Jamie Farr is an American television and film comedian and theatre actor. He is known for playing a cross-dressing corporal (later sergeant) from Toledo, Ohio, bucking for a Section 8 discharge, in the role of Maxwell Q. Klinger in the CBS television sitcom M*A*S*H. Farr was born in Toledo, Ohio, to Lebanese-American parents Jamelia M. (née Abodeely), a seamstress, and Samuel N. Farah, a grocer. He and his family attended Saint George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Toledo.
Farr’s first acting success occurred at age 11, when he won two dollars in a local acting contest. After Woodward High School, where he was one of the standouts among his class, Farr attended the Pasadena Playhouse, where a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout discovered him, offering him a screen test for Blackboard Jungle. He won the role of the mentally challenged student, Santini. With the encouragement of his Toledo mentor, Danny Thomas, he decided to become an actor. Farr’s first film roles were in 1955 in Blackboard Jungle (credited as Jameel Farah) and as a fruit vendor in Kismet (uncredited). After this, he was drafted by the United States Selective Service into the United States Army, undergoing his basic training with the 6th Infantry Division, Fort Ord, California. He served for two years, in Japan and Korea, making him one of three cast members of the M*A*S*H cast to have served in the US military in Korea (the others being Alan Alda and Mike Farrell).
In 1958, Warner Brothers cast him as the co-pilot of a TB-25 in the Andy Griffith military comedy No Time for Sergeants, which also brought the young TV comic Don Knotts to motion pictures. Farr appeared as Thaddaeus in the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, along with minor roles in Who’s Minding the Mint? and With Six You Get Eggroll.
Farr got a new acting role on television when, in the late 1950s, he became a regular on The Red Skelton Show before becoming a second banana with Harvey Korman on The Danny Kaye Show. Farr also appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show and was a regular on the gangster-comedy series The Chicago Teddy Bears (featuring Huntz Hall). In 1964, he appeared in an episode of Hazel as a soon-to-be father who owned an Italian restaurant. In 67 appeared in Garrisons Gorillas. Farr also worked in TV commercials, including a memorable spot for Wonder Bread (as a vendor who says, “If it isn’t fresh, I’m outta business!”).
In October 1972, he was hired for one day’s work as Corporal Maxwell Klinger on the M*A*S*H episode “Chief Surgeon Who?” His character wore dresses to try to convince the army that he was crazy and deserved a Section 8 discharge. Comedy writer and playwright Larry Gelbart has said that comedian Lenny Bruce’s attempt to be released from military service in World War II by dressing in a WAVES uniform was the original inspiration for the character of Klinger on the sitcom. He was asked back for a dozen episodes in the second season, and he became a regular in the fourth.
Eventually, his character gave up wearing women’s clothing after the discharge of Radar O’Reilly had Klinger assuming the company clerk’s position. Like most of the characters on M*A*S*H, Klinger matured as the years passed. He gradually progressed from being a cross-dressing visual joke, and became a more sensitive and resourceful character. Klinger’s colorful side emerged in new ways, as he used the Toledo wheeler-dealer skills he learned on the streets to circumvent Army bureaucracy on the 4077’s behalf.