Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Wayne Rogers: From Trapper John to Doctor Charlie and beyond

Wayne Rogers at left with Alan Alda in M*A*S*H.
His most iconic, and best remembered role was in M*A*S*H, as the irreverent practical joker “Trapper John” McIntire. However, Wayne Rogers left a much bigger legacy, starring as another doctor in an acclaimed sitcom, replacing Larry Hagman in another iconic role, starring in a three-part mini-series, and entertaining audiences throughout the 1980s.

I was sad to hear Wayne Rogers passed away at the age of 82.

After M*A*S*H
Wayne Rogers left M*A*S*H just as it was beginning to take off as a series. He left for “City of Angels”  a series of his own, which he starred in, that lasted barely a season. I don’t recall too much about it, other than it was on CBC on Saturday nights and was set in the 1920s.

That was in the late 1970s. It wasn’t until the 1980s when Rogers became prolific again.

Wayne Rogers with Lynn Redgrave in "House Calls".
The Medical profession calls again
Wayne Rogers was back on TV playing Charlie Michaels, a doctor in the sitcom “House Calls”,
starring opposite Lynn Redgrave. I recall the show being quite funny. Rogers had great comedic timing. In the third season, Redgrave had a baby, and left as a result of a dispute. She was replaced by Sharon Gless, who assumed the role as Charlie’s love interest. The show was cancelled in 1982, amid a bit of controversy because the ratings were still strong. Stronger than other shows that were renewed, that’s for sure.

Reunion of a different kind
Rogers never made another appearance on M*A*S*H, but he did play a role in another iconic sitcom – this one from the 1960s.

For years growing up, I heard how funny “I Dream of Jeannie” was from my mom and my sister. In the era of three channels, “I Dream of Jeannie” was too old to be played in re-runs. Ironically, we saw re-runs of M*A*S*H all the time.

Yet, I was always intrigued by this show.

Wayne Rogers with the cast of
"I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later".
So, I was quite excited to read in TV Guide one day that airing the next week would be a reunion movie, “I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later”.

Barbara Eden is still playing Jeannie, and still looking very good. However, it was in one of the first scenes that we all see Larry Hagman is no longer playing Jeannie’s master cum husband Tony Nelson. Hagman was too busy filming his latest show, the primetime soap opera “Dallas”. Instead, that role has been assumed by – Wayne Rogers.

It really did not seem odd to me, because I had never seen “I Dream of Jeannie”, so I had nothing to compare it to.

I do recall liking the movie, as did my mother, who had seen the original.

Wayne Rogers in the acclaimed mini-series "Chiefs".
A mini-series to remember
The 1980s was the golden age for TV miniseries, and I have to say one of my favourites was a three parter called “Chiefs”. I liked it so much, I watched it in its entirety twice.

Charlton Heston plays Hugh Holmes, the patriarch of the town of Delano, which has grown big enough to warrant having its own sheriff. The man they hire to be the first chief of police is Will Henry Lee, played by Wayne Rogers.

It was a fantastic mini-series. Part one ends with Lee investigating the disappearance of some young boys. Before he can make much progress, he is killed by a delirious man who was actually a friend of Will Henry’s. That was how part one ended – and Rogers’ role in it.

The last two parts would each focus on a different sheriff, with the continued disappearance of boys, in the back drop. It was very good.

With that, I don’t recall seeing Wayne Rogers again except in re-runs, and doing the odd guest spot in a show such as “Murder, She Wrote”.

Parting thoughts

Wayne Rogers is another one of those actors who is part of the tapestry of growing up. He had really good comic timing, which I remember just as much from “House Calls” as “M*A*S*H”. Like so many other actors of that era, he just seemed to disappear. Yet, when he was on TV he was well worth watching.

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