Jamie Farr, ‘M*A*S*H’ put Toledo on the map, mayor and local business owners say
"He's absolutely a living legend," Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said of the Glass City's own Jamie Farr.
TOLEDO, Ohio — The city of Toledo is known for many things. Its art museum is renowned internationally. Its museum is awarded nationally. Its minor league baseball team is “world famous.”
The Glass City also gets a lot of the spotlight from one of the most popular television series of all time: “M*A*S*H,” starring Toledo’s own Jamie Farr.
The CBS show ran for 11 seasons from 1972 to 1983 and set the record for the most-watched television show of all time, which it still holds today.
More than 100 million people tuned in to watch its two-and-a-half-hour-long final episode titled “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” on February 28, 1983. It ran on more than three out of every four TV sets in use during its original broadcast and was seen in 60% of U.S. homes.
Farr put drew national attention to Toledo as the cross-dressing corporal turned sergeant Maxwell Q. Klinger who pined for two of the city’s beloved treasures: the Mud Hens and Tony Packo’s, both of which were mentioned in multiple episodes.
“We’re the world-famous Mud Hens because Jamie brought us and our name into millions of homes,” Craig Katz, director of merchandise and licensing for the Toledo Mud Hens and Toledo Walleye, said.
WTOL 11 spoke with Farr, who is still working at 88 years old, on the phone Thursday, the 40th anniversary of the wartime dramedy’s final episode. He had just returned to his home on the west coast after a comic convention in Atlanta with former “M*A*S*H” co-star Loretta Swit.
Farr shared a story about his trip, recounting the flight crew asking him to wait once everyone else had got off. He said the pilots wanted to meet him because he’s a “living legend.”
He’s certainly still living, but Farr doesn’t see himself as the legend others do.
“He was on one of the most popular TV shows in the history of television,” Katz said. “To be part of that and to be so tied to that, he’s definitely a living legend.”
Farr brought a piece of his hometown Toledo with him to Hollywood. In addition to Klinger’s attempts to earn himself a section eight discharge from the army, he also talked about the great things Toledo has to offer.
Those mentions, specifically of the Toledo Mud Hens, made some fans think the team wasn’t real.
“The first thing we get a lot is we didn’t think this was a real team, we thought it was made up just for ‘M*A*S*H,'” Katz said.
Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz was 10 years old when the finale of “M*A*S*H” aired in 1983. He said Farr’s contributions to Toledo continue to this day.
“I think you put Jamie Farr right on that list as someone who helped represent to the world what it means to be a Toledoan,” Kapszukiewicz said.
The mayor is quick to point out the Toledo Mud Hens were around before “M*A*S*H,” but he’s confident they weren’t “world famous” until Farr coined the term on national television.
Kapszukiewicz said Farr’s influence stretches to people who have never been to Toledo, too.
“When I meet people and say I’m from Toledo, they know about Tony Packo’s because of Jamie Farr and because of ‘M*A*S*H,'” Kapszukiewicz said.
Farr’s legacy is still prevalent at the original Tony Packo’s in east Toledo. His name is signed on the first bun inside the door and a cutout of Farr, dress included, stands in the corner to greet diners, not far from plenty of “M*A*S*H”-themed merchandise.
“I incorporated my childhood. I mentioned Packo’s, the Mud Hens. They loved that, they thought it was just great,” Farr said in a 2009 interview with WTOL 11. “There are four places you have to go, Fifth Third Field to see the Mud Hens, you have to go to the (Toledo Museum of Art), you have to go to the Toledo Zoo. There are two eating places you have to go to, The Beirut and Tony Packos.”
Farr’s image and influence can also still be seen inside The Beirut on Monroe Street in west Toledo. Part-owner Labib Hajjar has gotten to know Farr over the years.
“For 20-some years they came back and Jamie came back and brought a lot of his friends,” Hajjar said.
Hajjar told WTOL 11 that Farr brought people in each year for the Jamie Farr Classic golf tournament — since renamed the Dana Open.
“He was so proud to have his friends taste and enjoy the food,” Hajjar said. “Fans of the show, the people he brought here had good memories of Toledo and the fun they had here, it’s a great town.”
Hajjar said many people from Toledo who have gone on to become famous have left and never came back. Jamie Farr, he said, is not that celebrity.
“I would say he’s done more for Toledo than anyone else. So to Toledo, he’s a legend,” Hajjar said.