Farr Takes Up Residence in Flamingo Court at New World

Seems like lately, I have been making the classic TV rounds and for a entertainment fanatic like myself, it's like a dream come true.  I have talked to Eddie Mekka from Laverne and Shirley and Sally Struthers from All in the Family and now, I get to talk to the irrepressible Emmy Award nominee Jamie Farr from M*A*S*H, the one and only Max Klinger! He's back on the boards in New York taking on a brand new show called Flamingo Court with Tony Award nominated co-star Anita Gillette.

Described as "Three condominiums. Two fabulous stars.  One hysterical comedy.", Flamingo Court is a comedy in three condos by Luigi Creatore and directed by Steven Yuhasz. Farr and Gillette take on multiple roles in a three-act play featuring the loopy and endearing residents of Flamingo Court, a South Florida apartment complex.  Each floor is another story with a lesson to learn.  Sex after sixty's no sin.   Where there's a will, there's a way (for your kids to fight over the inheritance).  And love, at any age, can be a new and beautiful thing. The show begins performances at New World Stages at 340 West 50th Street on Thursday, July 17th.

Farr played Corporal Max Klinger on "M*A*S*H" for eleven seasons on CBS. His film credits include "The Greatest Story Ever Told," and "Cannonball Run." Farr made his Broadway debut in the hit revival of Guys and Dolls.  and toured with The Will Rogers Follies as well as playing Oscar Madison in a national tour of The Odd Couple. More recently, he appeared in Moon Over Buffalo as well as the comedy-thriller play, Catch Me If You Can. One of his proudest accomplishments was in 1985 when he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  And in 1983 Jamie received an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts Degree from the University of Toledo and is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate for Humanity from the Owens Medical College of Ohio.

As fate would have it, a severe thunderstorm knocked out the power here and I was late getting to Farr in a phone conversation. But the power came back on and I connected with him, after a brief delay.

TJ:  Hi Jamie. Sorry for the delay.

FARR: Hi Tim. Glad everything is OK and I am sincere about that. I was concerned as usually everybody is usually right on time and I was going to joke with you that you had a better interview with Alan Alda! [laughing] And I assure you, it would have been a better interview! [laughing]

TJ:   Oh, come on!!!  I am always in the mood to speak with one of my favorite TV actors!

FARR:  I tell you something, you got a lot of them here in town lately.

TJ:  You're right!  Next week, I will be talking to Eddie Mekka, whose doing a show down there.

FARR:  Yeah! You know, I have not seen Eddie…the only time I ever worked with Eddie was on game shows. And you know that's always a staple if you're on television and you're the current darlings of the pop culture, that's what you do.  You do all the game shows.  Some people I just never worked with as far as being an actor or anything else, but worked them on the game shows.

TJ:  It's really funny because when I was talking to Eddie last, I was also talking to Sally Struthers

FARR:  Sally the same thing. I never worked with Sally and although we're both from the Pasadena Playhouse in California, I did game shows with her.

TJ:  The two of them had me in stitches!

FARR: Yeah, they're both terrific. It's an interesting thing, I think what happens, because television is such a youth market today and I am sure you're aware of that, is that we of the past days have to find areas where we can work and it seems to be the stage. If you do plays, the concern is not what the demographics are necessarily for an audience to watch, it's the play…it's the story! It gives us the opportunity to do things because television really, with the exception of a Peter Boyle or a John Mahoney or Jerry Stiller, there aren't that many parts.

TJ:  Well, they should be writing more parts for you guys!

FARR:  Well, demographically, it's a youth market. You see what all these shows are.

TJ:   Yeah, you have the One Tree Hills and the upcoming sequel to 90210…

FARR:  You got that and all the reality shows. And any of the younger shows like Two and a Half Men and so, they're pretty young.  We're ready to play grandfathers and aunts and next door neighbors and a next door neighbor, we wouldn't fit in because there so young.

TJ:   I think there's room for everybody.  Maybe the writers need to be more creative.

FARR:  Well, I don't think it's the writers. It's the network driven…it's based on who they're selling to…their advertisers.  I think that's what happens.  But listen, it's great to have a venue where we can go.

TJ:  Now your new show is called Flamingo Road, I mean Court…

FARR:  Flamingo Court. Flamingo Road was a wonderful movie that starred, I think, Ronald Reagan at Warner Brothers and I can't think of his name…Scott…he was a very fine actor.

TJ:  OK. Flamingo Court it is!

FARR: The Flamingo Road leads to the Flamingo Court. [laughing]

TJ:   Absolutely!  So, it takes place in a South Florida apartment complex?

FARR:  Yeah. It's not a retirement complex but it is people of approximately the same age.  It's not a retirement one necessarily.

TJ:   Is this a three act play?

FARR:  Well, actually it's a two act play with three different stories in it.  The first act has two different ones and the last act has another one. They're kind of three different styles, you might even say. It's a comedy but the first one is a comedy that's more like a romantic soap opera kind of comedy. The second one, which is a shorter scene, has a little more drama and poignancy to it. Then, the last one is a broader style…it's a guy who goes into his closet and passes gas. His daughter is after his money and she's always searching the place and she always thinks he's hiding something in the closet. He can't stand this so to get her all the time, he passes gas in the closet! Especially when he knows she coming there! And then it becomes a habit! It's silly!!

TJ:  And a little smelly too!  One of the lines in the release says "Sex after sixty is no sin."

FARR:  The first one is kind of a pillow talk one. It's a late delayed romance…the man pursuing the woman. These three people get together every day to talk about a soap opera that they enjoy watching and, of course, they get involved with the characters just like real people do with real soaps.  They get involved with it and they come in and talk. Well, the gentleman I play lost his wife and he has this camaraderie with this lady, Marie, who is dear friends with Angelina, which is the name of the first scene that we do.  And Angelina, when she first moved in, made up a lie at the swimming pool that her husband is sick in bed.  Actually, her husband died and she didn't want people to know she was alone because a lot of times, couples don't associate with people who don't have spouses and that.  Well, there's a loud mouth by the pool and she spreads gossip, so now she has to pretend she has a husband! My character is in love with her and I don't know she doesn't have a husband and feel guilty because I don't want to put a move on somebody who has a dying husband in the next room. That's the plot essence of that particular one.

TJ:   It sounds great!

FARR:  The second one is a shorter one but it's a more touching story of a man who is taking his wife….well, actually they're waiting to take her to a home as she has Alzheimers. They made a pact as she really doesn't want to go to a home and she's very depressed about it. They had made a covenant…an agreement if she fights him, if she doesn't go to the home. It's a very touching scene.  

TJ:  How did you become in involved with the show?

FARR:  They had a reading of it. I didn't know anything about it. And he sent me the script and I thought it was funny! It made me laugh!  Obviously, it's a new script and I don't even know if it's ever been done. You know the old rewrite…there is no writing, there's only rewriting. First of all, I must really be dropping in my sense of humor where somebody makes me laugh where an old man goes into a closet and farts! I must be at the age, you know! [laughing] It sounds so silly, you know what I mean! I thought that well if it makes me laugh….how do you wrap a storyline about a guy farting in a closet.

TJ:  [laughing] Yeah, I see what you mean.

FARR:  And the actors are all wonderful. I mean, Anita Gillette…god, she's got such a great rep on the stage here and I was always a fan of hers. I never worked with her. I Used To do game shows with Anita.

TJ:  But you never worked with her?

FARR:  No, I never worked with her. And the other actors I never worked with but they're just terrific. They're so much fun!

TJ:  Now, when was the last time you were in New York on stage?

FARR:  How about 14 years ago!  I was a put in. If that didn't scare the hell out of me…  The put in is that you get here and it's like trying catch a runaway train because the show is already running and you have got to fit into it.  You get one rehearsal, I think, with the cast.  And I'm fourteen years older now! I can't take quite as much of the stressful action.

TJ:  Having performed myself, I concur that it does get harder and harder each year you get older.

FARR:  You bet! You know what happens, TJ, is your energy level…you get very, very tired. You don't realize how long you're on your feet. You go over things so many times and after a while, your brain gets tired. Fatigue sets in. You have to have rest. You have to rejuvenate yourself many more times that when you were a youngster. When we were kids, you'd go out in the morning and it would be the shortest day in the world. You think, "Wow…is it already five o'clock? I had a great time!"  Now, you go home…I can't wait.

TJ:  I know, like "We've only been here for three hours?? It seems like a full day!"

FARR:  Yeah, exactly! As a kid, that was fantastic!  And you could have gone more! I'm not used to New York. We people in California, we're in our cars all the time. In New York, I have to walk city blocks to catch the subway and then city blocks to get to the theatre.  This one guy, a buddy of mine, was telling me that there's an attorney who was in the best shape and he came from New York and he moved to California. He was there three months and he gained forty pounds. Just because he was using his car…nobody walks in California! [laughing]

TJ:  New York will do it to you.

FARR:  And you always see someone walking with a couple of bags.

TJ:  You and Anita must be having a blast doing this show.

FARR:  Yes!  We have a kissing scene and her real boyfriend came in tonight. So, tomorrow I'm going to tell him, "Well, I really feel threatened now." She doesn't know that yet.

TJ:  Oh, boy!  Jamie, what's the most difficult thing for you about working in front of a live audience?

FARR:  I think the discipline of it. As I said, sometimes I get very tired and sometimes meeting the schedule and having to come in, you think, "Boy, I wish I could rest a little longer."  You think about, eight shows a week is a lot of shows! And I don't know what my stamina is. The other thing too is that you always have the first audience jitters. We have no idea where the laughs are. The audience tells you. And sometimes, you go, "Well.. I had no idea there was going to be a laugh there!" And then somedays, you think, "Oh, this is gonna kill 'em!" And you get zip. So, you really have to have your antenna up to realize that the laughed at that and now what's my segue? "What are those people doing interrupting my acting?" [laughing]

TJ:  Has New York changed a lot for you since last you were here?

FARR:  Yeah!  There's more people. [laughing] And I'm not used to people. I live out in the country. I'm a gardener. I have an English garden and French, Spanish and English lavender in my garden. I have a lot of roses…I have a vegetable garden and a lot of fruit trees. Lemons, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit…I have fig trees. I have a plum tree. I planted my vegetable garden and actually, this year, because I'm not there, is the best crop I've had! My wife tells me, "Oh! You can't believe the plums! Oh, the figs are so sweet! You should see the squash you've got in the garden!" And I said, "I knew it!" Leave it to me…the one year I have a harvest and I'm not there to enjoy it.

TJ:  Last year, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and it was great to have fresh vegetables every day outside your back door!

FARR:  Is that not the best?

TJ:  It was great! Now, I read someplace that you hired for one days work on M*A*S*H originally?

FARR:  Yeah! It was the sixth show of the first season and they hadn't done their shakedown of the show yet. They had a lot of characters in it for a half hour show. Plus the regulars! So, they brought this character in and it was a one-shot deal. Larry Gelbart had read that someone tried to get out of the army dressing up as a woman, which is about the oldest ploy there is. I had that said that I bet someone in George Washington's army had dressed up as Betsy Ross and tried to get out. [laughing] So, that what's he did. He said, "We'll put this character in."  Well, it was so funny that they decided to bring him back.  That first season I did about six or seven shows. And then, the second season, I did about half the shows. And then, they finally put me under contract. So, I just got lucky. I happened to find one of the ingredients that they needed to provide the comedy and balance in the show.

TJ:  I also read that you were in the army and you served in Korea?

FARR: Yeah. I was stationed in Korea. I did temporary duty there. I went there twice. Once with Red Skelton, who was my mentor.  He had lost his son, Richard, and wanted to leave the states to entertain the troops. So, he requested me from the State Department and I got VIP status…I was just a Private and we flew over in the United Nations plane to Seoul, Korea. I traveled with Red all the way up to the demarcation zone. He did little shows here and there. Unlike Bob Hope, he never televised and sold them…he just went on his own. He needed me to provide him with all the props and to make his announcement and that sort of thing. When I went with Red, it was in the heat of the summer.

The next time I went over, I was there to open Armed Forces Television, which was in winter and it was freezing. All the jeeps and the tanks and trucks and everything were frozen by the wayside. We couldn't leave that night after we opened up the TV station for them and we stayed around a little pot belly stove. The next morning, we were told that we could go…it got warm. So we boarded the plane and started to fly. We were over the point of no return, the Sea of Japan, when the engines started to freeze on us. It was so cold, you could not put your feet down on the corrugated metal…you had to put your feet under your buttocks. Let your own body keep your feet and your body warm.

And the guy started to hand out parachutes. [laughing]  First of all, I had never jumped before and I probably would have had a heart attack if they told me to I had to jump. But the second thing is, how are you going to live in the water if you make it? You'd freeze to death! The Air Force guy who was handing out the parachutes was ashen as well. Even though he was Air Force, he had never made a jump! And you should have seen the civilians. We were all looking at each other with this hopeless pathetic look on our faces. And I'm saying, "I'm not jumping! I'd rather ride this baby down."

TJ:  The choice is jump or go down with the plane.

FARR:  Exactly, And what happened was as we kept losing altitude, the ice started to melt so the engines did kick over.

TJ:  Someone was looking out for you!

FARR:  Yeah. Little did I know I was living to collect residuals.

TJ:  Do you still keep in touch with the other folks from M*A*S*H?

FARR:  Sure! Yeah, you bet! Sometimes, Alan. You know, he lives out here and, of course, he lives in LA. And usually, when he and Arlene come in and he's going to be there for a while, he'll let everyone know and then we'll all meet and go out to dinner someplace. But Harry Morgan is 93 now. It's a little difficult for him. He's on a walker and his wife is not that well to get around. Loretta Swit sees Harry quite a bit and I think Mike Farrell might see Harry. I haven't seen Harry…we all went out to dinner, I think it was six months ago or so with Bill Christopher and his wife, Loretta, Mike and his wife, Shelley Fabares, Harry and his wife, Barbara, and me and my wife, Joy. I usually e-mail Mike or Loretta, but I haven't seen them in a while. You know California, it's very spread out unlike out here.

TJ:  Well, that's great that you all keep in touch.

FARR:  Yeah, well we were together for eleven years…that's a long time! Showing up every weekday and being together for long hours and trying to make magic every single day, you get really close.

TJ:  It's like a family.

FARR:  Exactly! I didn't want to say that because everyone on TV says that, but it's the truth!

TJ:  Ok, going to wind this up now and ask you a few questions to find out about Jamie Farr off-stage. First of all, on a personal note, I hope you come back on TV in some role very soon! 

FARR:  Let me tell you, I would love to be back on TV!! I like the challenge of a new script and also, I can be home. Obviously, when you do theatre, you have to either go on the road or you're away from home. But I love it! It's just a matter of demographics…there is a market for it and thank god for the Hallmark Channel. They did a movie of the week last year with Ernie Borgnine, who is, incidentally, 91.

TJ:  Wow!

FARR:  And they did it with Katherine Helmond. So, it was nice! It was a lot of fun!

TJ:  What is your favorite city? And I know you have a very fond place in your heart for Toledo, Ohio… yes, I have done my research!

FARR:  [laughing]  Yeah, well I'm going back there this Sunday for my golf tournament. They named a big park after me. You know, Danny Thomas is from there. They named a park after him on the south side of Toledo. Because of the golf tournament and the revenue that it brought in for the last 24 years, which is anywhere from 16 to 24 million dollars in terms of people coming in to see the tournament and restaurants and all the other stuff, they named the park that I Used To go to as a little boy after me.  It is a beautiful park that was called Riverside Park and is now called Jamie Farr Park.  And I said that this is the only city in the United States that is guarded by two noses. [laughing]  Danny by the south and me by the North!

TJ:  What is one thing about that people may not know?

FARR:  That people may not know?  I love to cook. I like food and I think I would have loved to have gone to a culinary school to learn how to be a chef. I enjoy it. We have a big country kitchen at our home back in California and my wife is thrilled that I enjoy cooking! When I was out of work and she was working and supporting us, I Used To make bread. I made my own homemade bread before the bread machines. One of my buddies who is a big producer and writer tasted my bread one time and said, "You should give up acting and go into the bakery business!" And after fifty four years, I think he is right!

And the culinary community would be more the richer to have you, Jamie! My dad is beaming that I got to interview Klinger from M*A*S*H, as am I!! Great thanks to Jamie for such a candid interview!  And you can catch him and Anita Gillette in Flamingo Court, which begins performances at New World Stages, Stage #2 at 340 West 50th Street on Thursday, July 17th. The official opening night is Thursday, July 31st at 7:00PM.  Performances will be held on Monday and Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00PM with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00PM and Sunday at 3:00PM. You can get your tickets now by calling Telecharge.com at (212)239-6200 or visit the official website at www.FlamingoCourt.com

More on Flamingo Court to come with my next interview with Farr's co-star, Anita Gillette, within a week. So stay tuned, folks, and remember, theatre is my life!  Ciao for now!!

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TJ Fitzgerald TJ Fitzgerald has been interviewing theatre’s finest talent with BroadwayWorld.com since January 2006. He has been active in the New England Theatre scene both as a participant (acting and directing) and an enthusiast of the entertainment scene for over 40 years. He was a featured columnist writing interviews and theatre features for New England Entertainment Digest and served on the Board of the New England Theatre Conference (NETC) for several years. Some of his noteworthy interviews have included entertainment luminaries like Tony Award winners Tommy Tune, Sutton Foster, Karen Ziemba, Michael Rupert, Faith Prince, Joanna Gleason and Gregory Jbara, Tony Nominees Brad Oscar, Keith Carradine and Andrea McArdle, Oscar nominee Marsha Mason, Oscar winning songwriter Paul Williams, Adrienne Barbeau and Oscar/Emmy award winning composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz. 2009 saw a milestone for TJ as he was welcomed to the 50's. In TJ’s words, "Life is good! Everyone's got a great story to tell and I am all ears! Theatre is my life!"