Here’s one to ponder.
In the early days of M*A*S*H, Radar was shown to be almost the guy who ran the outfit, was quite sneaky, would drink and smoke Henry’s drink and cigars and was nowhere near as innocent.
Later, once Potter gets there especially, we see a lot more of an innocent character…
It made perfect sense to me. I don’t even think it counts as “headcanon” to say Radar was heaviliy empathic. (With people and animals alike.) He definitely changed his behavior based on the needs of those around him. (While, amazingly, almost always taking a stand about his own needs; this is one of the most remarkable things about M*A*S*H, characters are never [hardly ever - I’m looking at Flagg] one dimensional, they are always multifaceted and responsive.
For this specific thing though, with Radar seeming to become more innocent after Potter arrives, (I suppose this is where we hit “my personal headcanon” territory), I like to think this directly to do with the kind of character each C.O. deliberately fosters.
Remember that potter joined the Army (voluntarily - he’s Regular Army remember) at the age of just fifteen. He never really had a boyhood. Whereas (in both the film and television versions) Col. Blake received his commission straight away, already being medically qualified. One can easily imagine Col. Blake as a boisterous and cocksure young man, stealing his father’s whiskey and making out with the girls in the cornfields, and generally cutting up. Naturally he’d expect/tolerate/project the same or similar onto Radar (while, again, being quite sensitive to his individuality; no one appreciated Radar’s contributions to the 4077 more than Henry Blake, not even Hawkeye). Potter meanwhile, being both older and much more nostalgic about it, would have made space for Radar to express the boyhood he himself had traded in army life and war.
However, this is all my own feelings and reactions to consuming the show as it is.
In this instance, we can actually GO STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE where Gary Burghoff talks about exactly this in detail on Ken Levine’s blog.
On MASH, first season, Gary Burghoff played Radar pretty much the same as he did in the movie version. But,over time, Radar was softened and became more gentle and naive. Was this a decision of Burghoff or was this a creative decision of Larry Gelbart et al.?
Here’s Gary’s answer:
In the original feature film MASH, I created Radar as a lone, darker and somewhat sardonic character; kind of a shadowy figure. I continued these qualities for a short time (review the Pilot) until I realized that the TV MASH characters were developing in a different direction from the film characters. It became a group of sophisticated, highly educated Doctors (and one head nurse) who would rather be anywhere else and who understood the nature of the “hell hole” they were stuck in.
With Gelbart’s help, I began to mold Radar into more Innocent, naive character as contrast to the other characters, so that while the others might deplore the immorality and shame of war (from an intellectual and judgmental viewpoint), Radar could just REACT from a position of total innocence. This made RADAR super ACTIVE, free and very interesting on a primary “gut” level, which at times delivered the horror of war (as well as the dark humor we became known for) in an effective, universal way that anyone could understand.
Larry, in one interview, was quoted as saying that Radar was his favorite character to write for. I think he liked the fact that the character lacked guile and he could write from his own honest “child’s-self” as apposed to having to create “clever” intellectual hyperbole.
ACTING IS RE-ACTING. LARRY gave Radar “permission” to REACT IN SPADES!! in a free, delightful and direct manner. Once these decisions were made, RADAR became PURE JOY to play!! God bless Larry Gelbart and his talented writers such as your most excellent SELF!
I hope this helps.
Love “Ya~ Gary
I just love that M*A*S*H is such a beautiful collaborative work of art between everyone involved, writers, producers, directors, and actors alike. <3