Loretta Swit helped people who watched M*A*S*H regularly see how important nurses were to the work at the 4077th. Yet when it came to her character, there was one part of it she did not like at all. Margaret Houlihan was a major and had earned her spot. But the nickname “Hot Lips” was just too much to take for Swit.
“I understand nicknames come with great love and admiration for a character,” Swit told Fox News Digital. “But it was an insult as far as I was concerned. She wasn’t just a piece of anatomy. She was a major in the United States Army, and she should not be disrespected.”
For a little historical perspective, in the movie version of M*A*S*H from director Robert Altman, Sally Kellerman portrayed “Hot Lips” and played the role really well. Yet there also seemed to be a lack of full respect for the character from others. Swit didn’t want to see her character belittled into some type of sex object.
Loretta Swit Said She Was ‘Proud’ Of Her Character
“This was a woman who had rank, who worked hard, and wanted to be good at her job,” Swit said. “She was an inspiration. I was proud of her. I was proud to represent all the servicewomen out there. (And) I wanted to make a change.”
Something that longtime fans of the TV show might notice is a shift in using Houlihan’s first name. Apparently, a move away from using “Hot Lips” and more toward Margaret happened in time. Sure, Houlihan’s nickname was still alive and well. Yet other characters, like “Hawkeye” Pierce and B.J. Hunnicutt (Alan Alda and Mike Farrell), called her by her first name. It’s a little shift away from “Hot Lips” and all the baggage that comes with it.
Swit talked to the writers of the show to phase out “Hot Lips.” “I think my perseverance probably became very annoying,” Swit said. “But I felt it was important for the women out there who were supporting our country. I kept telling the writers, ‘She’s so much more than this.’”
Actress Admits She Had Concerns Over Nickname
The actress is proud of her role and work on M*A*S*H. She admits that she had concerns about the nickname taking a lot away from work done by real-life servicewomen.
“I didn’t want those women to be disrespected,” Swit said. “Obviously, people are going to see it differently. Margaret did not see [the nickname] as a compliment. She saw it as disrespect. So, yes, I would say it was never a comfort zone.”
To this day, Swit said that she gets letters from veterans in the mail. She is happy that her efforts to drop the nickname were worth it.
“I worked for a long time with World War II and got to know them really well,” Swit said. “It made you realize how much work we needed to do in this country to support them. So many of them came back to a life that was foreign to them. It took them a long time to grasp the situation. They endured so much and many faced those struggles in silence. It has been the honor of my life to help get their stories out there.”
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