Before M*A*S*H, David Ogden Stiers sustained a brutal injury that nearly ended his acting career
“At the hospital, they used 62 stitches to sew my face back together,” the M*A*S*H surgeon said.
“I treat myself far better than you Bowery denizens. My body’s a temple,” Charles Winchester III boasts to Hawkeye and B.J. in the MAS*H episode “Tell It to the Marines.”
David Ogden Stiers, the actor who played Winchester, saw physical fitness as important to his ambitions as an actor. He knew he needed to look and feel good to make it in show business.
His favorite way to stay in shape was cycling, but it was this hobby that landed the actor in the hospital for injuries that threatened to end his acting career, just a few years before he was cast on MAS*H.
“I was cycling down a hill and hit a slick spot,” Stiers explained to Tampa Bay Times in 1976. “My bike went one way and I went another, skidding on my face. At the hospital, they used 62 stitches to sew my face back together.”
Folks were unsure how long it would take for Stiers’ face to heal, so everybody was astounded when the actor appeared at an audition five mere weeks later and got cast immediately in a TV pilot.
One TV writer called his recovery “striking,” and described his face as “an almost perfect healing.” Stiers had a couple of theories why his face healed up so quickly.
“I credit the expert care I received in the emergency room of the hospital and the subsequent natural response to healing that comes from a healthy body,” Stiers said — evoking that “body is a temple” line he would later deliver as Winchester on MAS*H.
In that MAS*H episode “Tell It to the Marines,” Winchester, the character who sees himself as above most others, temporarily gets placed in charge of the camp as commanding officer.
It was a role Stiers had played before, leading a team of doctors. The same year Stiers took his spill on his bike, the TV pilot that he joined cast him as a medical clinic director for a show penned by Mary Tyler Moore Show writers. It was called Doc.
Unfortunately, that series lasted only two seasons, but its cancellation freed up Stiers to join MAS*H, where he became a fan-favorite character.
Next time you’re watching Winchester deliver a snooty, shrewd barb to Hawkeye, look closely at the actor’s face, and you’ll see the only scar from his terrible accident that almost canceled his acting career: a tiny line on his upper lip.
“That adds a spot of character,” Stiers, known for intense, marvelous character acting, joked.