Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It Takes One to Know One

There have been several characters in television series who were known to be either crazy or putting on a really good show at being crazy.

But none were ever any better at it than Jamie Farr, who spent 11 years portraying Corporal Klinger, a draftee in the Korean War who tried for a long time to persuade enough people that he was crazy to be discharged under the infamous "Section Eight" — also known as a psycho.

Corporal Klinger wasn't really crazy, but the episode of M*A*S*H that first aired on this night in 1978 ("Major Topper") was a pretty effective argument that, well, it takes one to know one.

Klinger had studied crazy people for awhile. That much was clear from all the earlier episodes, and he was still bucking for a discharge in 1978. It wasn't until later, I guess, that Gary Burghoff left the show, and Farr's character took over as company clerk, a position in which he tried to be more military in his appearance — but, on this day in 1978, he was still openly trying to be Nutsy Fagan.

In this episode, Klinger was put in charge of another corporal, Boots Miller (Hamilton Camp), who gave names to and spoke to his socks and shoes and treated ladles as if they were microphones, among other things. Most of his antics were relatively harmless, but one was not — his tendency to fire not–so–make–believe guns (armed with definitely not make–believe bullets) at imaginary enemy gliders.

When Boots tried to shoot down some gliders in Col. Potter's presence, it was enough to persuade Potter to fill out the paperwork to have Boots discharged.

Klinger, understandably, felt a bit miffed. After all, he had been bucking for a Section Eight all along but hadn't received one. Boots, meanwhile, sashayed into camp, took a few shots at imaginary gliders and got a ticket home.

But Klinger had the last laugh. Some time later, after Boots had returned to the States, he sent a letter to the 4077th explaining that he had been a success in the children's toys business but needed the help of his former colleagues on a new toy idea — Enemy Glider — but he had no photos of the gliders he shot down while in Korea or their pilots, and he wanted to know if the folks in the camp could help him with photos — or whatever else they might have.

Camp appeared on another episode of M*A*S*H as an entirely different (although every bit as unbalanced) character — but his performance as Boots Miller was the better one. Even Klinger had to admit that Boots was Looney Tunes"and th–th–th–that's all, folks."