Reverend Francis John Patrick "Father Mulcahy" Mulcahy, is a principal character from the film M*A*S*H, played by Rene Auberjonois, and the television series, played by William Christopher. He was played by George Morgan in the pilot episode of the television series, but the producers decided that a quirkier individual was needed for the role, and Christopher was cast in his place.
During the course of the television series, Father Mulcahy's name was changed from John Patrick Francis Mulcahy to Francis John Patrick Mulcahy (as he revealed in episode 7 of Season 8 when asked by a nurse he was counseling). Either form of the name is an attempt to reconcile his identification as "Father John P. Mulcahy" in the pilot episode with the name "Francis Mulcahy" established later on.
In the original film (as well as the Richard Hooker novel on which it is based), Mulcahy is familiarly known by the nickname "Dago Red" (a type of cheap wine). In an O.R. scene in the M*A*S*H pilot episode, Trapper can be heard addressing Mulcahy as "Red," and Hawkeye calls Mulcahy "Red" in "Dear Dad"; however, the nickname was quickly phased out of the series.
The character Father John "Johnny" Patrick 'Dago Red' Mulcahy in the film is a US Army chaplain assigned to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. While most of the staff is not religious, they treat Mulcahy with some respect. It is Mulcahy who alerts the doctors that the camp dentist, Painless, is severely depressed. Afterwards, Mulcahy reluctantly helps the doctors to stage the famous "Last Supper" faux suicide, to convince Painless that he should continue with life.
Mulcahy gets one of the film's more memorable lines: When "Hot Lips" is wondering, in a very loud voice, how someone of such presumed low character as Hawkeye ever got into such an important position in the Army, Mulcahy looks up from his devotions with a wounded soldier and remarks, "He was drafted."
Throughout the film, Mulcahy seems bewildered by the doctors' amoral pranks and womanizing behavior. When Radar places a hidden microphone inside Hotlips' tent as she and Frank Burns make love, members of the camp listen in, and Mulcahy at first mistakes their conversation (and noises) for an episode of The Bickersons—then leaves abruptly when he realizes otherwise.
In the television series, the character began in the same style, but evolved over the course of the series. For instance, Father Mulcahy initially had a difficult time helping in the operating room without being physically revolted at the blood and gore (he admitted later "I couldn't eat liver for a year," after watching surgery), but eventually proved an able assistant beyond his spiritual duties. In the eighth-season episode The Yalu Brick Road, much of the camp came down with food poisoning after a Thanksgiving dinner. Mulcahy (who'd been away at Sister Theresa's orphanage) threw himself into orderly duties, laundry, and caring for everyone, saying, "I've never felt more useful or needed!"
In the Richard Hooker novel that inspired the film and television series, Father Mulcahy was from San Diego. In the series, however, the character was from Philadelphia.
Mulcahy came from a rather large family who weren't close, from things he revealed throughout the series. Both his parents drank, and displayed their temper on occasion. About the only thing he and his father had in common was an interest in boxing, and his father took him to fights. Mulcahy had to share a bed with his brothers. When given the chance to send greetings to his family during a filmed interview, Mulcahy simply waved to the camera and said "Hello", adding nothing.
The only family member he spoke fondly of was his sister Catherine (who became a nun; members of the 4077th referred to her as "your sister, the Sister", or as Hawkeye colorfully puts it "a Nun-o-Gram" when Mulcahy got mail from her). She took the name Sister Maria Angelica. Mulcahy has described her as a skilled basketball player and saxophonist, and as being very fond of children (at one point, she even considered giving up being a nun so she could have one of her own, but apparently changed her mind). She once bit his toe as a child. He corresponded with her often, most notably in the episode "Dear Sis".
Outside the surgery, the priest gradually gained the respect of the staff with his emerging courage and wisdom in the most difficult circumstances. This included when he had to perform an emergency tracheotomy (using a Tom Mix pocketknife and an eyedropper) while under enemy fire, and disarming a desperate soldier holding him at gunpoint. (He also persuaded Corporal Klinger to hand over a live grenade, when Klinger wanted to get rid of the overbearing Major Burns, in an early episode.) Mulcahy often provided critical advice to Hawkeye, and other members of the company. Hawkeye in turn consoled Mulcahy more than once when his spirits were down, such as when, in frustration, Mulcahy punched a patient who had struck him while resisting his efforts to calm him. Hawkeye told him "We have to stand here and watch so much misery, we're lucky we don't all join hands and walk into a chopper blade."
His wisdom was evident when the unit found an abandoned Amerasian infant and Father Mulcahy, fully aware of how such children are mistreated in Korea, recommended she be surrendered to a reclusive monastic order which could work to eventually transfer her out of Korea. The others initially rejected that option, because of the monks' requirements of anonymity and no further contact with the child, but eventually ceded it was the only way when their repeated attempts to solicit assistance from other bodies were bluntly rebuffed.
Though a priest, Mulcahy did sometimes break the letter of the law to fulfill its spirit, such as times he obtained needed supplies for the local orphanage or medicines for the camp, via the black market. "You'd be surprised what a priest can get away with," he once remarked. He was also able to enlist help from Corporal Klinger to retrieve stolen penicillin, and Major Winchester to recover a needed case of sodium pentothal, both times winding up under enemy fire. In one episode, a helicopter pilot used a dummy as a counterweight when transporting only one patient; when Pierce and Hunnicutt stole the dummy for a prank, Mulcahy jumped into the helicopter with the pilot so that he could bring in a critically injured soldier, Mulcahy acting as the counterweight for the return flight. Colonel Potter, although reprimanding the priest for this recklessness, said that the next time the promotion board came out, his name better be on it.
A boxing priest
In addition, Mulcahy eventually revealed numerous practical skills like being a champion amateur boxer, as well as numerous connections needed for helping others, including black market contacts. He also took up running as a form of exercise; getting roped into racing against the M*A*S*H 8063's champion, Mulcahy persuaded his opponent to throw the race, so the engineers would build a new roof for the orphanage. (He also paused at the finish line, refusing to cross unless the 4077th donated their winnings as well.)
By the later part of the series, Mulcahy came to be held in high esteem in the camp, as evidenced on one Christmas Eve occasion, where Hawkeye and the rest of the camp paid tribute to the chaplain with a Latin devotional hymn in his honor (Dona nobis pacem, "give us peace"). However, this respect did not extend beyond the camp, considering Mulcahy's long and frustrating struggle to gain a promotion. He finally made Captain after a personal appeal by Colonel Potter to the Chief of Chaplains at The Pentagon to achieve, after which Mulcahy remarked, "The meek may inherit the Earth, but it's the grumpy that get promoted."
When the 4077th was putting together a time capsule at the end of the 11th season, Mulcahy contributed an old pair of boxing gloves he had kept hanging up in his tent. His hope was that in the future, nations might be able to settle their differences through more peaceful means, such as using the gloves in a fistfight.
Mulcahy mentioned several times being a Jesuit. While the character was a devout Roman Catholic, Father Mulcahy would minister to the needs of people of all faiths as a matter of necessity (including the Methodist wedding ceremony of Houlihan), as he was the sole chaplain for the 4077th. However, it was a task he took on willingly and cheerfully out of a legitimate fascination with other faiths and their customs, of which he possessed a wide and eclectic array of knowledge. In one episode though, he admitted that he was somewhat intimidated by the Southern Baptist service. Performing Jewish duties in the series, he performed a bris in the absence of a Rabbi and also recited the Kaddish prayer over a dying Jewish soldier. Knowing many of the local people were Buddhists, he watched their ceremonies with fascination.
The television series did not present Mulcahy as a theological legalist; he did not criticize campmates about their personal moral habits, provided there was no harm to others. Instead, Mulcahy was portrayed as enjoying playing the piano (usually ragtime, although his skills weren't exactly astounding), drinking at the Officers Club, participating in camp raffles and betting pools, and playing the occasional game of poker (although he donated most of his winnings to the local orphanage). He often intervened when he saw his comrades about to do something drastic, such as when Hawkeye was about to assault a visiting General for monopolizing the kitchen while the entire camp was waiting for dinner. Instead, Mulcahy used his position as a priest, and the relative protection from discipline it afforded him, to ruin the General's dinner in a more passive-aggressive manner, after which he gave a conspiratorial wink to a stunned and amused Hawkeye.
In the series finale, Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, during a mortar attack, he selflessly ran out to the POW cell and released them to the military guard, rather than leave them as "sitting ducks." During the attack, the concussion from one of the mortars caused him to lose most of his hearing. He begged B.J. Hunnicutt to keep the injury a secret. He elected to stay in Korea after the cease fire, to care for orphans.
In the short lived spin-off series, After M*A*S*H, the priest decided to return to America, but suffered from depression and was drinking heavily. However, after his hearing was surgically corrected, he stopped drinking and joined Potter and Klinger at a veteran's hospital, as its chaplain.
- In the episode "Dear Sis", he expresses concern while writing a letter over his sister's (a Catholic nun) transfer to a church named after Saint Cecilia. There is, in fact, a real Saint Cecilia church in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania, in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, where Father Mulcahy is from.
- In many episodes, Mulcahy is seen wearing a "Loyola" hoodie. This makes sense in that Mulcahy was a Jesuit and Loyola is a Jesuit school. In the final episode of the series, however, Mulcahy is seen wearing a "Wesleyan" sweatshirt; Wesleyan University, the alma mater of actor William Christopher, was affiliated with the Methodist Church until 1937.
- Father Mulcahy is a huge fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team (although he'll bet against them for 10 to 1 odds).
- A recurring theme in the series is the delay in at least two episodes of Mulcahy not being promoted from First Lieutenant to Captain before finally attaining it.
- In one late season episode Mulcahy claims that the only life he saved was that of a drunken dog (9/2); however in 5/9 via instructions from Hawkeye, Mulcahy saves the life of a choking soldier, under fire no less.
- Mulcahy is one of only two regular characters in the M*A*S*H* Franchise to be played by three actors (the other being Trapper John McIntyre), in this case Rene Auberjonois (in the movie), George Morgan in the TV pilot, and William Christopher in all subsequent television episodes.
"This isn't one of my sermons; I expect you to listen."
"Klinger, how'd you like the last rites...and a few lefts!"
"A chaplain in the Army has a collar on his neck/If you don't listen to him, you'll all wind up in heck." (during a camp sing-along)
"I think the world of Colonel Potter. He's a good Christian - yet hardly dull at all."
"Remember what the good book says: Love thy neighbor, or I'll punch your lights out!" (from Captains Outrageous)
"As I lay me down to sleep, a bag of peanuts at my feet, if I die before I wake, give them to my brother Jake." (From Crisis)
"Jocularity! Jocularity!" (Also used by Colonel Potter in the classic "Father Mulcahy Sound-Alike Contest".)
"If I was you I'd be raising a royal rhubarb to ICORPS about this" - upon not being selected for a promotion (again)
"I see you're a Protestant. That won't be a problem. I'm familiar with the procedures of most of the major denominations--although, I'm a little inhibited when it comes to the Southern Baptists', a little frenetic and forceful...a bit of a stretch for me, but, then again, that's my problem." (from Point of View)
"There's no one singing war songs now like people used to do;
No "Over There," no "Praise the Lord," no "Glory Hallelu";
Perhaps at last we've asked ourselves what we should have asked before;
With the pain and death this madness brings, what were we ever singing for?"
(The second Korean War Song, composed by Mulcahy in Dear Uncle Abdul)
"I was anxious to get back to being in a parish and coaching boxing for the CYO, but lately I've gotten kind of interested in working with the deaf. Not doing parish work, I'll miss hearing confession, but after listening to you people for so long, I think I've just about heard it all!" (from Goodbye, Farewell & Amen)
(After being pulled out from the latrine when it collapsed on him) "Sis and I picked up these apples from under the tree. I said you can't make a pie out of crabapples and she said, I learned how in the Girl Scouts." [Hawkeye: "He's ok, just a little dazed."] "She used brown sugar and the crust was just so crispy and nice. Well, it was so good we ate it all before dinner." [Hawkeye: "Get him back to his tent, let him rest."] "Mommy came in and said, 'What the hell is going on here?' [Looks at Klinger, who is in drag.] I remember, Mommy, you know that's the first time I ever heard you swear."
(After Klinger reads Mulcahy a letter to a general, in which he threatens to send a picture of himself in drag to the general's wife, with a letter explaining that he is the general's new mistress.) "Klinger, the Lord works in mysterious ways...but you take the cake!"
(After asking if there is anything he can do to help a situation and is told that he can pray) "Aww that's all I ever get to do!"