The reason was Major Frank Burns, played by Larry Linville. Linville left the show after the fifth season, feeling there was nothing more that he could do with the character, and he was probably right. By this point it really was the Alan Alda show, and after Margaret married Donald Penobscot Frank really didn't have any allies and just became the butt of jokes. Some of my favorite episodes are those in which Frank is treated by Hawkeye and BJ as a comrade, especially in the episode "Margaret's Engagement." In one of the few poignant moments of the series given to Frank Burns, he has a bit of a breakdown after learning of Margaret's impending marriage. In order to get him back mentally Hawkeye and BJ place a call to his mother during which he says (without knowing anyone is listening in) "I'm fine, Mom. Well actually, I'm not. You see, I had this friend. And this friend only pretended to like me. You know, the way Dad used to?" The character and the actor were capable of so much more, but Larry knew it was time to move on.
Of course, Frank Burns is responsible for so many huge laughs throughout those first five years, and I believe the show would have seriously suffered without him around. Obviously, my dad did as well, so until February of 1983 I thought the show had ended after just those first five seasons. Since then, I have seen every episode of "M*A*S*H" multiple times, including the Winchester years, though most of those episodes I have probably only seen two or three times each. I am an early years viewer, and those are the episodes I go back to again and again, made much easier now that I own the complete series on DVD (with the added pleasure that the episodes are unedited and contain about three minutes additionally that I had never seen, because the episodes we recorded were the syndicated, and thus shorter, versions).
In 1991 I moved from California to Oregon after graduating from high school. These were the early days of the internet, and at some point I stumbled onto some sort of bulletin board with celebrity mailing addresses. I had written a few fan letters in high school and had a little bit of success, so I thought that this might be a fun way to pass the summer. The first 11 I sent out were to the 11 regular cast members of "M*A*S*H": Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, Larry Linville, Gary Burghoff, Jamie Farr, William Christopher, Harry Morgan, Mike Farrell, and David Ogden Stiers. I had success almost immediately, with a nice signed photo from Wayne Rogers. Over the next couple of years (and more than one address for many of them) I received responses from every other cast member except for Linville and Stiers. By now it is approximately 1995 and I am a full-fledged autograph collector. I have done a good amount of research and have determined that Stiers absolutely doesn't sign through the mail, and authentic autographs of his are extremely rare, so I have given up on him. Linville seems to be similarly difficult, but not for the same reasons. I find that his addresses don't seem to be current, so either he was changing representation a lot then (I usually use agency addresses), or there was some other reason I wasn't getting any response.
I had resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to be able to get in touch with him. However, that didn't mean I wasn't to keep trying. I was semi-obsessed for a while, having used at least 10 different addresses to try to get in touch with him. Even a pre-print would have been fine, just to know that it was possible he received one of my letters and knew how much I admired him and his work. When the response finally came I was in shock. Not only did he send me an 8"x10" photo in character as Frank Burns, but he included a thank you note with it. This is exceedingly rare, at least in my experience, and is absolutely the best response I have ever received. Larry Linville was one of my idols throughout my childhood, and to get such a gracious response from him was truly a great moment for me.
I had imagined someday meeting him and thanking him in person. He did community theater work throughout the 1990's, and that was going to be my best chance. I tried to keep tabs on his schedule, but the appearances were always on the East Coast, and I waited for a more convenient time and place. I knew that he was in poor health, having had a cancerous lung removed in 1998, but his death still hit me pretty hard. For me, it was one of those moments that you remember exactly where you were. I had just arrived at work and the radio was on over the overhead speakers. I will never forget the exact words: "One of the actors from the hit TV show "M*A*S*H" has died. Larry Linville..." and that was all I heard. It was a crushing moment for me. I had missed my opportunity to meet one of my idols.
The purpose of this blog will be to cover various aspects of celebrity death, but not in a macabre way. I visit celebrity gravesites routinely, and my focus will be to talk about those who have passed, and to inform about their final resting places. Should you choose to visit a cemetery to see the grave of a favorite celebrity, I only ask that you be respectful. Some cemeteries encourage visitors (like Hollywood Forever and Westwood Memorial Park, both in the Los Angeles area), others will ask you to leave if they suspect you are grave hunting (Forest Lawn-Glendale comes to mind). However, if you are respectful to the grounds and to others, you should not have any problems. I will pass on specific details about each final resting place at the end of each post.
Larry Linville died on April 10, 2000, in New York City. He was cremated and his ashes were apparently scattered at The Six Nations Indian Reserve in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, though this has never been verified.
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