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Friday 20 July 2018

Obituary: David Ogden Stiers

Actor who brought dry wit and humanity to his role as a haughty army surgeon in M*A*S*H

DAVID Ogden Stiers, who has died aged 75, made his mark in the long-running television black comedy M*A*S*H, playing Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, a grumpy Boston blue-blood who thought his posting to the remote 4077th medical station in Korea was beneath him.

Stiers, a regular cast member from 1977 to the show's finale in 1983, joined in the sixth season after the departure of Larry Linville as pompous Major Frank Burns, a character with few redeeming features who had provided the love interest for Loretta Swit's voluptuous head nurse Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan.

Unlike his predecessor Burns, Winchester was a talented surgeon, cultured and essentially likeable, though his patrician manner and po-faced air of superiority were the source of much unintentional hilarity to his laddish fellow surgeons Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and BJ Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). One episode, The Smell of Music, centred on their irritation at Winchester's struggling to hit the high notes in the horn solo from Strauss's Don Juan.

Tall and balding, Stiers brought dry wit and humanity to the role, which endeared Winchester to viewers; he was made the focus of several episodes. Assigned sleeping quarters in the surgeons' tent known as "the Swamp" (a bachelors' haven equipped with dartboard and martini dispenser), he is repelled by the conditions at the camp and compares it with "an inflamed boil on the buttocks of the world". A tape-recorded message for his parents (in The Winchester Tapes) ends with the desperate plea: "Now, Mother and Dad, I will put this as eloquently and succinctly as possible... Get me the hell out of here!"

In another memorable story, Dr Winchester and Mr Hyde, he inadvertently becomes addicted to amphetamines and administers some to Radar's pet mouse Daisy in the hope of improving the rodent's performance in a race.

The son of an accountant, David Allen Ogden Stiers was born on October 31, 1942 in Peoria, Illinois, but the family soon moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he attended high school, and briefly university, but left to pursue acting, taking roles for several seasons with the company at the Santa Clara Shakespeare Festival in California.

By the start of the 1970s he had taken up a place to study acting and voice at the Juilliard School in New York, where the Anglo-American producer John Houseman was director of drama. In 1973 Stiers made his Broadway debut with Houseman's newly established Acting Company, appearing in productions of Chekhov's Three Sisters and Measure for Measure among others. On film his first credit (as David Stiers) was a small part in Drive, He Said, Jack Nicholson's first film as director.

In 1976 he appeared in the pilot episode of Charlie's Angels as a lawyer who tries to help the trio of beautiful private investigators, but his character made no further appearances in the series and Stiers later said: "I smelled where it was going and wanted out of there." Stiers's clear baritone meant that he was greatly in demand as a voice-over artist, for audiobooks, video games and numerous Disney animated films, among them Beauty and the Beast (as the ornate clock Cogsworth, 1991). Of his live-action films, he was proud of his roles as the judge in the noir thriller Bad Company (1995), the mayor in the comedy Doc Hollywood (1991), and as Porter Leary, one of the eccentric siblings in the film adaptation of Anne Tyler's novel The Accidental Tourist (1988).

Like Major Winchester, Stiers had a passion for classical music and he was the resident conductor of the Newport Symphony Orchestra in Oregon, where he lived for many years in a house on the Pacific coast. He died on March 3.

© Telegraph

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