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.
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.