Photo by Carol Rosegg
Jamie Farr and Anita Gillette in “Flamingo Court,” a comedy in three condos by Luigi Creatore at New World Stages. RIGHT: Jamie Farr as Corporal Sergeant Maxwell Q. Klinger in “M*A*S*H*.”
By JERRY TALLMER
Dear Larry Gelbart:
I just thought you might want to know how Corporal Klinger’s doing these days. He’s doing fine, and what’s more, he’s finally playing Off-Broadway—unless you count Overland Park, Kansas, where he’s been appearing at the New Theater every year for the past six years, as Off-Broadway.
But at the moment Klinger, that is to say Jamie Farr, who created him—well, I guess you created him, Mr. Gelbart, but Jamie Farr helped a lot—is headed toward a July opening Off-Broadway as co-star (opposite Anita Gillette) in what’s billed as “a comedy in three condos,” by a gentleman named Luigi Creatore, at New World Stages on West 50th Street.
The condos are three apartments stacked one atop the other in a South Florida complex called “Flamingo Court,” which is also the name of the tripartite play.
The residents of those apartments are people of a certain age in what are either the golden or twilight years. Jamie Farr, who turned 75 on July 1, in the third piece plays a lonely, gabby alter cocker who celebrates his 89th birthday by getting a hearing-aid salesman to go out and bring back a hooker. The other two characters Farr plays are a lovesick Italian-American in his late 60s who’ll stop at nothing to win the body and soul of an uptight recent widow; and a troubled fellow in his late 70s who’s emotionally handcuffed to his Alzheimer-stricken one-and-only wife.
Lest that all strikes you as funny as a crutch, Mr. Gelbart, please be advised that it comes well salted with gags [farts, condoms, Maybelline the hooker, poisoned soy sauce] that might have delighted Hawkeye Pierce and the other hotshots of “M*A*S*H*.” Well, maybe not Hawkeye Pierce. And certainly not sobersided Cpl. Klinger, who is so determined to get out of Korea (read: Vietnam) and out of the Army that he goes everywhere dressed as a woman, in hopes it will win him a Section 8 psychiatric discharge.
Be that as it may, Klinger—i.e., Jamie Farr—isn’t complaining.
He thinks “Flamingo Court” is just what is needed by an America on the skids.
“My agent sent this play to me, and I laughed,” Farr said the other day in a hearty affirmative voice somewhere between a hurrah and a honk. “I’ve seen a lot of comedies, and I really wish they’d come up with something that really makes people laugh, I equate [the “Flamingo Court” script] to the era of the Depression, when Hollywood made movies to entertain people, rather than [dwelling on] drug addicts, alcoholics, dysfunctional families.”
Farr was actually born smack into the Depression, in 1934
“My old man” [Sam Farah, a Lebanese-American] “took two buses every day to his job as meat-cutter at a little corner grocery store” in Toledo, Ohio. “My mother [Jamelia Farah] was a seamstress. She made hats and dresses [none for Klinger]. My sister still has the old Singer Sewing Machine my mom used.
“I would go to the movies for 10 cents a shot. I’d read the magazine Theater Arts, and one day on the back page, I saw an ad for the Pasadena Playhouse in California. I sold my war bonds and went out there.”
It was out of the Pasadena Playhouse that 20-year-old Jameel Farah—soon to be Jamie Farr, and 17 years before your Klinger, Mr. Gelbart—was signed for his first movie, Richard Brooks’s “The Blackboard Jungle,” based on Evan Hunter’s shock best-seller about juvenile delinquency and rotten schools.
It was a film that “discovered” a lot of people, among them Sidney Poitier, Paul Mazursly, and, most especially, Vic Morrow as a sociopath teacher-baiting held-back older student.
“I played Santini,” Farr well remembers. “The mentally retarded kid in the front row who, when a guy named Belazzi [Dan Terranova] pulls out a switchblade, I jump up, grab the American flag with the eagle on top, run across the room and nail him with it.”
“Flamingo Court” playwright Luigi Creatore, now in his 80s, is himself a New Yorker who transferred to Florida upon retirement after a full career as a record producer (of Sara Vaughan, Perry Como, Della Reese, et al.) and sometime songwriter.
Jamie Farr met him for the first time when they had lunch here in New York the other day.
“Here I’m walking down the street toward lunch, and one of those town car drivers—this big Italian guy with a big handlebar moustache—grabs me and hugs me, and says: ‘I love you!’ … I never get the pretty girl,” said Farr. “I get the guy with the big moustache.”
This particular big-moustache guy wasn’t hugging Farr for anything in the not-yet-opened “Flamingo Court.” He was hugging the Klinger of “M*A*S*H*,” which a lot of people still do, 30-something years later, and I for one—emotionally—most certainly do. I mean there was (is) a certain gallantry in Klinger’s madness, as in much else in “M*A*S*H*,” and that’s largely thanks to you, Mr. Gelbart. I looked it up: 49 episodes of “M*A*S*H*” (the television series, not the movie) written by Larry Gelbart. Including the one that still always breaks my heart: the Christmas Eve installment where a lost and severely wounded GI, out in the boondocks, looks up, in his hour of terrible need, to see Santa Claus—Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce, M.D.—red suit, white beard, and all descending by rope from a helicopter.
“I was in that one, too,” Farr says. “All of that came out of Larry Gelbart’s head. You know what? I worked the show for 11 years, and I’m still a fan of the show. You know what?” he says again. “I’ve not been out of work since I signed for that show. The ghost of Klinger is what makes it possible for my name to be above the title now. It was just to be a one-day role”—Klinger in that dress—“ but I had the best parlay in show business: came on for one day and stayed 11 years.”
Farr is one of the few cast members of television’s “M*A*S*H*” to have actually served in Korea during that war. He is a golf nut who annually sponsors an LPGA Classic tournament in his home town, Toledo, Ohio. He is also a husband, a father, a grandfather, and so far as I know, Mr. Gelbart, he has never yet got his Section 8.
FLAMINGO COURT. A comedy by Luigi Creatore. Directed by Steven Yuhasz. With Jamie Farr and Anita Gillette. At New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, (212) 239-6200.