Jamie Farr

Active - 1955 - 2007  |   Born - Jul 1, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Comedy Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actor Jamie Farr was the only son of a Lebanese butcher living in Toledo, Ohio. An easy target for bullies due to his short stature and large nose, Farr became the neighborhood clown to save himself from physical abuse. Humor gave him confidence, and by the time Farr graduated from high school he was a top student, extremely popular and active in numerous extra-curricular activities. Always a big movie fan, Farr harbored dreams of being an actor, and to that end studied at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1955, Farr was cast in his first film (still billed under his own name, Jameel Farrah), The Blackboard Jungle, playing a redeemable hoodlum named Santini; shortly thereafter, he was cast in the Broadway production of No Time for Sergeants, just before he was drafted. The two years in the Army upset the momentum of Farr's career, and he found himself from 1958 through 1971 rebuilding himself from the ground up in bits and supporting roles. (Farr was not in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians during this period, as has often been reported; the cast of that turkey included a Broadway actor named Al Nesor, who bore a startling resemblance to Farr and played many of the same type roles).

One of Farr's one-day bits was for the sixth episode of the new TV series M*A*S*H in 1972; Farr had the almost wordless role of a GI who dressed in women's clothing in hopes of getting out of the Army. The character of "Corporal Klinger" was meant to be a onetime joke, but the producers of M*A*S*H sensed possibilities in the character. By Season Two of M*A*S*H, Farr became a full supporting character; by Season Three he was being given co-starring billing in the series' opening credits sequence. After misguidingly "camping" the character in the earliest rehearsals, Farr played Klinger "straight" in every sense of the word: Neither gay nor transvestite, Klinger was simply a guy who'd go to great extremes to get out of military service. Gradually the character began to become fashion conscious, and before the eighties were over Klinger was making several fashion lists as one of the best-dressed characters on TV! Farr's role was expanded when Gary Burghoff left M*A*S*H in 1979; promoted to company clerk, Klinger began to thrive in the military, and the outrageous costuming was allowed to lapse. By the time M*A*S*H left the air, Klinger had taken a Korean wife, and Jamie Farr had become a true-blue celebrity.

Unfortunately neither Farr nor Klinger were able to extend their audience appeal into the sequel series After M*A*S*H, not even when the scripts contrived to have Klinger become a fugitive from justice in a move to repeat his "outsider" status on M*A*S*H. Nonetheless, Jamie Farr has kept busy in the years following the cancellation of After M*A*S*H in 1984 with TV guest spots and stage appearances in such roles as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma and Evil Eye Fleegle in Li'l Abner. Farr would continue to appear regularly on screen in the years to come, appearing in movies like Scrooged, and on TV shows like Diagnosis Murder and Mad About You.

Movie Highlights

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  • Originally cast for one episode as cross-dressing Cpl. Klinger on the first season of M*A*S*H, but the character proved to be so popular that his stay was extended, and he became a series regular by the third season.
  • Inspiration for Klinger's female attire came from comic Lenny Bruce's bit about dressing in a woman's uniform to get out of military service.
  • Was drafted and served in Japan and Korea with the U.S. Army from 1957 to '59, but returned to show business afterward under the guidance of friend and comedy legend Red Skelton.
  • Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1985.
  • Made Broadway debut as Nathan Detroit in a revival of Guys and Dolls at age 60.
  • Authored two books: Just Farr Fun (1994), a memoir; and Hababy's Christmas Eve (2003), a children's book cowritten with his wife, Joy, and based on a story his Klinger character told about a family of camels who took the Three Wise Men to witness the birth of Jesus.
  • Is an avid golfer; in 1984, began hosting the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, an Ohio LPGA tour event that has raised millions for charity.