkeye tells her that he is just doing his job: "He needs a body." Hawkeye suggests Able needs one too and asks what she is doing afterwards. She replies that she plans to wash her hair, if she can find some beer. Hawkeye offers his tent and his beer, adding, "Dead men tell no tales, you know." Coming out into the scrub room, Hawkeye tells Digger that the patient made it, so a disappointed Digger leaves. As the doctors and Able remove their surgical gowns, BJ suggests that they should organize a wake for Hawkeye. Able says, "That's sick," but Hawkeye thinks it's a good idea. "I would have wanted it that way." Sherry Steffens, who played Nurse Able in this episode, later changed her name to Connor Snyder and talked about her experience as Nurse Able. Perhaps Steffens was a stage name she used earlier on.
- Character name seen in credits, but not used in dialogue: A few episodes later, in "Dear Mildred" Hawkeye again tries to hit on Nurse Able, this time played by Patricia Stevens. He suggests going to the generator shed to watch the valves go up and down, bird-watching, or because it is night, bat-watching. She turns down all these offers and his efforts are not helped by Radar, who interrupts, wanting to speak to Hawkeye.
- Character name NOT seen in credits, and not used in dialogue: In "Of Moose and Men", Lois Foraker plays a nurse who summons Hawkeye to Post Op because his patient, Col. Spiker is anxious to speak to him. Hawkeye wonders why, because Col. Spiker's vital signs are good and in any case Spiker doesn't like him. Foraker suggests maybe the colonel wants to thank him. She was earlier seen playing baseball in the compound. Although uncredited, this part is sometimes considered among the Ables as this is Foraker's next credited role.
- Character name seen in credits, but not used in dialogue: In "Dear Ma" the next Able is played by veteran recurring cast member Gwen Farrell. This is a small part in the O.R., with Able responding to BJ's instructions to get x-rays and an anesthetist for his next patient.
- Character name seen in credits, AND used in dialogue: Two episodes later in "Some 38th Parallels", Hawkeye now has a relationship going with Able (Lynette Mettey). This is the first time the Able name is used in dialogue. In the O.R. Able asks Hawkeye out for a date, saying she will offer him a nickel. Hawkeye says, "Sold, I'm so easy," and adds later, "Do you have a license to troll for doctors?" They go to the Swamp but Hawkeye is impotent due to the tension he is feeling. Able reassures him but before they can try again, Radar interrupts because BJ needs him in Post Op. Hawkeye says he will be back before she can whistle Carmen, so she starts whistling as he leaves. Much later, Hawkeye feels much better after the MASH has pulled the practical joke and dropped garbage all over Col. Coner. He approaches Able and asks if she still has the nickel. "All I've got's a quarter," she says. "No problem. I think I can make change now," he replies.
- Character name seen in credits, but not used in dialogue: Lois Foraker rounds off the Season 4 Ables in "Deluge" where she assists BJ and Hawkeye in treating a patient with phosphorus burns.
- Character name seen in credits, AND used in dialogue: The first Able to appear in Season 5 would also be the first credited appearance by Judy Farrell, then wife of Mike Farrell. In "Out of Sight, Out of Mind", she comes to the Swamp with Nurse Bigelow to get Hawkeye to fix the stove in their tent. When the stove explodes, blinding Hawkeye, she is among the nurses leading him to the O.R. and remained with him while he is treated by the ophthalmologist Maj. Overman. When Frank tries to throw Hawkeye out of Post Op, she leads him to the nurses tent to cheer him up. Days later, she is there to congratulate Hawkeye when the ophthalmologist removes the bandages and Hawkeye finds that his sight has been restored. When Hawkeye reenters the nurses tent pretending to have a relapse, she is skeptical and tells the other nurses, "Maybe we can cure it," and tosses a cup at him. He catches it, exposing his fraud and the nurses chase him out of the tent.
- Character name seen in credits, AND used in dialogue: Three episodes later, in "The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan", Susan Bredhoff makes her only appearance on M*A*S*H as Nurse Able. She relieves Margaret on Post Op Duty telling Margaret that she looks beat and then quickly corrects herself: "Good, but beat." Later in the day, she is still on Post Op duty when Potter comes with Radar to check on a patient. All three of them cannot read Margaret's handwriting on the patient's clipboard, which leads Potter to send Radar in search of her.
- Character name NOT seen in credits, only used in dialogue: In "The Korean Surgeon", Margaret calls out to Nurse Able to help restrain Dr. Paik, the North Korean POW, who she thinks is trying to attack another patient. Although the character is called by name, there is no speaking part so the role is uncredited and the actress is unidentified.
- Character name seen in credits, but not used in dialogue: In the next episode, "Hawkeye Get Your Gun", Phyllis Katz as Able helps to scratch Hawkeye at just the right spot on the back. She counters BJ who says it is a lucky shot by saying she knows her anatomy. This is Katz's only credit as a named nurse. In later episodes she is credited either as nurse or triage nurse. It is probably incorrect to treat these later appearances as Nurse Able since by then Judy Farrell has taken over as the "regular" Able.
- Character name NOT seen in credits, only used in dialogue: The last Able in this category is Patricia Stevens in "Hawk's Nightmare", credited simply as "Nurse". Hawkeye meets her while sleepwalking and asks her if she wants to play ball. Just before that, Frank tells Margaret that the sleepwalking Hawkeye is probably on the prowl for Nurse Able - "Able and Willing," he says. The next day, Stevens confronts Hawkeye in the mess tent, revealing that they do have a relationship going and so supports the inference that she is the "Able" that Frank is talking about.
Later Ables: Judy Farrell's era
The actress who had the most appearances as Nurse Able was Judy Farrell , the former wife of M*A*S*H co-star Mike Farrell; Judy first appeared in the role in “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” in early Season 5, but her era truly began in the last few episodes of Season 5 beginning with “Movie Tonight” where Nurse Able, along with several of her fellow nurses, had prepared for a trip to a party with some helicopter pilots but after seeing the fun that the rest of the camp was having, decided to stay. From this episode onwards and until the end of the series, all the remaining Nurse Able appearances would be played by Judy Farrell. And just like in "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" and "Movie Tonight", Judy Farrell would often be paired with Enid Kent's Nurse Bigelow.
In “Post Op”, in an uncredited appearance, Judy Farrell plays Able on Post Op duty when Potter and Frank are puzzling over an unconscious but otherwise uninjured patient. Potter turns around and calls to Able by name and asks if the patient arrived already unconscious and she confirms it. Next episode, in “Margaret’s Marriage” Able helps throw a bridal shower for Margaret and also does triage in her Class A uniform when Margaret's wedding ceremony is interrupted by the arrival of wounded.
In Season 6 “Images” Able, with Bigelow, convinces Hawkeye and B.J. to talk to Margaret about giving Nurse Cooper a break. Then in Season 7 “Ain’t Love Grand”, she tries to talk Hawkeye into going back to the Swamp during his feud with B.J. but to no avail.
Two late season Ables are attributed by IMDB to Gwen Farrell: in Season 8 Period of Adjustment and Season 9 Operation Friendship but these are not confirmed. In the first case, Farrell is credited simply as "nurse" and strangely doesn't appear in the show at all. In the second, Farrell has one brief line in pre-op but is uncredited. She is not addressed by name so there is no basis to link her character to the name Able. A look at the script might provide confirmation whether this role is really meant to be Able.
In Season 8 the credited Ables continue to be played by Judy Farrell. She is one of the (many) nurses to enjoy Hawkeye's vintage wine in “Taking the Fifth” after he tried to use it to get a date. And during the farewell dinner in “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” she announces that she is going to be “the best darn nurse Oklahoma’s ever seen.”
- Hannibal Courier Post site, Hollywood veteran helps Bowling Green actors hone their skills, accessed on 26 Jan 2015 Archive URL