M*A*S*H* (1972 - 1983)
Commentary by Steven B. Goldsmith, May 2000

Gary Burghoff played Corporal "Radar" O'Reilly from 1972 to 1979. For the first few seasons, his role was clearly the staff token Type 1 short person. Despite the fact that he pretty much ran the M*A*S*H* operation, much of the time he was on stage only for Hawkeye and Trapper (played respectively by Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers) to make jokes about his height. He eyed women from afar but was nervous and tongue tied in their presence. Many short men can empathize with his situation.

After a few seasons, Radar's character become more complex, interesting and three dimensional; with real human feelings, desires and emotions. For me, a pivotal episode came with Episode 15 of the third season. Radar orders and receives elevator shoes from the O'Brien and Murphy shoe company. He puts them on and exclaims: "I'm a real person". I found that exclamation ver sad. The most shallow character of the series is impressed with Radar's new look, saying it displays authority and dignity. But when Hawkeye sees Radar, he is disappointed:

Radar: Captain Pierce.

Hawkeye: Radar, what's happened?

Radar: Happened?

Hawkeye: Yea, either you've been raised or the camp's been lowered. [Looking down at shoes] Oh Radar, you don't need those. Why?

Radar: [softly, looking embarrassed] Listen. You don't know what it's like being short. I meanů always being the last one to be picked for the team. Looking girls straight in the throat. Never being able to see over the crowd. Do you know that the only parade I've ever seen was one I was in. And everybody's always making fun of me. Even you.

Hawkeye: Well then I was out of line. Listen. There's height that people never see. Some guys are ten feet tall only their bodies don't know it.

Radar: Honest?

Hawkeye: Sell those to somebody little.

I found it encouraging that for one brief moment, a TV show really tried to speak to what it means to be a short man. Still, the director would have done better to eliminate the laugh track from Radar's speech. He was being serious, there was nothing to laugh at.

Since ancient Egyptian times, and probably earlier, men and women have practiced a great variety of techniques to make themselves more attractive. They many paint their lips, wear makeup, add fragrances, remove necessary glasses for a chance encounter or purchase a different wardrobe each year just to stay in style. If they are overweight they can go to the gym, go on a diet, wear constricting undergarments, or undergo painful liposuction treatments to remove unsightly fat and cellulite. Hair may be styled, colored or regrown with costly and painful treatments or more recently prescription drugs. Women can wear wigs; and men toupees. Women may even enlarge or shrink their breasts. High heels have become normal attire for many women.

All these improvements are perfectly acceptable. Billions of dollars are spent in advertising alone. The only exception seems to be men wanting to appear taller. Fifty years after the period that M*A*S*H* brought us, options for short men have not improved. There is only one company that makes elevator shoes. They ship them in brown paper bags, because receiving this kind of product in the mail is as embarrassing as receiving pornography.