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This story first appeared in the Jan. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Wayne Rogers and I had never met before the day we began rehearsing for M*A*S*H. We were strangers, but we both knew we somehow had to find a relationship like the one the characters we played had.
We went out to dinner that night and over a long meal and a bottle of wine, we promised each other that we would give the show everything we had. We both thought it could be more than a sitcom, and we wanted to treat it as seriously as anything we’d ever been asked to do.
Once, after a long day of work, we rehearsed a scene over and over to see if we could make it better. We had already shot the scene and would never shoot it again. We just wanted to see if it could have been better.
We never stopped trying to get better — as individual actors, and as a team. And that brought us together in a way, I think, that neither of us had ever felt before with a fellow actor.
Wayne didn’t like to drive, so when we shot on location in the mountains of Malibu, he would leave his car at my house and I would drive us the hour to the mountains. On the way, I would tell him my dreams and he would interpret them for me. Especially the dreams about acting.
I told him about one in which I was playing a scene in the show and the director asked me to crawl up the side of an armoire and do my lines from there. Then, he made it worse and told me to go the top of the cabinet and play the scene from there. He said he could get a better shot that way, even though I knew there was no reason for me to be on top of an armoire.
Wayne thought about this silently for a couple of miles and then he said, “This is an important dream. Directors are always asking us to do things that are unbelievable, just to accommodate the camera. Your dream is telling us never to do that. We have to remember never to do an armoire.”
And we did remember. From then on, whenever a director asked us to do something we thought cheated reality just a little too much, we’d give each other a look and one of us would quietly say, “Don’t do an armoire.”
Wayne was warm and funny and very, very smart. But, as smart as he was, he never told you what to think. If he disagreed, he just asked you a question that innocently invited you to think about what you thought. Now, what I’m thinking about is him.
I missed Wayne when he left the show, but for decades I could see him whenever we were in the same city. But I miss him now in a new, unhappy way.
We’ll never again be in the same city.
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