Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Thank You, Charles

The last few days I've been wrestling with that most difficult-to-explain kind of grief that I know you all understand. I tried to think of something to make - some little craft or tribute - to tangibly purge it out of my system, but dang it all, I've got nothing. So instead, I think I'll just write this one out.

David Ogden Stiers passed away on Saturday, and silly as this sounds, it hurts. I never met him, never knew him, never so much as stood in the same building as him, but I loved a character he brought to life more than most, and now I will always wish I could have told him that, face-to-face.



My fellow Dizgeeks mostly know Stiers as the voice of Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast, though he did plenty of other acting and voice work. I, however, will always know him as Major Charles Emerson Winchester the third, of M*A*S*H .

I'll admit MASH isn't my geekiest fandom, nor is it my most defensible. I'll be the first to tell you newbies that some of the writing - particularly of Margaret at times - is problematic. Still, there are real gems hidden throughout those 11 seasons, and of them all, to me, that irascible snob Charles shines the brightest.

I love Charles' wit, his stubbornness, his refusal to bow to the horror of his surroundings. He was the perfect straight man to Hawkeyes' antics, always annoyed, always quick to criticize and complain. Still, below that crusty exterior hid a fierce kindness and loyalty. His stories often made me cry - even back before I started crying at everything - and some of his scenes and expressions will remain with me always.

The moment that sealed the deal on my Winchester fandom is the last scene in Death Takes A Holiday. Charles spends the whole episode sneaking around so he can anonymously donate some candy to a local orphanage. Meanwhile the rest of the camp thinks he's being selfish, and hurl all kinds of abuse his way.

Eventually Klinger learns the truth, and takes a tray of food to the shunned Major's tent. That moment, when Klinger gives him a knowing look, and Charles realizes he's been found out, is my favorite in the whole series. Two long-time adversaries, finally seeing each other in a new light, with a new respect. Then Charles says, "Thank you, Max," which I believe is the first (and maybe only?) time he uses Klinger's first name. SO SWEET.

I wish I could embed that episode here, but the one or two places I've found it online may not be completely on the up and up, ha. So I'll leave that bit of googling to you guys.

Instead, here's a short story arc from Run For The Money. It's better if you see it within the whole episode, but if you've only got 5 minutes, this is another good example of Charles stepping up when no one else is watching. Plus he admits to reading comic books, which is fun:


Aaaand cue the sudden indoor dust storm.





Mr. Stiers, as Charles Winchester you made me laugh, cry, think, and grow to love the most arrogant surgeon to come out of Boston General. You brought to life a character who was flawed and human in the best possible ways, fun to hate one moment, selfless and strong the next. I don't know why Charles has struck such a chord with me over the years, but I'll always think of him fondly, and when I re-watch MASH from start to finish yet again, I'll look forward to his episodes the most. 

It hurts that I'll never get to see your face when I tell you that, but I know many, many others have said it for me, and that helps. You knew. And that helps. 

So thank you, David Ogden Stiers. 

Thank you, Charles. 

That will be all.



46 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute to an underrated actor and character.

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  2. Cue the ugly crying...
    Thanks for putting that in words, Jen. I didn't know that it's exactly how I've been feeling. I didn't realize how much I loved his character growing up.

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  3. I had actually bought a Cogsworth purse at Primark that morning. I was saddened to hear the news and just hugged the little purse.

    The ability to tell others how much they mean to us is fleeting; make it count.

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  4. Wonderful tribute. Those are the two episodes I think of first when I think of Charles Emerson Winchester.
    It is amazing how much sorrow we can feel for the loss of someone we never knew. A credit to the mastery of his craft I suppose.
    A Bahston girl thanks you...

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  5. Well said...This little nugget from Alan Alda on my Twitter Feed made me love him even more. :-)

    "David Ogden Stiers. I remember how you skateboarded to work every day down busy LA streets. How, once you glided into Stage 9, you were Winchester to your core. How gentle you were, how kind, except when devising the most vicious practical jokes. We love you, David. Goodbye." - @alanalda - 1:53 PM - 4 Mar 2018

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  6. I was very sad to hear about his passing too. I once met him in an elevator when he was doing a play here. He was very gracious about my stunned fangirling that manifested as incoherent confusion.

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  7. That's beautiful. Charles was always one of my favorite characters. I think the series really started to shine once he was involved. He was flawed and wonderful, and the moments where his humanity was allowed to shine through were some of the best moments of the show. Godspeed, Major Winchester, and thank you.

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  8. the episode where he gets his winter hat from radar (and then you see him wear it the rest of the series) and where he gets the maple leaf from the school girl. two of my FAVS...and sooo many others, but those two, onions, every time.

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  9. The episode that touched me the most was "Morale Victory." Charles is all arrogance and pride, operating on a private's injured leg and congratulating himself that the man isn't paralyzed. Turns out, the minor work he performed on the man's right hand, almost as an afterthought, was the real issue, because the soldier was a concert pianist who now has permanent damage and can't play. The subsequent conversations with Father Mulcahy, and then the private, are painful and wonderful and dear GOD, Mr. Stiers knocked it so far out of the park, the ball left the planet. I looked up his IMDb profile, trying to remember all the other roles he'd played, and I was stunned to see his voice work as Jumba in Lilo and Stitch was actually his TWENTY-FIFTH Disney role!!! Next time my kiddo plays Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, and the Pocahontas adventure comes up with DOS as Gov Ratcliffe, it's going to hurt. What an amazing man and an amazing talent. Thank you for this wonderful tribute, Jen.

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    1. That is the episode that made me fall in love with Charles and DOS! The moment at the piano will always be seared into my brain.

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  10. Thank you, Jen. Like you, I did not always agree with the characterizations on MASH -- but I count it among my favorite shows. Mr. Stiers' portrayal of Charles brought a humanness to the show that I did not realize was truly lacking in the earlier seasons. My favorite episode with him will always be where he was the comfort and sounding board for Hawkeye during Hawykeye's worries about this father. Stiers made Charles vulnerable, supportive, and caring without becoming sappy or breaking character. Thank you, Jen, for reminding me of this wonderful man.

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    1. And all the trouble he went to, hunting down music for one hand, and getting the soldier to play it... It was wonderful.

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  11. Oh Winchester!! I so loved him as well. I loved M*A*S*H from when I was younger. Introduced it to my husband. We have since bought the set and have watched it many times all the way through. Our favorites are also with Winchester. And Radar. Love me some Radar. Thank you so much for the tribute.
    You will be missed David.

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  12. So much good came out of MASH. Feeling all the feels with you-losing loved ones we've never met is a special kind of sadness.

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  13. Jen,

    As someone just said Mr. Stiers did a lot of Disney movies and most people don't know it. He did two roles in Pocahontas and most people didn't know that he was also Wiggans. Their shock always made him smile. Forget where I heard that; maybe on the Bonus Features?
    One of my favorite roles he did was as Timicn in the Next Generation episode "Half a Life" with Majel Barrett. They were terrific together and I had wished that the story line would have let the two of them be a couple. If you haven't seen this episode I highly recommend it.
    I will miss this very talented actor. Thank you for your tribute.

    Maureen

    P.S. It was great to see you in Pittsburgh!

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    1. The first time I became aware of David Ogden Stiers was "Half a Life." I've never been so moved by a performance. That episode made me seek him out elsewhere, and I was never disappointed with what I found. He will be missed. :(

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  14. Winchester was such a better character than Burns, I find it hard to watch the earlier seasons sometimes. It's hard to play a character you love to hate and it was done so well here.

    He will always first be Cogsworth in my heart due to my obsessive love of Beauty and the Beast, but so many of my afternoons have been passed with reruns of MASH this loss definitely stings.

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  15. It's not crazy at all to hurt over the death of someone you did not know personally. I felt that way when Marty Sklar (one of the last imagineers to work directly with Walt Disney)died. I had a book all ready for him to sign at an upcoming event. And now he will never sign it. Hugs to you as you mourn the loss of someone whose talent had such an impact on you.

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  16. M.A.S.H. was my grandpa's favorite show and I used to watch it with him at least once a week. Charles was easy to hate, but he was also easy to love. I think if I had been in the camp I would have been just as disgusted and eager to leave as he was. I loved the episodes where he shows his heart and in the last episode, even though most of the characters experienced some terrible tragedy, his stayed with me the longest. I cried buckets. I was always happy to pick out his voice on Disney cartoons, his narration opening Beauty and the Beast is one of my favs. He had a magical voice and did both pompous and heartfelt well.

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  17. That was beautiful :) I loved MASH and I loved Mr. Stiers. To me, it always proved you can't judge someone. He dealt with the war in his own way but his character was a good man.

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  18. Apparently he rode to work every day on a skateboard. So very him. I loved him in M*A*S*H and mourn the loss of him. He was a bright star

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  19. As much as I love Charles and David Ogden Stiers will be sorely missed in our household, I think the day I will go completely to pieces is the dreaded day we lose Alan Alda. Hawkeye taught me you can be a goofball and have fun, but a moral compass is imperative. But Charles is definitely always my second favorite. He brought the finer parts of life to a hell hole and survived.
    Voice acting is a loved topic with my husband. When I first told him David Ogden Stiers died he wasn't sure, but when I said Cogsworth he understood.
    Dang it, I'm not crying at work!

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  20. I love MASH - even now - when I can see a lot of stuff that would totally not fly today. As you mention - the way Margaret is portrayed at times - but also how she is treated as a woman can be problematic to say the least. I think there is at least one other episode where Charles calls Klinger by his first name. There is some sort of small explosion and Klinger shoves Charles out of the way and ends up with a broken nose. Charles then takes over his duties while he heals and I am pretty sure he calls him Max at lease once when thanking him for saving him. My favorite episode of MASH that he is in is probably his first Christmas when Radar and the Padre arrange to have his mother send him a childhood hat to help him feel less homesick. I love episode you mention as well but the episode Sons and Bowlers is another that I really love as well as the one where he falls for a french lady but can't accept her past. I like the episodes where you cry I guess. He was a wonderful actor and played a complicated character so very well. I was sad to hear he passed. For other MASH fans: my favorite episode of the whole series is Tuttle which Charles was not a part of - it was in the days of Henry Blake and Frank Burns.

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  21. Jen, you always perfectly express how I am feeling... MASH was one of my first fandoms and was influential in my becoming a physician, and I was devastated to hear the news this weekend. His passing hit me the same way as Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, and Carrie Fisher.

    My kiddos are too young to watch MASH, but I think a viewing of Lilo and Stitch is in order on our snow day today.

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  22. <3 Thank you for saying what was in my heart!

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  23. You said what I felt better than I could. Burns was a dolt and an easy foil to Hawkeye and Trapper/BJ. Winchester was an intellectual equal. A man who had a kind heart and didn't want anyont else to know it. I sat here and bawled thinking about the episode you mentioned. I still love the look on his face, the moment of realization that Klinger is just being kind, and his very sincere response...

    He was amazing in other roles, but Winchester is my favorite.

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  24. He performed at our local theatre (Old Globe in San Diego) and I saw him in Midsummer Night's Dream as Oberon. He was a fabulous actor. I loved him in MASH and for the same reasons as you. I too was sad to hear of his death. Thank you for writing up why.

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  25. I watch several episodes of M*A*S*H pretty much every day (it is on a few channels here) and always love the range of DOS in playing Charles and showing those little peeks of humanity beneath the pomposity. He was also a great lover of music and an accomplished symphony conductor.

    One of our very favorite lines from CEW,III: I do one thing at a time. I do it very well. And then I move on.

    -Zippy

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  26. M*A*S*H was probably the first thing you could call a fandom for me too. I love Charles. His refusal to admit defeat in the face of horror. And the episode where he helps the stuttering soldier is a top 10 (and I've seen them ALL). From everything I have heard about him, he was a truly noble and generous person - the world needs more like him. RIP.

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  27. I will always remember him best from the M*A*S*H episode, "Letters." Hawkeye gets a bunch of letters from school kids from his hometown. Winchester wants nothing to do with them, until he finally opens one and finds a tiny, perfect red maple leaf. He stares at it in wonder, then pens the most eloquent, heart-felt thank you note to the school girl who sent it.

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  28. I am also saddened at this news. MASH is one of my favorite shows, period. As for what to make, I can't help but visualize this scene and it's respective prop, which made me bust out laughing.

    Charles: Finally, a peaceful moment to conclude this tape. The would-be lothario Pierce is fast asleep, and the 38-hour day is done. Now, Mother and Dad... I will put this as eloquently... and succinctly as possible...

    [opens tea kettle and pulls out a rubber chicken]

    Charles: Get me the hell out of here! (Source: Imbd)

    The normally eloquent and stoic Charles just is. Not. Having. It. :P :)

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  29. I did get to meet him once. He came into my store at an airport and we talked about noise cancalling head phones. He wasn't a fan of the Bose ones. I knew exactly who he was the moment I saw him. And he was wearing a Myst hat. I didn't fangirl. I wanted to but at the same time it just felt right to talk to him like I did other customers. And he was very nice. He later came back to the store with his son and bought the headphones. I told him he needed to the keep the box to return them if he didn't like them, and he just looked at me and said he didn't want the box. M*A*S*H was such a huge show for my family growing up. It didn't hurt that we live in Toledo, OH where everyone was a fan. Yeah.. I need to go watch some episodes...

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  30. This is a lovely tribute. The moment with the tobogganing cap will always be my favorite Charles scene. I hear what you are saying about there being problems with M*A*S*H but I'm in the fandom too - let's celebrate what went right together!

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  31. Wonderful tribute! I’m another M.A.S.H fan and enjoyed the character he brought to life.

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  32. I first watched M*A*S*H at college. It was my habit to finish a school day in the basement of the dorm, joining the crowd to watch reruns of the show. I loved to hate Winchester until DOS revealed the human-ness of his true character. I also marvel that grief can at times overwhelm me, even if it is for someone that I have never met (and probably would). My life has been changed, by those unmet, who have touched my heart, and their absence is hard to accept, but they usually leave recorded memories that I can revisit which helps me grief their loss. #PrinceFanForever

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  33. Thank you! That was a beautiful tribute to a man over whom I have shed many tears in the last few days. He played Charles so beautifully and so hauntedly that I will always be moved. We are so blessed to be able to still enjoy his M*A*S*H and Disney works.

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  34. Dammit, Jen. That clip is the one that ALWAYS gets me. I too loved him as Charles Emerson Winchester, III because his delivery of the lines he was given was so beyond perfect. And while my immediate thought at the news of his passing was "Oh no, COGSWORTH", it was only because I haven't done a MASH re-watch in a while. As you said, some of it is...problematic, but the eps with Charles rather than Frank are infinitely better. Frank had no redeeming qualities, while Charles was definitely more than his snarky exterior. Rest in Peace, David--you'll be missed.

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  35. Thank you!

    My favorite season of MASH is when Radar hasn't left, but Charles replaced Frank. (I hate Frank.)

    What I loved about Charles was his GROWTH. (Frank didn't grow.) That, and he was a good doctor. He knew it, he had some arrogance about it, but part of his being a good doctor was actually giving a flying flip about his patients... like in that clip. But, overall, he was never too arrogant to learn. To learn a new medical technique, to learn about the people around him, to learn to care!

    Mr. Stiers will be sorely, sorely missed.

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  36. We still watch reruns and love it when Charles arrives thinking he is just filling in for a temporary period. LOL

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  37. Just saw his work last week in an old Outer Limits episode "The Shroud". Wonderful actor.

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  38. Very thought provoking post. <3

    I wanna send you cookies, Miss Jen! But I don't know how that would work. Do you think snickerdoodles would survive the mail? Should I just send the recipe? Do you even like snickerdoodles?
    Pinkie Welborne, 17
    Indiana

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  39. I was deep, DEEP into MASH in Middle School. That show and the friends I shared an obsession with made a horrible time for me much easier. DOS was just one part but he was an important part, and had so many good moments.

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  40. Amy in Williamsburg, VAMarch 9, 2018 at 10:46 PM

    I have struggled this week with the loss of David Ogden Stiers. MASH is a huge geeky fandom of mine and I can honestly say I watched every episode 100's and 100's of times. My favorite episode is "Letters" where a little girl sends an autumn leaf from New England. Oh there are so many episodes I love. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Stiers when he performed as Oberon in A Midsummers Night Dream many, many years ago. He was a humble, sweet man. I miss him ....

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  41. I also loved Major Winchester. He was one of my favorites on Mash, along with Klinger and Kelly. It was Winchester who brought me to tears in the final episodes of MASH. Another character, along the same vein, that you might enjoy would be his appearance as Walt Whitman Wellesley IV on Leverage in The Lonely Hearts Job, Season 4, episode 15. He's not in a whole lot of the episode, but his twist on the stereotypical 'rich guy with a trophy wife' is wonderful.

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  42. I adored, and still do, M*A*S*H. My favorite thing about DOS was that he could play both sides of the coin. From the episode where Hawkeye and BJ go on a dirtiness strike to get him to stop playing his French horn, with all the antics that follow, to the episode where he tries to teach the local ensemble classical music, and the heartbreak that follows. Rest well.

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