We recently lost a great, unsung talent. I’m taking a look back at the best performances of William Christopher as Father Francis Mulcahy in the long-running classic series, M*A*S*H.
Requiem for a Lightweight, original airdate October 1, 1972
The plot of this episode centers around Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) being coaxed by Hawkeye (Alan Alda) into fighting the rival unit’s big boxing champ for the glory of the 4077th – and for the promised return of the newest and prettiest nurse to arrive in camp, Margie Cutler (Marcia Strassman). This old chestnut of a plot might the the “lightweight” of the title, but it’s tightly-written and delivers on the first season, Larry Gelbart-ian laughs. Season one M*A*S*H does struggle a bit to find its identity, and we see the season two premier (“For The Good of The Outfit”) make a conscious attempt to reintroduce the main cast of characters to the viewer as the show begins to find its sea legs.
Back here in season one, though, we are still a bit scattershot. This episode is significant as William’s Christopher’s debut as Father Mulcahy, (the character having been portrayed by George Morgan in the pilot) in a small but memorable bit, announcing the fight between Trapper and the 8063rd’s killer. He also gets to establish that he “coached a few fighters” in his time, and indeed, future episodes will further explore Mulcahy’s pugnacious past, and the depth and struggle it sometimes brings to his character. For now, though, he is relegated to the ring, but as it’s the climax of the episode, he gets decent screen time.
It’s the beginning of long and wonderful character development by a talented actor.