In the sixth season of MAS*H, there came an episode where Major Margaret Houlihan seriously worried she might be pregnant.
The only logical solution to test if she was pregnant or not? Obviously, Hawkeye had to perform surgery to extract the ovaries from Radar’s pet rabbit to perform a pregnancy test.
In “What’s Up, Doc?”, Loretta Swit performed one of Margaret’s most complicated moments when she confronts the reality that having a baby might end her military career. According to an interview that year with the Associated Press, Swit actually ended up with an odd little keepsake from this particular episode.
“I got a pewter rabbit from the woman whose idea it was that Margaret think she’s pregnant and the only available rabbit for the test was Radar’s pet,” Swit said.
Swit never named the woman who gifted her the pewter rabbit, but she said that this memento led her to start a collection of pewter and silver rabbits. So next time you watch this particular episode, remember that Radar’s rabbit’s sacrifice left a much longer impression on Margaret than you might think!
For Swit, in early interviews when she was appearing on MAS*H, the actor was generous, sharing with reporters intimate details from her life, both behind the scenes of the show and beyond.
In 1975, the UPI called Swit chatty and listed off the things she spoke about during their interview: “Loretta Swit — 5-foot-5, 117 pounds, ash blonde, green eyes — loves to talk. She also loves Szechuan food, cooking, reading, old horror movies, collecting porcelain figures, tennis, needlepoint, painting in watercolor, charcoal sketching, Renoir, Pissarro and Edward Hopper.”
However, it turns out that as Swit did more and more interviews, she began to grow less chatty and more tight-lipped. By 1995, Swit was done talking about a lot of stuff in her life, including MAS*H.
A reporter for The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1995 (under the catty headline “Major Houlihan to Major Bummer”) that an interview request with Swit generated a list of guidelines the reporter would have to follow if they wanted to talk to the actor.
Why was Swit so distant after so much time? She said the press had abused her, and she refused to do interviews with anyone who wouldn’t sign a written form promising not to abuse her.
“If you can agree that you can abide by these guidelines, we will arrange an interview with Ms. Swit,” her press team promised the Times reporter.
Among the guidelines was a strict order not to ask about MASH, as well as guidelines for how to refer to Swit’s MASH character, should the writer feel they must mention MAS*H in their story.
“There is no real purpose served by questions relating to Ms. Swit’s role as Major Margaret Houlihan in the television series MASH, which ended 12 years ago,” the form read, continuing to say, “If there is any reference in your piece to Ms. Swit’s role in MASH, her character is not to be referred to as the derogatory ‘Hot Lips’; she should be referred to as ‘Major Margaret Houlihan.'”
The form goes on to almost point directly to Swit stories like that Inquirer piece quoted above as being guilty of very bad behavior.
“Ms. Swit’s personal life and privacy are not the topic of this interview, therefore we ask that these aspects of her life be respected. We ask that you refrain from asking such questions as those which relate to where she lives, past, present or future romances, hair color… age, family, weight, height, religion, and other questions of personal and private nature.”
The Times reporter declined to interview Swit because of all the rules, and it’s likely that many others made the same decision, contributing to the mystique that has long surrounded Swit, who is perhaps the most guarded out of all the MAS*H cast. Not much is known about her personal life.
In 1978, though, Swit was still feeling chatty enough to spill a little to the Associated Press. She told the newspaper that she called her house “Chateau MAS*H” and although she lived alone, she usually had no trouble finding company.
“I have boyfriends, and I was almost married recently,” Swit said.
Comparing herself to Margaret in 1978, Swit said there were certain aspects of the character that resonated true to her nature, too.
“We’re both career ladies,” Swit said. “We both like to be efficient. I appreciate sensuality. I share certain feelings by wanting to be peaceful and with one person. I think Margaret wants to stop running around and wants her marriage to work.”
Although shortly after MAS*H ended, Swit was less inclined to discuss what went on in her home life, her interviews in the Seventies provide a brief window into her personal world, where she was apparently surrounded by pewter rabbits and, like many of us, could frequently be found posted up on her couch late into the night.
“I’m a real horror movie buff,” Swit said in 1975. “I like the old horror movies, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney. If there’s something on TV at 3:30 in the morning that I like, I’ll stay up for that.”