The daughter of Polish immigrants, Loretta Swit first performed before an audience at age 7, playing "The Snow Queen" in a dance recital in her home town of Passaic, NJ. Despite her mother's strenuous objections, Swit decided to make the theatre her life; she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then spent several years with the Gene Frankel Repertory Company. Admonished by casting agents to alter both her "unsaleable" name and her tad-too-large nose, she ignored this advice and persevered as a young character actress. Her first tangible success was in a Las Vegas production of Mame, in which she played the mousy housekeeper/stenographer Agnes Gooch opposite Susan Hayward's Auntie Mame. Arriving in Hollywood in 1970, Swit quickly garnered critical attention--and the effusive praise of her coworkers--for her offbeat guest-star characterizations in such series as Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible and Mannix. Upon learning that a TV version of the film hit M*A*S*H was in the works in early 1972, Swit energetically campaigned for the role of Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan--even though she'd sat through the original 1970 film with her eyes closed because she hated the sight of blood. Swit remained with M*A*S*H until its cancellation in 1983, winning two Emmy Awards along the way. During the series' occasional production layoffs, she starred in a number of made-for-TV movies, including the pilot episode of Cagney and Lacey (1981). In the decade since M*A*S*H's demise, Swit has been busier with her various political and social causes than with her acting career. Often as not, she chose the stage over TV or films during these years; in 1990, she won the Sarah Siddons award for her performance in the Chicago production of Shirley Valentine. A staunch animal-rights advocate, Loretta Swit was host of the 1992 cable-TV documentary series Those Incredible Animals (1992). In 1998 she appeared in the sex comedy Boardheads.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Big break came in the late 1960s playing Agnes Gooch in a Las Vegas production of the musical Mame, opposite Susan Hayward.
- Had early TV exposure guest starring on series including Hawaii Five-O, Gunsmoke, Mannix and Mission: Impossible.
- Played the role of Chris Cagney in the pilot for the 1981 TV-movie Cagney & Lacey. Sharon Gless portrayed her in the series.
- An outspoken activist for animal causes; hosted the 1992 series Those Incredible Animals.
- Is a watercolor artist and designs own jewelry line.